LEGISLATIVE AND TECHNICAL AFFAIRS
By Eric Snyder
The Inside Scoop on the RPM Act
From Introduction to Enactment, SEMA-Member Participation Is Key
Steve Sousley (right), Owner of PRO-FABrication, explains to U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), an original sponsor of the RPM Act, how his company rolls tubing used in race-vehicle exhaust systems.
While the term “lobbyist” may, in certain circles, conjure a less-than-flattering image of Gucci shoes, limitless expense accounts and golf vacations to Scotland, I can assure you as SEMA’s congressional affairs manager that this image bears little resemblance to the day-to-day life advocating for SEMA and its members. In their purest form, lobbyists represent companies and hard-working Americans before lawmakers and regulators. These advocates serve an important role in the lawmaking process by providing issue-specific expertise and explaining the impact and unintended consequences of legislation or proposed regulations to members of Congress and their staffs.
SEMA’s mission statement is to help its member companies succeed and prosper. Legislative and regulatory advocacy has been a key tool since the association’s founding in 1963. SEMA’s government affairs office in Washington, D.C., serves this advocacy role for its members, the majority of which are small businesses. From reviewing pending regulations to monitoring bills proposed by Congress and in state legislatures across the country, SEMA’s Washington office is the eyes, ears and voice for its members.
Jeff Bates (right) of Bob Cook Sales discusses the RPM Act with Al Simpson (left), Chief of Staff to U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC). The Congressman agreed to co-sponsor the RPM Act as a result of the meeting.
Responding to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) stated policy that makes illegal emissions modifications that enable racers to convert their motor vehicles into dedicated race cars is SEMA’s latest advocacy effort. In order to clarify that these modifications are legal, we worked with our allies to introduce the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act of 2016 (RPM Act). Over the past few months, my days have been largely focused on meeting with members of Congress and their aides in an effort to get U.S. Senators and Representatives to indicate support for the RPM Act by signing on as co-sponsors. Equally important is keeping SEMA-member companies apprised of the bill’s progress and getting them to contact their members of Congress to encourage enactment of the bill into law.
Convincing members of Congress to co-sponsor the RPM Act is the best way to get House and Senate leaders to schedule the bill for committee and floor action. For members of Congress who are gearheads, race fans or supporters of the hobby, getting them to co-sponsor the RPM Act hasn’t been a tough sell. The same has been true of those members who are pro-business.
For members who don’t fall into those categories, getting them to understand the direct impact of the EPA’s action on the people they represent—including those who work for companies that manufacture, distribute, sell and install racing parts and equipment—is critical to gaining their support. While there are a few racing enthusiasts in Congress, every member shares a desire to get re-elected. With this in mind, helping members of Congress appreciate the impact that the RPM Act will have on the livelihoods of their constituents is the bedrock of our efforts to secure additional co-sponsors.
SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting testifies before the House Science Committee about the need to protect racing.
That’s where SEMA members are crucial in the effort. Lawmakers want to hear from their constituents about how the EPA’s action impacts their businesses, their employees, local racers and enthusiasts.
SEMA-member company outreach to Congress can come in many different forms, including having the business owner or senior employee send a letter on the company’s letterhead, having them call the congressional office and highlight what the issue means to their business, or having a face-to-face meeting with members of Congress or their staff. During the weeks that Congress is not in session in Washington, D.C., lawmakers use their time to meet with the people they represent in their home states and get a better understanding of the issues that are important to their constituents. Whether in the nation’s capital or in the districts, our office can help set up meetings or provide lawmaker contact information.
Eric Snyder (right) speaks with Jesse Childs from the National Association of Manufacturers about the need to pass the RPM Act.
Personal letters from businesses are always very compelling. I’ve helped coordinate the effort by asking our member companies to send their letters to me so that I can make sure those letters are reviewed by the lawmakers and key members of their staffs. These letters are especially helpful to our efforts to get lawmakers to co-sponsor a bill.
During a recent meeting with a U.S. Senator’s office, the staffer I met with asked me to get companies in the Senator’s state to write letters asking the Senator to co-sponsor
the bill. The staffer also noted that it would be much easier for him to sell the idea to the Senator if he could demonstrate that it is important to their constituents.
SEMA has found that bringing association members to Washington, D.C., to meet with their Representatives and Senators is an especially valuable tool. Those of you who joined us in Washington on May 11 for the 2016 Washington Rally know firsthand what it’s like to be an RPM Act advocate. Between their morning and afternoon appointments, SEMA members and staff met with more than 90 Congressional offices to discuss the RPM Act in addition to other issues of importance to their companies. The results of those meetings speak for themselves, as SEMA-member meetings resulted in 15 additional House and Senate co-sponsors to date.
Our RPM Act electronic letter-writing campaign has also proven to be a huge advocacy resource, as SEMA members, their employees and hobbyists have sent more than 150,000 letters to members of Congress. This is an average of more than 280 letters sent to each member of Congress! On countless occasions, congressional staffs have remarked to me about the staggering number of pro-RPM Act letters their offices have received.
JR Moore (left) of Performance Warehouse, Tracie Nuñez (second left) of Performance Warehouse Association and Eric Snyder (right) meet with Ross Arnett from U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz’s (D-CA) office about the RPM Act.
Many SEMA members have also participated in SEMA’s Congressional Site Visit Program, where they host a member of Congress at their business, provide them with a tour of the facility, and help their Representative to better understand the industry and the issues that it faces. This is critical in establishing long-term relationships with lawmakers.
In June, PRO-FABrication hosted U.S. Representative Richard Hudson (R-NC), who is a passionate supporter of the RPM Act, for a tour and meeting with its employees. The Congressman’s visit to PRO-FABrication, which manufactures racing headers and exhaust systems for racers, reinforced the need to pass the RPM Act in 2016 in order to protect the thousands of men and women who work in the race-product industry.
SEMA is also working with racetrack owners and operators in key congressional districts to ensure that their members of Congress recognize the impact that the EPA’s policy change would have on racing in their districts. Unless members are racing enthusiasts themselves, many don’t appreciate the important entertainment value that tracks provide in addition to driving significant economic activity in the local community.
Additionally, SEMA has assembled a working group of other industry associations impacted by the EPA action. Through coordinated collaboration, we can take advantage of relationships that these organizations have on Capitol Hill and leverage a larger voice in support of the RPM Act.
It’s been an honor to represent SEMA members and their employees on a host of issues over the past two years. I grew up in a family of business owners, which provided me with an education in the unique challenges that small businesses face. I pursued a career in government relations because I am passionate about advocating for companies that too often bear the brunt of poorly conceived laws and government regulation. It has been especially exhilarating to advocate on behalf of SEMA’s members as we work together to pass the RPM Act and provide certainty to the racing parts and equipment industry.