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Association Bisnow
August 21, 2008

Report Card


Congress may be on vacation, but Bisnow never sleeps. We gathered another blue-ribbon panel of association CEOs for their take on the Congressional term and other hot topics over lunch at Zola. That's right—we're tireless in our pursuit of association news . . . and tasty desserts like Zola's strawberries and cream.


On the left are David Rehr of the 8,300-member National Association of Broadcasters and Marion Blakey of the Aerospace Industry Association, whose 300 members cover both the defense and commercial aviation sides of the aerospace industry. Second from right is former Michigan Governor (1991-03) John Engler of the National Association of Manufacturers. Rounding out our panel are association experts Marc Fleischaker, Chairman of the Arent Fox law firm, which has some 250 association clients, and sponsors Denise Grant with the executive searchers at Russell Reynolds and (far right) Ken Patton, associations' real estate guru at Jones Lang LaSalle. We conscripted Marc to play moderator.

Marc: What are the similarities between running a trade association and being in government? 
Marion:  We spend a lot of our time on public policy—in my case, issues of infrastructure and national psyche in terms of where we're going with our space mission. It's a close parallel to advocacy, which you do a lot of in government. Probably the biggest difference is I've got a lot more bosses than I used to. 
Marc: How big is your board? 
Marion: We have a 56-member board and a 16-member executive committee. 
John: One of the differences for me is not having the ability to set the agenda and take it to the legislature. Marion is right. The public policy aspect of association work is challenging because of the complexities of most issues—if they were easy to fix, they wouldn't need us. The modern trade association has to be skillful at identifying the key issues, crafting solutions, and building coalitions around them. It's like that Verizon ad—you need a big network. You have to show up at the Hill with everything prepared because the legislative process has been compressed into so few days. 
Marc: How would you rate Congress on the issues that are most important to you?
David:  The digital transmission of television is our number one television issue and I think Congress has done well getting other parts of the government engaged. We are doing our own thing. We have a billion dollar marketing campaign.
Marc: A billion dollars? Over what period of time?
David:  Twenty months. Hopefully you've already seen some of our ads. On February 17, 2009, when we turn off analog signals, we'll only have digital signals. I think Congress has done well to hold oversight hearings on how people will be affected and the complicated issues of the transition. Of course, we could always use more money, more attention, people giving speeches in every congressional district.
Marc: It's happening because of action in the private sector though, right?
David:  Government prompted it in 2005, when they passed a law taking back the analog signal for government use and leaving television broadcasters with the digital signal.
Marc: Marion, how has Congress done with your main issues? 
Marion: We haven't given up on several we think Congress could act on favorably for us.  One cuts across industries, the R&D tax credit.  We really do need to put that back in place. There's also a very onerous requirement now for three-percent withholding on government contracts, which when it comes into effect in a couple of years will cause an enormous erosion of cash flow and therefore the viability of small businesses. 
Marc: What's the rationale for that? 
Marion: It was an accident a couple of years ago. I think it was part of the process of cutting the budget up to make the numbers work. It affects defense just like it affects anyone who has a government contract. The question is, will the Senate make the time for it before they go out?
Marc: Any disappointments?
Marion: I would have to say the failure to ensure that we have modernized air traffic control and infrastructure. It looks unlikely that Congress will get that done this year.  It's very critical.
Marc: What's your top issue, Governor?
John: The U.S. needs access to greater energy supply, but at the same time we think energy security requires a comprehensive strategy that includes future innovations. Growth is going to take more power and places like northern Virginia are getting perilously close to running out. It's been interesting to see how the public opinion is shifting—it's far out in front of Congress.
Marc: Any issues being neglected?
John: Probably the greatest threat to American competitiveness is looming in the form of this elimination of the secret ballot for unionizing employees. Fine people want to be part of a union, but a secret ballot lets employees vote their true feelings. 
Marc: Are you working on getting that issue in front of people?
John: It passed the House but was stopped in the Senate. If Senator McCain is elected it probably goes away. Senator Obama has pledged to support it so then the fight becomes the Senate, and we'll probably put our advertising dollars in about four states where it matters in the Senate races. I'd love to do a national campaign and see it get more attention, though. 
Arent Fox
Intelligent Office
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