Apr 13, 2020

Successful Advocacy Requires Finding New Paths Forward

By Peter N. Calcara, vice president – government relations

Around this time of the year, the PICPA government relations team usually is humming along preparing for PICPA’s annual Day on the Hill event. Speakers are set, topics are identified, meetings with state lawmakers are scheduled, and issue briefs are drafted. The conference has been a great component of PICPA’s larger advocacy efforts because it was an in-person way to demonstrate the value CPAs bring to the public policymaking process.

We had been contemplating making a change to this annual gathering for several reasons before the COVID-19 pandemic; now, it seems, our hand has been forced. It’s time to turn the page.

The PICPA convened its first Day on the Hill (DOTH) in 2001 during the Enron scandal, and, except for one year, it has continually convened to bringing CPAs from across the state to Harrisburg. In 2001, Congress was considering legislation that would eventually become the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the most significant federal legislation to address the accounting profession in decades. SOX, as the law has unofficially become known, was aimed at publicly held corporations, their internal financial controls, and their financial reporting audit procedures as performed by external auditing firms.

There was a concern at the time of a trickledown effect in Pennsylvania and other states, resulting in excessively harsh or duplicative regulation. Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel created the House Joint Finance and Judiciary Advisory Committee on Financial Security. This bipartisan committee, which was concerned with issues such as pension protection and investment fraud, included the PICPA and other important stakeholder groups.

PICPA visits with Rep. Michael PeiferDOTH grew from this initial effort to educate state lawmakers about the potential impact of their legislative proposals.

Connecting PICPA members with their legislators is perhaps one of the most important components of any association’s advocacy efforts. The PICPA has a very active presence in Harrisburg (then and now), with a full-time government relations team steps away from the state capitol, but no one can deliver the pros and cons of a piece of legislation or regulation better than you. DOTH has been so successful that other organizations have tried to replicate it.

We have had many successful gatherings over the past 20 years, but it has become increasingly harder to get members to spend a full day out of the office and to travel to Harrisburg. Attendance has dropped to around 75 advocacy warriors – an unfortunately slim number for an organization of more than 20,000. To those who have attended one or all DOTHs, we thank you for your support and commitment. And while DOTH has been an incredibly helpful tool in PICPA’s overall advocacy program, we believe it is time for a change in direction.

We have been brainstorming ideas to replace DOTH, including district events that leverages PICPA’s strong network of chapters. Suggestions thus far include breakfast meetings or luncheons with local state lawmakers in a more casual, familiar location. Local meetings still accomplish the primary objective: bringing members face-to-face with state lawmakers to talk about the issues that have a direct impact on the profession, your clients, and Pennsylvania’s economy. The PICPA government relations team will still guide our members and handle the logistics: locations, speakers, topics, and leave behinds.

Perhaps one benefit stemming from the COVID-19 crisis is that it opened many eyes to our ability to connect, in large groups, remotely. With these more widely embraced connectivity capabilities, we envision monthly policy briefings. These might include a member of the General Assembly talking about legislative issues, or a key administration official discussing a policy initiative. Of course, the PICPA government relations team will continue to provide updates on our legislative priorities in this CPA Now blog, our Legislative Update newsletter, and in the Pennsylvania CPA Journal.

These are a few of the ideas we are exploring as possible successors to DOTH. It’s never easy moving on from something that has been a part of the organization for so long, but effective advocacy means changing direction and following new paths to success. Perhaps no other profession deals with change as well as CPAs because it is built into the profession’s DNA.

We welcome your thoughts and ideas on this matter. Please email us at governmentrelations@picpa.org.

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Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.