A friend who worked outside the plastics industry told a story of how his business was threatened by a large, out-of-state competitor that had recently begun to do business in Wisconsin.
Our friend went to his local trade group, which appointed him to seek relief from an influentual lawmaker. A meeting was set up, and the problem quickly outlined.
The lawmaker was sympathetic but did not commit to help. At the close of the meeting, he suggested that the trade group and its members make some campaign donations in order to help get the process moving.
Outside the world of politics, that´s known as a shakedown.
But the blackmail tactic worked. The group made some well-placed contributions, and, magically, their legislative relief flew through the General Assembly.
It´s ugly, but that´s how the system works. But there are other ways to influence government action.
The Composites Fabricators Association has been working with the Environmental Protection Agency for several years now, keeping the pulse on an important proposal that will regulate styrene emissions. CFA spent $500,000 on government affairs last year, largely to prepare for the so-called maximum-achievable-control technology.
Given the nature of the composites industry, that level of government involvement is notable.
The composites industry is chock full of small, very small and garage-based fabricators that work their magic with glass fiber, thermoset resins and careful craftmanship. Many of the businesses are basically experts at tinkering with processes and materials to make low-volume or one-of-a-kind parts.
That doesn´t sound like the type of business that likes spending a lot of time, money and effort working with government bureaucrats. But CFA has a long tradition of dealing with regulatory issues, and its members know that the EPA´s proposal has the potential to change their industry. So CFA has been providing data and information to help steer the regulation, while at the same time keeping its members informed about the proposal throughout the process.
Now CFA is considering a boost to its government affairs activity — studying, among other topics, the need for a political action committee. A PAC would allow CFA, already a player with the EPA, to make inroads in Congress.
Dealing with PACs and legislators who pursue contributions as a prerequisite for taking action doesn´t feel right. In fact, it kind of makes you feel like you should take a hot shower.
But PACs have become a way of life, especially in Washington, and until some authentic campaign finance reform is passed (read: never), CFA and others with ties to the plastics industry should consider them a necessary evil.
Despite some reservations, we suggest that CFA seriously consider moving ahead with the plan.