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Association Bisnow
March 27, 2008

Association CEO Roundtable:
Beyond Self-Interest?


Aren’t lobbyists supposed to be narrow-minded and greedy on behalf of “special interests”?  Then what’s gotten into these top Association CEOs we had to lunch at Ceiba the other day?  They seem to explode that myth.


Three CEO amigos:  Roger Dow of the Travel Industry Association; Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association; and Craig Purser of the National Beer Wholesalers Association.  They chivalrously flank Ellen Herman, trade association guru for tenant rep Staubach (great Bisnow sponsor), who advised the National Cable and Telecommunications Association on its recent office move. Our second great sponsor, Denise Grant of Russell Reynolds, was off on assignment to Boston—but the show had to go on.


How is the economic uncertainty affecting your organizations? 

Gary: We’re still projecting 6% growth for our industry this year, which is pretty good. Plus the economic stimulus package, which we didn’t advocate for, is going to benefit our industry more than any other

So things are looking good for you?

Gary: It’s hard to celebrate when I’m so concerned about the long-term. Congress hasn’t addressed the big issues—the deficit, social security, healthcare. I think our industry would’ve been just as happy if that money was invested in roads and infrastructure and the future of the country. 
Bisnow: Aren’t you supposed to be more parochial than that?
Gary: Last night I talked to a Democrat in Congress proposing billions in government spending on our industry. He got frustrated with me because I told him we wouldn’t be supporting his proposal. We’re committed to conservative economic principles: Free trade is good, a balanced budget is good, investment is good.  We’re getting over a billion dollars in taxpayer money for the digital TV transition, and I testified to Congress that we wouldn’t support it.  It’s a matter of principle.



What are the large political issues that most affect your associations?


International travel is certainly one. Without the barriers to getting into the U.S., Gary would have another 15-20,000 people coming to CES. Every time you go to his show from China you’ve got to apply for a new visa, even though you’ve been five years in a row. We’re running an ad in USA Today showing headlines from London and around the world saying “Don’t go to America, there’s alternatives.” 

Gary: It’s true. The U.S. has had an arrogant attitude that the rest of the world is just going to show up at our doorstep.  And yet since September 11th we’ve treated them like dirt.  That’s frankly the attraction of a Hillary or an Obama administration—the signal to the rest of the world that we’re changing our ways. 
Bisnow: What’s the biggest change you’d like to see in Washington?

We’ve got to get back to the notion of civility. That’s not a policy matter, it’s a practice. 

Gary: That comment is dead on.  We’re seeing legislation that moves nowhere just because it’s sponsored by the wrong party.  We’re seeing Republicans and Democrats not doing things simply because they’re Republicans and Democrats. 

Is there anything an association can do about that, practically?


I think every association of any size should have one of their board members run for Congress. Darrell Issa used to be the chairman of my board.  Now he’s a Republican from California. We need representatives who’ve met a payroll and created jobs.

Craig: On the idea of civility, something we’ve done within the association is totally change our relationship with our critics. We don’t always agree with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. But we’re in frequent contact. Even when we disagree, it’s better because there’s a relationship. 
Roger: We’re coming to that place from the other direction. We used to have a philosophy: Don’t make any enemies, don’t annoy anybody.  We’ve become much more vocal and straightforward. The Commerce Department will say international travel is up from 2000.  But it’s up because of Canada and Mexico—meanwhile we’ve lost $100 billion from overseas.  They get frustrated when we point that out, but you can’t just make everything look like it’s a bed of roses.  Let’s address it.  We’ve got to engage in solving our problems instead of pretending they’re not there. 

In the green area, we’re pushing for national law on recycling.  We probably could have stopped laws in certain states, but a federal law is in the national interest. It gets back to the point that on a whole range of issues, you do better by considering what’s best for the entire country instead of taking the self-serving position

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