November 18, 2017
    ASAE members take tax reform, concerns over meetings attendance to Capitol Hill
    By Ed Dalere, Emily Howard | 03/16/2017

    The Georgia delegation at ASAE's American Associations Day planned several visits on Capitol Hill: from left, Jay Sulzmann, legislative director for Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; Dahlia Williams, association & state government sales manager, The National Conference Center; Betsy Reid, marketing and communications VP, Georgia Center for Nonprofits; Wendy Kavanagh, CAE, president, Georgia Society of Association Executives; (behind Kavanagh) Cheryl Delk-Le Good, executive director, English USA: the American Association of Intensive English Programs; Steven Echard, IOM, CAE, CEO, American Association for the Study of Liver Disease; (in front of Echard) TRENDS correspondent Emily Howard; Gerald Huang, legislative assistant for Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.; and Gabriel Eckert, FASAE, CAE, executive director, Building Owners and Managers Association of Georgia and a past TRENDS Young & Aspiring Association Professional.

    ASAE brought its concerns over tax reform and government employee attendance at association meetings to Capitol Hill this week, in the association’s annual American Associations Day fly-in.

    Association executives from across the country made appointments with their senators and respective members of Congress, to talk about the important work associations do, especially as the new Trump administration and the new Congress start to work on the budget, which the administration released on ASAE’s Hill day.

    With that as the backdrop, ASAE is particularly interested in tax reform. ASAE public policy director Chris Vest, CAE, cautioned the more than 200 executives who participated in Hill visits that tax reform is especially on the radar, as the last overhaul occurred in 1986. 

    “It could happen this year, the Republicans are eager to revise to a lower rate across the board,” Vest said. He explained that border adjustability - a plan to tax a company’s imports but not exports - is splitting the GOP at the moment, but if it becomes the fueling mechanism of the Republican bill, that and a lower tax rate could cause Congress to seek other ways to raise revenue, which could affect associations. 

    Through discussions with members of the House Ways and Means Committee, ASAE has the impression that there is currently “not a lot of attention” on tax-exempt organizations. ASAE told their Hill day volunteers to remind Congress how changing the tax code on exempt organizations would potentially hurt the good work associations do.

    Another aspect ASAE is watching is whether the GOP-controled Congress will attempt to approve tax reform and “repeal and replace” healthcare bills through reconciliation, where they won’t need Democrat votes for passage.

    The other top concern for ASAE remains federal employee attendance at association meetings. ASAE effectively beat back legislation and rules that were put immediately in place four years ago following the revelation of spending by government employees on meetings that were portrayed as lavish and over-the-top. 

    The concern now is budget cuts that won’t allow funding trips to association meetings, ASAE public policy director Mary Kate Cunningham said. Adding to that is, many of the rules that have been in place that protected travel to association meetings are sunsetting this year, all while a new administration gets its footing.

    Another concern brought up by a member at the policy briefing the day before the Hill visits is associations are being pressured to not schedule meetings in the U.S. due to the administration’s travel ban. 

    Cunningham told the delegates to discuss the good work that happens at association meetings, whether in planned sessions or in casual discussions. She related a story of how a cancer-fighting drug was borne from a discussion that occurred in the hallway between sessions at an association meeting. Also, she told delegates to discuss how association meetings help the local economies, including hospitality, restaurants and retail.

    Fly-in volunteers were pleased with their congressional visits on March 16.

    “It’s a great opportunity to build relationships and to talk about the importance of the nonprofit sector, and specifically what associations do to contribute to our economy,” Gabriel Eckert, CAE, said. Eckert is executive director of the Building Owners and Managers Association-Georgia and a past TRENDS Young & Aspiring Association Professional.

    Georgia Society of Association Executives executive director Wendy Kavanagh, CAE, was happy to “build awareness about the importance and role of associations in society. We actually had three new folks who have never done Hill visits. And it’s remarkable that you can bring folks in and exercise their right to be heard.”

    "One of the biggest things in our follow up is to remind them of the industries and professions that we all individually represent, and make sure that they know that they can use us as a resource. If there is a question about an individual bill that comes up, we want them to think of us first as a source of nonpartisan, unbiased, fact-based information," Kavanagh added.

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