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Understanding PICPA Advocacy – Money, Elections, and the CPA-PAC

Apr 30, 2021, 05:20 AM by Matthew McCann
Political action committees get a lot of bad press. A quick google search brings up terms like “dark money” and “slush fund,” but this could not be further from the truth. The Certified Public Accountants Political Action Committee, for example, specifically supports the mission of the PICPA by helping to elect bipartisan, respectable candidates who support strong fiscal policy and other positions favorable to CPAs.

Alex Fabian McMahonPeter CalcaraBy Alex Fabian, PICPA government relations manager, and Peter Calcara, PICPA vice president - government relations

We in PICPA’s government relations office have heard numerous misconceptions over the years regarding PICPA’s CPA-PAC, and political action committees (PACs) in general:

  • “PAC contributions buy votes to win elections.”
  • “The highest-dollar contributors decide where PAC money goes.”
  • “PAC contributions only support one political viewpoint or party.”
  • “PICPA dues go toward funding the PAC.”

These perceptions could not be further from the truth. In fact, campaigns and PAC spending are highly regulated by the Department of State through Pennsylvania’s campaign finance laws, which must be strictly adhered to.

Campaign finance reporting is a necessary part of running for or holding an elected office. Candidates, candidate campaign committees, and political action committees are required to file campaign finance reports/statements listing disbursements and receipts at mandated times throughout the year. In addition, they must have a governing structure that includes a chair and a treasurer, who may not be the same person. Failure to adhere to standards or the mishandling of funds can result in hefty fines, and even jail time in some circumstances.

In an ideal world, Jane Doe could decide that she wants to run for office, get her name on the ballot, and campaign without spending a dime.  But we all know that is not how the process works. The techniques of business salesmanship are intertwined with the process of electing political leaders, and those techniques are expensive. Running a successful campaign, even at the local level, requires thousands of dollars, and attempting to unseat an incumbent costs even more money.

Logo gor the CPA political action committeeAccording to CNBC, since 1964, voters have sent their incumbent U.S. House representative back to Washington, D.C., 93% of the time. Incumbent U.S. senators enjoy only slightly less job security with an 82% return rate. Part of the campaign expense is building a brand and developing the name recognition required to be competitive. No self-respecting candidate for a major office can successfully run without a staff that includes a media expert, a public relations professional, a pollster, and a budget for advertising. As much as we may disfavor the process or wish it were different, simply put, this is the way the system currently works.

This is where the Certified Public Accountants Political Action Committee (CPA-PAC) and other contributors come into play. Despite popular misperception, PACs are not the core of the problem; they are the byproduct that evolved to mitigate the expense. And each PAC – there are a lot of them – raises money to support specific things. CPA-PAC supports Pennsylvania CPAs by assisting bipartisan, respectable candidates who support fiscal policies and positions favorable to the CPA profession. Accountants, like attorneys and doctors, have a high level of government oversight and regulation, so PICPA must have a voice in this important process or CPAs risk having decisions made about their profession for them.

CPA-PAC is the nonpartisan, member-managed political arm of the PICPA. It strives to promote and improve government by providing an opportunity for CPAs to take a more active role in political activities that affect Pennsylvania and its citizenry. Additionally, the CPA-PAC provides support to candidates for statewide office in the following categories: state House, state Senate, governor, attorney general, auditor general, and state Supreme Court justices.

The CPA-PAC board represents a broad range of volunteer CPA professionals with varied political viewpoints and backgrounds and governs our fundraising efforts. The board adheres to strict operating guidelines, meets annually with leaders of all four party caucuses of the General Assembly, approves the annual budget for political operations, and coordinates with PICPA’s government relations team to help amplify the profession’s voice in Pennsylvania’s political process. By state law, membership dues cannot be used to fund CPA-PAC’s activities. All CPA-PAC revenues are generated independently and used solely for political efforts.

CPA-PAC’s and PICPA’s on-the-ground lobbying provide a critical one-two punch in achieving legislative success. It is important to note that they are separate and distinct activities. Long-term success in government relations is dependent on an organization’s ability to have a dialogue with members from all political persuasions, even though they may not align with PICPA’s priorities 100% of the time.

The PICPA is a member-managed organization, meaning that our legislative priorities are dictated by you. The PICPA Committee on State Taxation engages in regular communication with the Department of Revenue. These meetings, including several Q&A sessions, help formulate PICPA’s legislative agenda. Additionally, members directly share various regulatory concerns that may warrant legislative action. PICPA staff also monitors all proposals circulating in the state legislature: if legislation is introduced that could impact the CPA profession in a negative or positive way, we will often issue a position statement. These decisions are always determined with members' feedback taken into account.

In our divided political climate, it is more important than ever to develop working relationships with members on both sides of the aisle with different perspectives and ideologies. There is this saying in government relations: “Make a friend before you need a friend.” While we may not always agree on which candidates CPA-PAC supports, or whether a PAC is even necessary, but it is essential to PICPA’s efforts in Harrisburg and should not be underestimated.  

Your support of the CPA-PAC matters. It is truly invaluable in maintaining an influential presence in Harrisburg, especially as we continue to navigate periods of regulatory change.

We encourage you to review the 2020 CPA-PAC Annual Report and consider making a contribution to the CPA-PAC.  

Please do not hesitate to reach out to Peter Calcara at pcalcara@picpa.org or Alex Fabian at afabian@picpa.org if you have questions about PICPA government relations activities or CPA-PAC spending.

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