There’s something magic about the phrase “million-dollar PAC” in Washington’s political circles, says incoming ACEC/PAC Chair Charles J. Gozdziewski, executive chairman, Hardesty & Hanover.
“When you have elected officials saying that your organization has a million-dollar PAC, we get a lot of people’s attention,” Gozdziewski says. “We don’t have to knock on a lot of doors. They’re coming to us to ask for help and listening to our issues.”
ACEC/PAC raised $1,010,000 last year to support federal candidates on a bipartisan basis who support the engineering industry’s agenda in Congress. The 2016 total eclipsed the previous year’s record contributions of $982,000.
ACEC/PAC is currently the largest PAC in the design industry, having tripled in size over 10 years. It ranks among the top 3 percent of all PACS in the United States.
2016 ACEC/PAC Chair Christopher Robertson, who is vice president, Shannon & Wilson, Inc., credited another record-breaking year to a fundamental culture shift in the way Member Organizations and individual engineering professionals view their role in legislation and advocacy.
“Everybody has been working so hard on it for the last few years, and there’s been a lot of education and conditioning,” Robertson says. “In my office, when fall came around, one senior engineer asked me, ‘Isn’t this the time of year when you ask me for a PAC contribution?’ Now you ring the bell, and they’re ready.”
PAC contributions continue to have a significant impact on issues facing the engineering industry. In November, 97 percent of the federal candidates ACEC supported won their election to the U.S. House or Senate. “If we can do that in every election, we can have an impact on all issues in the United States,” Gozdziewski says. In 2017, ACEC could play a central role in President Trump’s plan to allocate a billion dollars to the nation’s infrastructure. “It’s going to be more and more important for us to have a seat at the table,” he adds.
ACEC spent nearly $2 million on congressional candidates and committees in the 2015–2016 election cycle, an exponential increase from 2007–2008 when ACEC’s disbursement budget totaled $700,000 for the election cycle.
ACEC/PAC broke other records, as well, in the number of states making their individual fundraising goals and number of PAC contributors. Overall 41 states reached their contribution goals, up from the previous record of 38 in 2015. Total PAC donors also increased from 2,750 to 2,800.
Millennials and first-time contributors made a significant impact on 2016 donations, as 758 new contributors gave a total of $131,500 during the calendar year.
FORMULA FOR SUCCESS
ACEC/Ohio raised a third of its donations from first-time donors this year and reached its fundraising goal for the first time in 10 years.
“We’re making marvelous progress. More and more people are understanding the importance of the national PAC,” says Thomas Mosure, ACEC/Ohio’s PAC Champion. “We’re building momentum with a refocus on getting people engaged at our regional meetings, on our board and all our committees.”
ACEC/Ohio’s formula for success includes expecting members on all boards and committees to contribute to the PAC and electing PAC committees at the start of the calendar year instead of in July, which is customary. “The problem was getting out of the gate,” says Mosure, who is also president and CEO of MS Consultants, Inc. “This year, we started the campaign in January—that was a major benefit for us.”
Mosure urges all ACEC members to get involved beyond simply donating to the PAC. “If they just pay their dues and that’s it, they’re not going to understand the small battles that we’re winning all the time on their behalf,” Mosure says. “Everybody derives the benefit of those few people that give their time.”
ACEC/New Jersey reached its fundraising goal for the second year in a row, with key assistance from its Young Professionals Committee, comprised of about 20 engineers under the age of 40. The group helped expand New Jersey’s contributor network and chaired a networking event. Other events throughout the year included golf outings and cocktail receptions with local legislators, says Glen Kartalis, ACEC/New Jersey PAC Champion.
Their efforts paid off as ACEC/New Jersey saw a 20 percent increase in new contributors. “We’ve also gotten tremendous support from each of our committee members,” says Kartalis, who is also senior vice president at AECOM.
NEW YORK’S SUSTAINABLE PLAN
ACEC/New York reached its PAC goal for the third consecutive year. “I think we have a sustainable PAC campaign that can easily carry forward to the next PAC Champions,” says Gozdziewski, who is New York’s co-PAC Champion with Tom Cascino, vice president at AECOM.
