Editorial: September 2012
If you ever get a spare moment (unlikely this time of year, I know), drop into the American Rental Association’s website at www.ararental.org and click on the Government Affairs tab.
By Patrick Flannery
If you ever get a spare moment (unlikely this time of year, I know), drop into the American Rental Association’s website at www.ararental.org and click on the Government Affairs tab. Wow! This organization has an incredible number of groups, activities and programs aimed at influencing American legislators at all levels to create a better business climate for its members. There is a permanent Government Affairs committee and an official lobby group known as ARAPAC (that would be short for ARA Political Action Committee). The ARA organizes trips to Washington, D.C., to visit national legislators and lobby them directly. There are articles on the website telling ARA members about state and national issues that impact them and outlining the ARA’s position and how it can help. The ARA makes strategic contributions to politicians’ campaigns at both the state and national levels, and lists those contributions on the site. There is a get-out-the-vote drive and an article and resources telling rental operators how to discuss election issues with employees. There is assistance for rental operators looking to pursue government contracts. It is clear that the ARA sees political action on behalf of its members as a huge part of its mandate and mission.
Associations can be tremendously effective lobbyists on behalf of their members. Just look at what Jim Clipperton and the B.C. CRA were able to accomplish with some determined lobbying of the B.C. provincial government. Together with some other industry stakeholders, they were able to change a potentially destructive regulation by B.C.’s vehicle licensing authority that would have forced B.C. rental operators to put licence plates on every piece of equipment that could move under its own power – even mini-excavators, rollers, riding lawnmowers and the like. The B.C. group worked long hours and actually got the law of the land changed.
Such results are possible because politicians ignore associations at their peril. After all, each industry association speaks for hundreds or thousands of employers, each of whom is a business owner with a disproportionate effect on the local vote. And each employer has dozens or hundreds of employees who share the business’ interests up to a point. Aside from their clout in influencing voting, associations have some built-in credibility because they make collective decisions. If a politician hears one person say something, it is possible that person’s view is wildly out of synch with the views of others. If he hears a businessman say something, he can still dismiss the point as possibly only relevant in a certain region or market. But when an association speaks, the politician knows there must be general agreement across most of its membership. That lessens the chance that the association’s position is not representative of the views of a large segment of the population.
Sometimes associations seem to feel they need to remain silent or neutral on political issues. But when politicians are making some decision about a bit of policy that will affect the rental industry, they should at least be aware of what the rental industry thinks should happen.