In another lifetime, when I covered the restaurant industry, I watched as its membership organization - the National Restaurant Association - gradually clawed its way to the upper echelons of the most powerful political groups in the country. But it wasn't always that way.In the mid-1980s, the NRA had far less political firepower than the other trade group that shared its acronym, the National Rifle Association, and was comprised of loosely connected groups, each with obviously different agendas and concerns. But the political climate of the group changed when an outspoken restaurant owner from Boston became its chair for the usual one-year term, and began stirring up a grass-roots effort to get the membership more involved with both local and national issues that affected the industry in general and their businesses in particular. He urged them to contact and get to know their congressmen and state officials, and to speak out on issues that affected the industry. And from there, the momentum never stopped.
I mention this because our previous two issues examined the amount of cash accrued by the accounting profession's various political action committees, while giving a brief overview of some key races this November in the House and Senate, whose outcomes could potentially have an affect on the way CPAs conduct business.
Thus far, fundraisers for the accounting profession have raised roughly $9 million to support their favorite congressional candidates in November, a record.
Although largely skewed to the GOP, donations from accounting PACs have been spread around to more than 300 candidates, ranging from liberal Democrats such as New York's junior senator, Hillary Clinton, to GOPers like Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio, a key member of the House Financial Services Committee, and former Ernst & Young tax accountant Rep. John B.T. Campbell III of Calif., one of the lead sponsors of the legislation to make the moratorium on Internet taxation permanent. At press time, estimates said that the earmarked donations to candidates - including a majority of incumbents who many assume will help advance the profession's agenda in the 110th Congress - were still pouring in, and might top the $10 million mark.
The profession's influence on Capitol Hill appears to be ratcheting up. But it takes a village, or at least a collection of firms and practitioners, to keep the momentum going.
A recent example of how the profession can work in harmony with lawmakers is the passage of the sweeping Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act of 2006. Included in that bill was a provision that exempts CPAs from the privacy notice requirements of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. The profession's position was that the privacy clause was redundant, since CPAs are already tethered to state laws and regulations prohibiting the disclosure of personal information without the express consent of the client.
Remember, becoming active politically doesn't necessarily mean getting out the checkbook each time the hat is passed around the room. It's about familiarizing yourself with the issues that basically will influence your livelihood.
And while smaller firms and sole practitioners can't match the PAC funds or scope of influence of, say, a Big Four firm or the American Institute of CPAs, they still can and have an obligation to make their voices and opinions heard - and not just on the first Tuesday in November.
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