By Linda Irby, MBA, SNS SNA’s PAC Chair 2015-06-09 10:01:48
The Difference a Dollar Makes SNA’s Political Action Committee Chair explains the value of financial support at all levels to further our advocacy goals. Sure, you recognize the importance of supporting SNA’s legislative advocacy efforts through its Political Action Committee (PAC), but you just don’t have it in your budget to make a contribution. Really? Do you have $1? That’s all you need, says SNA’s PAC Chair Linda Irby, MBA, SNS. “That dollar does so much,” Irby insists. “I don’t think [members] realize how much of an impact it can have.” School Nutrition spoke with Irby, who serves as the assistant director at Hampton City (Va.) Public Schools, to learn more about the role of SNA’s PAC toward the Association’s advocacy goals, how the PAC works and how your donation—whether it’s $1 or a larger amount—makes a big difference when it comes to the Association’s presence on Capitol Hill. Give our readers a brief PAC overview. The PAC supports SNA’s political advocacy goals by collecting money from Association members who share those goals and want to contribute. We are able to use the funds to gain a seat at the table, attending fundraising events for political figures. In these intimate settings, we can communicate one-on-one with our federal elected officials. We get a unique opportunity to explain our agenda. We’re definitely not a big “super PAC”; we have a very modest PAC. Why is SNA’s PAC more important than ever in today’s political climate? Well, I think you’ve got to be able to get your message out [to the lawmakers]. There are so many messages out there that we have to be able to explain what SNA’s goals are and strategically target those people who can help us get there. That’s what we do. What do you say to people who think PACs mean “buying votes?” We use the money to educate the members of Congress who are actively working on issues and committees that affect child nutrition about what we do, about our SNA members’ concerns and issues and about our programs. The [politicians] may agree with us, they may not agree with us. We try to utilize our money judiciously [for access to] people who do support our message year after year, but there’s no direct connection. SNA’s PAC is bipartisan—contributions go to both Republicans and Democrats. Members of Congress vote their conscience; we just provide them with information. Unfortunately, money is a part of the political process. I know many of us wish it weren’t, but it is. I’m sure the people who raise money to run for office probably wish it weren’t, either! But it’s the system that we have, and I think the SNA PAC does a good job in responsibly utilizing the current system. Can you give me an example of how PAC dollars are spent? There may be a legislator who is going to have a scheduled fundraising event that also is focused on child nutrition or related issues. We want to be at the table, so SNA will use PAC funds to attend that event. Being at the table provides the best opportunity to share our Association members’ challenges and concerns [with key people who can influence decisions]. Many times there are other stakeholders in the room, and our issues are related, so it’s important for us to be present. It’s also more personal when you’re able to sit down and talk to the people you need to educate. What’s the average cost of such events? It’s anywhere from $500 to $2,500. It could be a breakfast or an evening reception or it’s a luncheon, sometimes. They’re usually pretty small gatherings. A lot of them are held in D.C. when Congress is in session. We have supported some candidates [at events held] in their states, but for the most part, events are held in Washington. The PAC Committee votes on whether to make the contribution. We get an email request from Cathy Schuchart, SNA staff vice president of Government Affairs & Media Relations, who says “There’s an event for Congressman so-and-so, and here’s why I think we should go support them.” The seven-member Committee will vote, and they’re from all over the country (see the sidebar on page 138). If the Committee decides not to support the event, then SNA doesn’t attend. What’s the smallest amount a member could give to support the PAC? Honestly, we used to have a fundraising drive that was a penny a day! I thought we were pretty successful with that one, we would like to have a dollar [from each member] at least. If we could get a dollar or two, we’d be happy, happy! Not everyone can afford to give a lot of money, but anything members can give helps us with our goal. Our goal for our PAC fund this year is $25,000. What are the different donor categories? The top one, the Ambassador, is a $100 donation. The Statesman level is $50, and that’s been around for many years. Last year, we added a $25 Patriot level for people who can’t afford the $100 or $50, but as I said, we still accept dollar donations. I have a little thing I like to tell people: Give once, give twice, give often! If every member gave $1, what could the SNA PAC accomplish? Oh, wow! Well, if every member gave $1, we could certainly get more information out there. I think the possibilities are endless. Especially with Reauthorization coming up, it would give us a lot more bang for our buck. We’d be able to discuss our challenges and requests with so many more people. How can an SNA state association help the national PAC? Every state association should have a legislative or policy chairperson, who should be in charge of collecting for PAC. In Virginia, we recently had our state conference, and we collected money at one of our sessions to send to the SNA PAC. State associations and local chapters have to send contributions in the form of a money order or a personal check, as it’s against regulations for the [state] association to write a check [to the PAC]. You also have to be an SNA national member to contribute. There are different rules for manufacturers and other vendors—they can give a personal donation, but they can’t give as a company. We are planning some fun and creative fundraisers at ANC [in Salt Lake City in July], so look for the “Support PAC” buttons and have those dollars ready! States can refer to the updated PAC state resources online at www.schoolnutrition.org/pac. How does SNA’s PAC compare to other association PACs? How does this difference matter? If you think about some of the larger associations, they have a much bigger PAC—[there are even some] million-dollar PACs! We have a PAC with thousands of dollars. I always thought we had a lot of money in our PAC, and then, when I saw other PAC funds, I thought, we need to do some fundraising here! We’re small potatoes. That’s why we have to be very strategic in identifying to [those legislators who receive SNA PAC funds]. Why do you, personally, think the SNA PAC is important? I’m a political junkie. I wish people would be more involved with [politics], because it is so important to our program. I don’t think a lot of the rank-and-file members even realize how much it affects our programs, and if they did, they would get more involved. I served on SNA’s Public Policy and Legislation Committee and I’ve been going to [the Legislative Action Conference] for, I think now, probably about 15 years. I think [leadership] just knew I had a passion for it, so they asked me to be on the PAC Committee—which I’m grateful for, because I love it. Where should members go if they have more questions? We have a page on SchoolNutrition.org for PAC. Members can go there and make a donation right online. We also have a donation option on the SNA membership form, but a lot of districts have gone to district-owned membership and [these are] not allowed to make a collective PAC donation. So, we encourage individual members to go online and make your donations there. The page will explain what a PAC is, how to make a donations and what we do with our money. Also, that is where you can find the updated state resources information. 2014-15 SNA PAC Committee ■ Linda Irby, MBA, SNS, Chair Hampton City, Va. ■ Cynthia Brooks Seymour, Conn. ■ Lyman Graham Roswell N.M. ■ Karen Johnson, SNS Yuma, Ariz. ■ Chuck Ainsworth SFSPAC Food Service Sanitation Systems ■ Pat McCoy, SNS AdvancePierre Foods ■ Cathy Schuchart, Staff Advisor and Custodian of Records SNA Staff Vice President of Government Affairs & Media Relations ■ Sarah Murphy, Staff Advisor SNA Program Manager ■ Patricia Montague, CAE SNA Chief Executive Officer ■ Kim Williams, Treasurer SNA Staff Vice President Finance & Technology/Controller For more information about SNA’s PAC, visit www.schoolnutrition.org/PAC.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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