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PAC pits school against school for donations

Competition designed to spur fundraising surge


August 27, 2009
By: Jennifer Fiala
For The VIN News Service


The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is embarking on year two of a campaign that breeds friendly competition between veterinary medical programs and pits state associations against one another, in the name of raising more donations for the group’s political action committee (PAC).

Between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010, all donations received by the PAC will be attributed to the donor’s home state and graduate school of record. The rankings are updated online on a monthly basis.

Four winners each will receive a $1,000 scholarship to their respective student scholarship programs. Last year's winners included Auburn University, for aggregate contributions, and University of Missouri, for per capita contributions. California came out on top for aggregate contributions per state and the District of Columbia led the nation in terms of per capita donations to the AVMA PAC.

The PAC received roughly $269,000 between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009, yet leaders with AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division (GRD) say they are still determining what role, if any, the new campaign played in bringing in those dollars. That kind of tally will require some historic comparisons.

Still, officials say that in terms of contributions, the political action committee is coming off its best year ever, with $312,595 contributed during the 2008 calendar year compared to $298,382 received in 2007. That totals nearly $611,000 for the 110th Congress election cycle, with contributions from a record 4.4 percent of AVMA's membership.

Traditionally, approximately 3 percent of AVMA members contribute to the PAC annually. Breaching the $600,000 mark also is significant, considering contributions during the 2005-2006 109th Congress election cycle totaled $467,342. About $421,500 in PAC donations came in during the 2003-2004 108th Congress election cycle.

(The GRD reports and evaluates the AVMA PAC's financial health in a variety of ways. While the Federal Election Commission requires PACs to report financial statements according to calendar years, a common practice inside the Capital Beltway is to measure a PAC's size based on two-year congressional election cycles. Finally, AVMA internally evaluates its PAC's fiscal year based on a July 1 through June 30 time period, largely because AVMA's annual July conventions feature PAC events that highlight major donors, and that system allows for the latest contributions to be calculated.)

GRD Director Dr. Mark Lutschaunig suspects a lot of last year's success had to do with the high-profile presidential election.

He calls AVMA’s PAC a “critical tool” that his office uses in Washington, to build relationships with members of Congress and their staffs.

“Those relationships are really important when we want to move things like the National Veterinary Medical Services Act,” Lutschaunig explains. “To be able to go in and talk to them about these issues is invaluable, and the PAC plays a very significant role in allowing us to do this.”

To critics who might suggest PAC dollars amount to bribery, Lutschaunig counters: “The PAC doesn’t buy us votes. I’ve had times when we’ve given PAC donations, and someone hasn’t voted in our favor. But at least we were able to get in there to tell our story.

“You hear a lot of griping about money in politics, but the reality is that’s the way our system is set up right now,” he adds.

That doesn’t sit well with some Veterinary Information Network members who in the past have expressed their distaste for the idea that political influence carries a price tag. Others have concerns that AVMA’s political goals do not mesh with their own.

Yet the PAC is about combining the resources of all AVMA-member veterinarians. While the general membership isn’t polled on issues, donation decisions aren’t made in secret. Lutschaunig explains that a six-member PAC board, which also includes a non-voting student representative and an AVMA Executive Board liaison, determines how PAC funds are expended.

Three of the six voting PAC board members are appointed by the AVMA House Advisory Committee and the remaining three are appointed by Executive Board members.

Still, any AVMA member can be heard. Lutschaunig invites those with suggestions about where and how PAC dollars should be spent to contact the GRD office and speak with him directly.

“We do take feedback from our members and the state VMAs,” he says.

And while Lutschaunig hears criticism about PAC dollars going to recipients in both political parties, he adds that AVMA is a politically neutral organization.

“I think you can't look at it as Republican and Democrat. Our job is to push the AVMA agenda, and that's non-partisan. We're going to contribute to both sides of the aisle,” he says.













































VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email news@vin.com.



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