Gozdziewski and Cascino took a divide-and-conquer approach to their 2016 PAC efforts. ACEC/New York’s membership is scattered among eight regions, with about 60 percent of Member Firms residing in the New York City metropolitan area, Long Island and Westchester. Cascino took the lead in organizing fundraising efforts in upstate New York, while Gozdziewski championed the metro area.
What began as one or two events a few years ago has evolved into annual events in seven of eight regions. “We’re looking to tailor the events to the geographic attractions in those regions,” says Gozdziewski. A hockey night fundraiser was held in Western New York. Schenectady-area members were invited to a play and dinner. Hudson Valley and Long Island coordinated golf outings, and the New York metro area held a lunch and Broadway play event.
To increase participation in the PAC, “your leadership has to step up to understand it, be able to explain it and be part of the PAC giving,” Gozdziewski says.
AHEAD OF THE PAC
ACEC/Illinois, which raised more overall ACEC/PAC funds than any state in the country, easily reached its goal again in 2016. “This has become part of our culture,” says John O’Neill, one of three Illinois co-PAC Champions, along with Mark Harms, president of geotechnical services at SCI Engineering, Inc., and Charles “Chip” Craddock, executive vice president at Clark Dietz, Inc.
“Illinois has a long history of culturally operating under that model that these contributions are the currency of conversation,” says O’Neill, who is also vice president and operations manager for Michael Baker International in Chicago. “It allows us to do things for our industry that make things more stable, expand our capabilities and, as a colleague likes to say, puts us at the table instead of on the menu.”
Harms owes the state’s fundraising success to the committee’s peer-to-peer contact for contributions, a clear expectation by committee members that involvement means participation in the PAC and statewide events, which included a drone raffle and a Bluetooth speaker system giveaway. “It’s always some tech element that appeals to them—or it helps rationalize the contribution,” Harms says.
He’s also proud of the large Illinois contingent that attends ACEC’s Annual Convention and Legislative Summit each spring. “You can see the relationships [with representatives] that are made at home when we go to D.C.,” Harms says. “We’re able to support our industry’s objectives, and we make valuable visits [to our representatives] as part of that convention.”
Several states made great strides toward their annual goals.
Texas raised more PAC funds than ever before in 2016 under the leadership of PAC co-Champions Keith Jackson, senior vice president of HNTB Corp., and Gary Raba, chairman and CEO of Raba Kistner, Inc.
Although the state reached only 25 percent of its $88,000 goal, Jackson and Raba expect the state to do much better this year.
“I think there are real opportunities for us,” says Raba. “We’ve already got a politically sophisticated group of involved members through our Texas Public Policy Committee.” Adds Jackson, “We’ve just got to do a better job connecting the dots for our members and demonstrating that what happens in Washington, D.C. impacts our members every bit as much as what happens in Austin.”
In Florida the ACEC/PAC effort was headed up by co-Champions Andy Cummings of Connelly and Wicker in Jacksonville, Florida, and Emerging Leader Jason Webber of Kimley Horn in Delray Beach, Florida. Despite a fundraising target of more than $47,000, Cummings and Webber led the state to goal for the third straight year. They both agree a key reason for their success was the monthly conference calls with their PAC committee of about a dozen ACEC/ Florida leaders, where they review progress and create expectations for the group. The committee led by example as everyone gave at least $1,000 themselves, while Cummings gave at the Chairman’s Club level ($2,500) and Webber, despite being just 31 years old, became ACEC’s 14th Capitol Club member ($5,000 in a calendar year) for 2016.
Now that ACEC/PAC has reached $1 million, Robertson hopes the organization will sustain that and continue to step up its performance in other ways, such as delivering contributions personally to legislators in their districts and with visits to Washington, D.C.
Robertson is especially pleased that ACEC recently passed an initiative that formally encourages Member Organizations to deliver at least some ACEC/PAC checks back in the state at local candidate events and with other ACEC members. Currently that target is 50 percent of the total PAC contribution to the candidate, but Robertson notes that “we probably are going to move that up a notch each year.”
“When we make that personal connection, then we’re much more able to get our message through to them.”