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PRINT POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE — NEW LEADERS OF THE PAC

June 2006 BY ERIK CAGLE
Senior Editor
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WRITING A check, unless it’s made out to ‘cash,’ your nephew (who just graduated from college) or the dealership that just sold you that speedboat, can be a difficult thing. All too often, check writing is an unpleasant experience, a necessary evil.

It’s a fact of life. Bills. Groceries. Back surgeries. There’s never a lack of incidentals vying to reduce your current balance, and some seem to provide hardly any value at all.

It comes as little surprise that, especially during a sluggish economy or generally slow period for any industry, supporting a Political Action Committee (PAC) with funds from your own personal resources can be a tough call. Contributing money to the campaigns of those who have supported issues that are important to you, and your industry, is a noble gesture that needs to be done. But like cleaning out the gutters, it is a task easily forgotten.

In the case of PIA/GATF members, supporting PrintPAC has been an activity that fewer and fewer people are bothering to perform. In fact, the amount of funds generated for PrintPAC has declined in each of the last three two-year election cycles.

At the height of the dotcom blitz in 1998, PrintPAC reached an all-time high of $237,000 in contributions. That figure dwindled to $209,000 in 2000, $154,000 in 2002 and $147,000 in 2004. Thus, in eight years, PrintPAC stands in danger of seeing contributions fall by $100,000.

Renewed Energy

However, a revitalized effort is under way to breathe new life into PrintPAC, which includes some new faces, fresh ideas and a renewed commitment to good old-fashioned elbow grease.

New to the PrintPAC team are Lisbeth Lyons, the vice president of government affairs for the PIA/GATF. She took the helm in January, replacing respected industry veteran and PrintPAC founder Ben Cooper. Reporting to Lyons is Shannon Frack, grassroots and political affairs manager. Frack brings PAC experience to the fold, having worked on a $900,000 per cycle association effort for the Independent Community Bankers of America.

While the pair may be relatively short on printing industry experience, their ability to raise both funds and awareness for a given industry’s political ideology and needs are vital to the rebirth of PrintPAC.

“Fundraising is difficult if you don’t have dedicated PAC management. The most effective ones have at least one person, if not two or three people, working on all elements of fundraising, from promotions to invoicing,” Lyons says. “When you don’t have staff dedicated to this function, it falls on your lobbyists, whose first priority should be Capitol Hill. Invariably, the fundraising takes a back seat.”

Just why the level of contributions has tailed off markedly cannot be narrowed down to one or two major factors. Certainly the dotcom bust, 9/11 and a prolonged economic slump played a role on some level. Other PAC support factors on an industry level include a decrease in legislative regulation—obviously, a very good thing for printers who endured the ergonomics regulatory scares of the past. Printers rallied to the ergonomics issue and were motivated to contribute funds to the election efforts of politicians who favored less regulatory pressure from Washington.

“As politics reach more parity, where you have an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, you tend to have a little less engagement,” notes Cooper, who now heads The Print Council. “Not much bad happened on the regulatory front, and there aren’t many exciting races in the U.S. House of Representatives, for example. And the industry has changed. The consolidation wave has taken away a number of family owned businesses; those are the people who have historically been more active.”

The PrintPAC may indeed find itself lacking a rallying cry, a call to arms for printers to unite in the defeat of a common enemy. The greatest issue impacting many printers recently is, of course, the topic of postal reform. That has reached the conference checkpoint, where the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives will hash out the differences in their respective bills and send a single version to President Bush for his signature.

But when you look at other issues confronting printers—rising healthcare costs, the permanent repeal of the death (estate) tax, energy resources and alternatives—they are hot points that generally impact the small business community as opposed to being printing industry specific.

Industry Issues

“Our industry is not the kind that has one particular issue that lights a fire under people to induce PAC giving,” Lyons remarks. “For example, beer wholesalers have been trying to roll back the beer tax for a decade. Industries like telecommunications are passionate about relief from government regulation. Other than postal reform this Congress, printers don’t have one albatross issue that dogs the industry from year to year. However, we do have a set of general policy concerns—health care, tax relief and labor issues—that when added up, impact our industry’s bottom line. It’s critical that we utilize the PAC to build relationships with key lawmakers overseeing these policies.”

One way of renewing interest in PrintPAC is by raising awareness, Frack stresses. Printers need to understand that a PAC is the “cleanest” way to give money to federal candidates running for office, she notes, and PACs are regulated by the Federal Elections Committee (FEC). Contributions are monitored and disclosed. Unfortunately, negative press resulting from shady campaign financing has given the practice of contributing something of a fat lip, if not a black eye.

“We need to educate PIA/GATF members on why they should give and why PACs are important,” Frack says. “Our objective is to support the campaigns of those members of Congress who support a pro-print, pro-business legislative agenda. We’re doing that by taking the collective strength of our members and aggregating that strength. PrintPAC is the only national trade association that represents the printing and graphic communications industries. Basically, it’s an investment in the future of the printing industry.”

There’s a number of new ways for members to contribute to PrintPAC which, in some cases, can literally eliminate check writing. In 2005, the FEC ruled that trade associations could enroll their member companies or have member companies do payroll deductions. In that regard, a $500 per cycle contribution would then become less than $10 per bi-weekly pay period. Another option is online contributions, where a benefactor can predetermine an amount to be withdrawn from his/her bank account. Contributors can also have their credit cards tapped by the PAC on a quarterly basis.

“There are a lot of administrative opportunities out there to make it easier to give in whatever way people feel comfortable giving,” Lyons says. “Some people prefer a hard check, and others my prefer quarterly credit card processing. Others will like online giving when we launch that. Hopefully, it will be something to really invigorate the PAC, and appeal to people in different ways.”

Still, the most tried and true way of getting printers to contribute funds is old-fashioned, peer-to-peer solicitation. Direct mail usually garners a response rate of less than 3 percent, Lyons notes, but printers have proven to be the most adept at spreading the PrintPAC gospel.

Engaging more printers will help pave the way for the PAC to meet its stated goal of $200,000. Having someone specifically concentrating on PAC growing will go a long way toward attaining that goal, adds Harry Duncanson, vice president of Miami-based Dynacolor Graphics and the PAF Government Affairs Committee chairman.

“We have a renewed energy around the PAC issue,” he says. “Not that the $150,000 we raised wasn’t effective; we’ve been very effective with our PAC contributions in picking a lot of winners and key people. We’re about halfway to our $200,000 goal. We also have some things we’re kicking off in the next six to seven months, when the cycle ends, that will hopefully bring in more dollars.”

Dinner Draws a Crowd

One such fund-raising effort was a $200 a couple legislative conference, gala reception and dinner held earlier this month in Washington, DC. During the day, attendees were treated to educational sessions that provided legislative and advocacy information. The scheduled guest speakers for the evening were Tony Blankley and Eleanor Clift of the political television analysts roundtable, “The McLaughlin Group.”

For Bob Murphy, chairman of Japs-Olson in St. Louis Park, MN, and the PrintPAC chairman, revitalizing PrintPAC is a matter of reminding printers that contributing is not something that will just take care of itself. Printers need to be actively prodded, and Murphy sees it as a personal challenge to underscore the importance of supporting those politicians who back the industry in Washington.

“Especially with postal reform—it’s become so apparent in recent years that we definitely have a stake in what government does or doesn’t do,” he says. “Sometimes, you have to answer some questions and allay some fears. Contributing is something that is convenient to put off to a later date, which doesn’t help. We really have to fan the fire and get it moving.”
 

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