October 25, 2014
If you're not at the table in Washington, you could be on the plate
By Bart Bonn | 07/01/2014
Association TRENDS

The first chancellor of Germany, Otto Von Bismarck, has often been credited with the famous quote, “Laws are like sausages. It is better not to see them being made.” An even more fitting political quote for associations and industries goes something like this: “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you may end up on the plate.” That is exactly what happened to the indoor tanning industry shortly before Christmas in 2009, when United States Senate undertook eleventh hour sausage making and horse trading behind closed doors in order to cobble together enough votes to pass the Affordable Care Act.

With the Senate about to vote on the ACA, which contained a 5 percent tax on elective cosmetic surgeries known as the “BoTax,” lobbyists for physicians and the pharmaceutical industry offered a replacement tax to Senate leaders and key staffers on the Finance Committee. They smartly offered up a substitute 10% “Tan Tax” so as to eliminate the tax on their industries and transfer it to the tanning industry. It's easy to appreciate why the cosmetic surgery industry did not want to be taxed, yet the tanning industry was powerless to stop the last minute switch because we did not have a seat at the table. In 2009, we focused little attention on federal affairs and few on Capitol Hill knew of or ever heard from our industry.

Today, we are working feverishly to reverse the harms the Tan Tax has caused to our industry – more than 65,000 jobs have been eliminated and nearly 8,000 salons have closed, with all these losses almost totally attributable to the 10% gross tax placed on indoor tanning sessions. As a result of being on the plate instead of at the table in 2009, countless indoor tanning salon owners, as well as tanning equipment manufacturers and other suppliers, have banded together to form the American Suntanning Association (ASA). Now we have a full time government relations director in Washington and a lobbying firm to serve as our eyes and ears on the ground in an effort to educate the 535 Members of Congress and their staffers about the ills of the tax to thousands of small businesses, 70% of which are owned by women. Additionally, ASA’s leadership visits Capitol Hill monthly, and we host board meetings in Washington twice a year. We want our members to know that what Washington does can greatly affect them, and we want our members to be proactive in making their voices heard.

We want to have a seat at the table as Congress debates possible measures that could be harmful or helpful to our industry, and we now have the framework in place to be part of the discussion and to impact the outcome. It took a great deal of shoe leather and time to build. Key staffers have told us they accepted the switch from the BoTax to the Tan Tax because they could not find anyone in our industry in Washington to raise an objection or put up a fight – they simply did not hear from us.

Today, those staffers and their bosses on both sides of the aisle know how and where to find us and that we will capably advocate for our industry. We have built grassroots and given our members a role in this advocacy, with scores excited to be part of the process. Members of Congress have now learned that they have vocal business owners, employees, and faithful customers in their districts with an eye on Washington.

We know not every issue affecting our industry in Washington will have a favorable outcome, but we know with great certainty that the industry will not be caught off guard again. We will have a seat at the table, and the reason is because the American Suntanning Association developed a government relations effort and implemented a strategy to ensure we are part of the conversation. I would advise all of my fellow association executives to not be the sausage on the plate because you are not paying attention to policy making in Washington.

Bart Bonn is president of the American Suntanning Association. 


Association TRENDS