Voices heard on Capitol Hill

By Afton Spriggs

Washington, D.C. was buzzing with political excitement during NAED’s second annual Congressional Fly-In. With the presidential campaign in full swing and the Supreme Court’s healthcare decision still top of mind, the attendees at NAED’s Congressional Fly-In had plenty of issues to discuss when they met with elected officials and congressional staffers during the second annual event, which was held July 11-12. Among some of the biggest concerns for these professionals: preserving last in, first out (LIFO) inventory valuation, extending the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) Commercial Buildings Tax Deduction, and repealing the estate tax.

“Anything on the tax reform side and the impact that has on how we carry our inventory dollars matters to us,” said Andrew Esce, vice president of operations at City Electric in Syracuse, N.Y. “With the EPAct initiatives, there are certain pieces that affect our business in a positive way, and if they disappear, it would have a negative impact.”

Augie Sodora, president of Swift Elec trical Supply in Teterboro, N.J., agreed that tax issues matter to him and to other distributors. “The pass-through income tax issue is a big one for small to medium-sized businesses owners,” Sodora explained. “In our business, income is tied up in receivables and inventory, and we get taxed at a rate that makes it really hard to keep money in the business and to grow the business.”

Bill Jarvis, vice president of sales at Cambridge, Ohio-based J & M Electrical Supply, is concerned about the future of his family business. “Because I work in a small family business that was started by my grandfather and now run by my father, the estate tax is a big issue,” Jarvis said. “We have succession plans, but if he dies tomorrow, we have a big problem. I’m going to have to do something drastic in our business just to keep it.”

With the policies they’re passionate about in the forefront, the Fly-In began with an afternoon training session with Ed Orlet, vice president of government affairs at NAED, and Stephanie Vance of Advocacy Associ ates. Attendees were briefed on what to expect in meetings with their members of Congress and learned how to make the most out of their appointments.

“The education session we had with Stephanie was really great,” Sodora said. “She taught us how to ask for things that you want and how to follow up, which I plan to do a better job of.”

“Instead of just flailing around as we try to figure out how to communicate with our members of Congress, this training gave us guidelines to work with,” Jarvis added.

The following morning, Congressman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) of Ohio’s 4th District addressed the group before they headed out for meetings on Capitol Hill. Jordan’s connection to the electrical industry served as an example of how effective reaching out to legislators can be. Doug Borchers, vice president of sales and engineering at Dickman Supply, built a relationship with Jordan by inviting him to an event at his company that NAED co-sponsored.

Once breakfast ended, the group headed off to meetings. Vance and her team were able to take the burden of planning the visits off the NAED members by scheduling 135 meetings on Capitol Hill. Attendees had several appointments throughout the day with both senators and members of the House of Representatives.

“If you were to come here by yourself and try to set all of this up, you wouldn’t be able to do this one-day affair with multiple meetings of this caliber,” Esce said.

After a day packed with meetings all over D.C., attendees trickled back into the Phoenix Park Hotel for a debriefing session.

“I was proud for our industry,” Orlet said. “First timers and seasoned political vets alike made a strong impact on policymakers. But today was just the beginning. Our members work in a relationship business and it’s the same on Capitol Hill. We need to cultivate the relationships we started at the Fly-In. Then, when the industry needs to mobilize on specific issues, our members’ influence will be considerable.”

Being a “first timer,” Esce saw the Fly-In as a chance to dive into the political world. “I hadn’t been involved before and I wasn’t, by any means, a political junkie, so my involvement in the political arena was very weak,” Esce said. “This gave

me an opportunity to get involved. It certainly is important, and now, as I get deeper into my career, these issues impact me more than they ever have before. This is the doorway that distributors can go through to get more involved and informed.”

Sodora, who has participated in other fly-in-type events, considers government involvement a responsibility to fulfill. “If we want to make changes in our country, we need to get involved. It’s our duty to participate,” he said. “If you don’t get involved, you get what you get. It’s just like anything else in life: If you don’t get out there and do something about it, then you have no right to complain about it.”

For more information about how you can get involved with NAED Government Affairs, email governmentaffairs@ naed.org; visit naed.org/tellcongress for more about NAED’s legislative issue agenda.

Spriggs is tED magazine’s web content manager. She can be reached at 314-812-5349 or aspriggs@naed.org.

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