At the last meeting of the Public Affairs Council’s Board of Directors, I was asked to comment in a short video about how to secure senior management support for a company’s Political Action Committee.
It should be obvious that most senior managers do not attain their position of leadership by understanding the government affairs function and the increasingly important role that PACs play in government affairs success. And many have had experiences on the way to attaining their leadership position that make them suspicious, if not hostile, to providing PAC support.
In a meeting with the CEO and SVP of Public Affairs of a Fortune 500 company in the health care arena several years ago, my job was to convince the CEO to not only support the PAC but allow it to conduct a solicitation campaign and institute payroll deduction. I was aghast that a CEO in such an industry so impacted by governmental action wasn’t already on board. My discussion with him, however, revealed that in a different company, he had been basically forced to contribute to its PAC with little reason given other than “it is necessary to keep your job.” As a result, his distaste for PACs was carried into the C-suite.
After a lengthy discussion about how coercion is illegal, and that the planned campaign along with payroll deduction were in no way coercive, he began to soften his opposition. He really thought that all PAC campaigns were coercive. Later he disclosed that he was a Harvard government major. He understood how our government worked and how public policy was formed. Yet he had put a bad personal experience with another PAC ahead of protecting his own company’s interests, as well as that of his employees and the patients that would benefit from the company’s success. When I pointed this out, he had a change of mind and we got the approval to move forward.
The point of this story is that you never know where a senior leader’s reluctance to support your PAC emanates from or the real reason for their hesitation. Sometimes it is ignorance of how the system works. I suspect that as often as not, their hesitancy comes from a bad experience with another corporate PAC along the way to leadership. Only a frank discussion can determine the real problem and how it should be addressed. Short cuts in securing PAC contributions tend to lead to future problems in a PAC’s future.