The cost of influence

July 1, 2002 By    

Propane industry leaders are pressing hard for personal contributions from the rank and file to help finance the election campaigns of select candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

It’s a fact of life that success in the political arena is influenced by contributions to the candidates whose vote you seek. The Rural Electric Cooperatives, big labor and the trial lawyers are among the strongest and most influential special interests in the nation.

The National Propane Gas Association’s political action committee – PropanePAC – was formed in the late 1970s to help the election campaigns of federal lawmakers who support issues important to our industry. By law, PropanePAC can accept only personal donations; corporate contributions are prohibited. PACs can give up to $5,000 to a candidate committee each election, and up to $15,000 annually to any national committee.

Embarrassingly, Propane-PAC is able to mobilize a mere $60,000 worth of credibility and influence on Capitol Hill. By comparison, the Trial Lawyers of America (the folks who love to sue pro-pane companies), generate $2 million annually.

Now that NPGA has refocused its resources and physical presence in Washington, association leaders want an annual arsenal of at least $200,000 to dangle in the halls of Congress. They rationalize that each donor should consider giving $1 to each of the 321 members of Congress who last year contributed in some way – votes, phone calls or other assistance – to an item on the propane industry’s agenda.

The association can’t even begin pressing the rank and file for donations, however, until NPGA leaders start ponying up for the cause. So far, that isn’t happening.

At the June 11 meeting of the NPGA board of directors, new PropanePAC Chairman Vince Osterman scolded the 141-member board for its underwhelming show of support. To date, the campaign had yielded just 20 percent of its annual goal, with a paltry 10 percent of board members writing checks.

After 20 years on the books, it’s time for PropanePAC to get in the game if the propane industry wants to play political hardball. As former Propane PAC Chairman Malcolm Barrett was fond of saying, PropanePAC has plenty of money. It’s just that most of it is still in NPGA members’ pockets.

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