In this Section:
14. eyePAC: How it Relates to Grassroots
The Mother’s Milk of Politics. As outlined in Chapter 11, running for office is expensive. Like many national organizations, ASCRS seeks to assist good candidates for office through a Political Action Committee (PAC)—eyePAC. PACs assist in government relations by giving a profession a stronger voice together than individuals have on their own. eyePAC supports candidates who have a proven record of supporting ophthalmic and specialty medical issues. Many physicians find it useful to donate to eyePAC, knowing their contributions are going to the most worthy candidates.
The Check is in the Mail. eyePAC strives to demonstrate a connection between a contribution to a candidate and the constituents in his or her district. Oftentimes, ASCRS will ask a doctor in the district or state to deliver the eyePAC check. ASCRS generally looks for physicians who have contributed to eyePAC or have an existing relationship with the legislator to deliver the check. This provides a good opportunity for eyeContacts to meet with legislators.
Some people may feel uncomfortable with giving campaign contributions. There are many common misconceptions about political giving and PACs; many involve a perception of underhandedness or secrecy. In fact, PACs are quite transparent and accountable. All information about federal PACs is available through the Federal Election Commission www.fec.gov. PACs were created to counteract the prevalence of secret money in the early part of the 20th century. Many PACs, including eyePAC, that focus contributions on key members and committees are highly regarded instruments of collective action.
15. Troubleshooting: Common Questions and Stumbling Blocks
Here is an inexhaustive list of some of the most common questions and complaints that government relations professionals hear from their grassroots advocates. Have a burning question not answered here? Let us know!
- I contacted my legislator and got no answer.
The good news is that citizen engagement with elected officials is at an all-time high (largely due to the internet); the bad news is that this means most legislators are bombarded with more calls, emails, and meeting requests than they could ever possibly manage. Some legislative offices only consider constituent requests “serious” when they have tried at least twice for help. So be persistent. Follow-up meeting requests with a phone call or email a week later. If you are still not getting anywhere, call the legislator’s office and ask how they prefer to receive requests and communications from constituents. All offices are managed differently. Ask ASCRS government relations staff for assistance.
- I am meeting with a (young) staff member.
As detailed in Chapter 7, congressional schedules are packed and can change at the last minute. If your legislator cannot meet with you in person, he or she will assign the appropriate staff person. Meeting with staff can sometimes be more valuable if your legislator does not serve on a committee that oversees your issue. The legislator may not be as well-versed as a legislative assistant whose sole job is to follow healthcare issues. Know that the lawmaker hired the staff member because he or she trusts the aide’s judgment. When you win over a staff member, you have made a powerful ally. Finally, some constituents feel uncomfortable dealing with staff who may be quite young. Again, know that the legislator trusts this person as capable of the task.
- Politicians are stupid/lazy/corrupt.
Anyone who has watched the evening news knows that there are sadly a few bad apples in the bunch. But by and large, these are exceptions rather than the rule. Most politicians are dedicated public servants who are willing to listen, even if they do not agree with you. They come from all walks of life—some are doctors—and are generally very hard working. Take some time to get to know your local elected officials before you judge them.
Get in there and clean it up! People in power may seek to use their influence unfairly, so be there to hold them accountable. Get to know your elected officials and share with them your issues of concern—and be clear with them that you will be following their actions on the issue. If a politician promised something and did not deliver, ask him or her for an explanation. Make sure to send your thanks if they do come through for you.
- I’m not getting anywhere/one person can’t make a difference.
Generally, the least successful advocates are ones who do not follow the rules. If you are not being specific in your communications (i.e., not including bill numbers or other vital information) or you have not taken the time to personalize your message with a compelling reason why your legislator should support or oppose your issue, you are probably being drowned out by other advocates.
- I’m not comfortable/knowledgeable enough talking to my legislator.
Many legislative and regulatory issues, particularly health-related, can be confusing, dense, and full of unrecognizable acronyms. Legislators and their staff are used to dealing with people unfamiliar with the legislative process. Stick to the basics, and if they ask you for more information, offer to refer them to the ASCRS government relations staff. Before you meet with a legislator, it is always a good idea to check with ASCRS staff or the government relations pages of the website for the latest legislative information.
- I don’t have enough time to read all the bills and issues to be conversant.
An eyeContact’s job is to represent ASCRS and ophthalmologists in your state and district to your legislators, not to pour over hundreds of pages of legislative text. ASCRS employs professional government relations staff to do the required research on issues. When you respond to an alert, or meet with your legislators, ASCRS will provide you with relevant information. Most eyeContacts only need a one-page fact sheet to have enough background on an issue.
16. Other Resources, Bibliography
So Now You Know. At a time when the political system seems more polarized and disconnected from the average person than ever, becoming an eyeContact may seem an unwelcome responsibility; yet if we as advocates for balanced solutions disengage now, those without the know-how and professionalism will be making all the rules.
Realistically, will one eyeContact be able to fix the healthcare mess and put the country on a sustainable path forward? Probably not. But what is almost guaranteed is that you will come away with a much better understanding of the present challenges facing the profession, new policy solutions, and a stronger relationship with your elected officials and other people in your community. So as we said in the introduction, get involved for your own fulfillment and engage in the way that is smartest for you. Take some time to reflect on the suggestions in the guide, figure out what works for your practice, your family, and your district, and get started!