Want your voice heard in Washington? Start here

By Kim Nilsen

Capitol Building

 

CPAs from around the country visited Capitol Hill this week to advocate on issues including tax code simplification and IRS service enhancements as part of the spring meeting of the AICPA’s governing Council.

State CPA society leaders and other AICPA Council members were briefed on key legislative issues and on the finer points of making a successful Hill visit by members of the AICPA Congressional & Political Affairs team and Council guests before embarking on visits Monday and Tuesday. Those pointers are useful for any CPA who wants to be heard on the issues that lawmakers are wrestling with this session.

The four primary areas of focus for the Hill visits by Council members were tax reform, IRS modernization, and garnering support for H.Con.Res.8, a resolution related to the fiscal state of the nation, and for mobile workforce legislation.

The CPA delegations fanned out for meetings, many of them posting on social media about their Hill visits, including this tweet from the Maryland Association of CPAs contingent:

And this selfie of the North Carolina Association of CPAs visit:

How to arrange, and act during, a Hill visit

If you want to arrange meetings with your legislative delegation’s offices, simply ask for a time. “Members of Congress are always looking to hear from local business leaders,” advised Kate Kiley, a director with the AICPA Congressional & Political Affairs team. “Especially with some of the considerable financial market and tax issues facing Congress, how proposed policy would impact CPAs is welcomed intelligence for a member of Congress.”

Congressional staffers who spoke at the AICPA’s spring Council meeting on Sunday offered some pointers for a successful Hill visit:

  • Do share your personal expertise and point of view. The lawmaker and his or her staff can read your briefing and other paperwork—but they’ll benefit most from your unique story and your willingness to answer their questions.
  • Don’t be late. That advice sounds obvious, but the complex of Hill offices can be confusing and slow to navigate, so delays are common. Lawmakers and their staff members are typically booked solid with meetings, so if you miss your appointed time, being squeezed in at a new time might be impossible.
  • Don’t talk about political fundraising, donations, or campaigns. Campaign work and legislative work must remain separate, and bringing up a donation or other campaign-related matters during a visit muddies the waters and can create conflict-of-interest headaches for the very people whose ear you are hoping to bend.

How to advocate for legislative action from back home

If there’s no trip to Washington, D.C., in your immediate future, there are still many ways to advocate on the issues.

“I like to remind constituents that you don’t have to travel all the way to D.C. to make a point,” Kiley said. “Most members conduct office hours in their district offices during district work weeks. Often, a meeting in the district is best because a constituent doesn’t have to compete with committee business, votes, and overlapping policy meetings.”

The first step is identifying your House and Senate members and finding contact information for them. One option is the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121. A switchboard operator will ask for your ZIP code and possibly your full address, using that to identify your Senate and House members. The switchboard can become inundated with calls if major legislation is being considered, making getting through more challenging. And operators can transfer calls to only one office, so callers must pick between members of the congressional delegation and then call back via the switchboard to leave messages with any other congressional office.

Another option is a web search. The Senate website, senate.gov, has a “Find Your Senators” button at the top left of the page that displays senators by state and allows users to click to their websites. Many of those sites have online forms you can fill out, or you can track down a phone number and call senators’ offices directly.

In the House, the process is similar, but you have to narrow down your representative by address first. The House website, house.gov, has a search feature at the top right of the page. Typically, a ZIP code will do. Some representatives may share ZIP codes with another member, which may require you to provide your ZIP code + four. In this instance, you can enter your address into the U.S. Postal Service’s Look Up a ZIP Code tool to obtain your ZIP code + four (#####-####).

While email forms are a quick way to register your views on legislation (or the need for it), the ultimate goal, Kiley said, is to form relationships. “As a practitioner and expert, I think a direct phone call to introduce yourself and give an opportunity for a staffer to connect with you is the best,” she said. “If time constraints exist though, an email or filling out an online form will do. Be sure to offer yourself up as a resource.”

Kim Nilsen (Kim.Nilsen@aicpa-cima.com) is the JofA’s publisher.

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