My last blog post dealt with the fact that anemic senior management support for a PAC is not always due to a lack of understanding. In the case of foreign national executives who lead U.S. subsidiaries of foreign owned companies, however, that is almost always the case.
I’ve had the opportunity to speak with foreign executives and often find their personal experiences and home country culture usually dominates their views towards PACs – whether they are Japanese, British, French or whatever.
Here’s a case in point. The French president of a foreign owned aerospace company’s U.S. subsidiary refused to allow the PAC to communicate with the company’s eligible employees and wanted nothing to do with the PAC. At the request of the CEO of the holding company, I met with the president. We spent the first 10 minutes talking about French politics and that country’s newly elected President. I then explained that his views about the PAC would be absolutely correct were we in France, as it would be illegal. However, doing business in the United States – an entirely different political system – meant that avoiding the PAC was counterproductive to his long term business interests.
I continued to point out that, in France the political party chooses the candidate but, in the U.S., the candidate chooses the political party. In France, the party chooses the campaign issues, while each U.S. candidate chooses issues they think will be most helpful to his or her campaign. In France, the party raises all of the money for the campaign, while each U.S. candidate has to raise his or her own money. These differences mean that U.S. candidates have to rely on contributions from individuals and PACs to run successful campaigns. And it is not only commonplace and legal but an essential part of effective government relations.
Finally, I commented that his company made a very fine product he hoped to sell to the U.S. government, but that would not be possible if Congress did not pass the required appropriations. He would want Congress’ decision to be based on the quality of his product and relationships his company—not some other company—has developed through PAC contributions with key decision-makers.
We were conducting PAC solicitations among eligible employees in the company within two months. Since the president held a green card, our meeting also helped to secure his own voluntary contribution.
My point is simple. Unless you can get foreign executives in the United States to understand the differences in political systems and appreciate that political contributions in our country are not only legal but an ethical and commonplace approach for relationship building, their support for your activities will be weak or non-existent.
Take the time to understand the political system in which your foreign executives came from and then contrast it with the U.S. political system. Encouraging this type of understanding can lead to enthusiastic support for your PAC.