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Association Bisnow
   
March 25, 2008
 
       
 

Roundtable:
Campaign Edition


 

For our second roundtable, we hit a private room at Ceiba with big-time CEOs from three of our favorite industries: travel, electronics, and beer.

 
 

Roger Dow of the Travel Industry Association; Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association; and Craig Purser of the National Beer Wholesalers Association joined Ellen Herman from awesome sponsor Staubach.  Our second sponsor, Russell Reynolds’ Denise Grant, got called to out-of-town business at the last moment. Too bad she’s so diligent about her association executive searches—she missed out on some delish Jamaican jerk spiced salmon.

Mark:

Would a Republican victory in the Presidential election affect your lobbying strategies differently than a Democratic victory? 

   
Gary: Not in terms of hiring for government relations. We don’t hire on the basis of someone’s political contacts. We hire on experience, personality, and ability to get things done. None of us are partisan, outwardly. We support the technology industry
   
Craig:

All of us who’ve worked on Capitol Hill used to wear a red shirt or a blue shirt. But we have a joke that when people come to our team, we’re not Republicans or Democrats—we’re the beer party

   
Roger: For a couple years we’ve been silent in the advocacy area, but we’re really stepping it up. Our industry is extremely bipartisan—no matter whether you’ve got a D or an R, travel and tourism is probably the first, second, or third-biggest employer in your state. The issue for us is getting the attention—we employ one out of every eight Americans, but we’ve become the Rodney Dangerfield of industries. 
   
Mark: How do you get on the radar?
   
Roger: Our big issue is the loss in overseas travelers in the U.S. For the South Carolina debate, we put up billboards in Myrtle Beach saying 70% of South Carolinians care about travel and tourism, do you? What’s your stance? 
 

Craig and Ellen have both been to the home of Roger Staubach—football hero, Ellen’s boss, and according to Craig, a “prince of a guy.” Craig represents the interests of 2,750 beer distributors, including a Phoenix company of which Cindy McCain is majority owner. Her husband recuses himself from beer issues before the Senate.

 

Mark:

Do you encourage employees to get involved in campaigns?

   
Gary:

Yes. We have employees involved in all three campaigns at this point.  We encourage them to vote and be active. And to give to our PAC. 

   
Mark: But you don’t endorse a candidate?
   
Gary: No, we don’t.  I may, personally.
   
Craig:

We haven’t endorsed presidential candidates.  We really focus our political activities on the Congress.  That’s our mission and what our federal PAC is about. 

   
Mark: What’s different about your organization in a campaign year—do you have task forces? 
   
Roger: We have weekly meetings with representatives from Anheuser-Busch, Intercontinental hotels, Marriott, rental car companies.  We’ve got a huge issue going through Congress called the Travel Promotion Act. The rest of the world promotes tourism like crazy and we spend zero. The act doesn’t take any money from taxpayers—it’s a $10 charge for visitors from visa-waiver countries, and the industry is throwing in $100 million. Since September 11th, we’ve gone from requiring two fingerprints to ten fingerprints, registered traveler programs, all of this security.  The world is just pounding like a drum that America doesn’t want us—we’ve got to communicate what we’re doing and why. 
 

Roger came to TIA in 2005, after a 34-year career at Marriott.  The $20 million, 60-staff TIA was born as a response to popular thinking after World War II that Americans shouldn’t travel because doing so consumed resources.

 

Mark: Are you trying to get your messages into candidates’ speeches or position papers?
   
Roger: Yes. Right now we’re talking to staff. We’re still waiting for a shakeout on the Democratic side, but we’ll be at the conventions. We’re trying to insert this into the dialogue, we’re using our people with tight contacts. 
   
Mark:

Are any of you using outside firms?

   
Craig: We’ve only started using outside help in the last year or two for federal advocacy. You can use contract folks to complement you and maybe open some doors you haven’t opened before. We have a former attorney general working with us—all told, we’re probably using six different lobbying and law firms for advocacy and legal representation.  But overall, our emphasis is actually much more on our members.  
   
Mark: For advocacy?
   
Craig: Sure. The most persuasive contact won’t be a lobbyist we hire or an association executive—it’s the member company that’s a constituent.  So we have a real emphasis in getting members of Congress into our member company warehouses and in front of the workers we represent.
 
 
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