Your Voice Heard Loud and Clear | NACS – Magazine – Past Issues – 2012 – June 2012
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Your Voice Heard Loud and Clear

By Chris Blasinsky

Outside the scope of Congress, the grassroots process may mean very little to the average American voter. But here at NACS, the grassroots efforts by our members — you — are the most effective tool we have for ensuring that elected officials know how the issues they vote on affect the convenience and fuel retailing industry.

The grassroots process begins when NACS calls on you to help bring industry concerns to the attention of members of Congress on a legislative or regulatory issue — such as motor fuels regulations, tobacco or rest stop commercialization. Your participation when these calls to action are sounded is necessary — and they’re working. And like most operational efficiencies in your business, the efforts are also measurable.

We the People
For those of you who assume that the grassroots process is futile, think again. In just two months this year, calls to action on three key NACS issues resulted in nearly 3,000 correspondences reaching members of Congress. That’s powerful stuff!

Fuels Liability
In late March, both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate introduced NACS-supported legislation that would provide fuel retailers with the opportunity to sell new fuels in a responsible and legal manner. H.R. 4345, the Domestic Fuels Protection Act, and S. 2264, the Domestic Fuels Act, are "fuel neutral" bills that would ensure that equipment that meets the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) equipment compatibility guidelines satisfy all applicable compatibility requirements, protect retailers from misfueling liability and prevent retroactive liability if a fuel sold today is later declared defective.

As important as this legislation is for our industry and the future of motor fuels, members of Congress won’t lift a finger without support from folks back home who would be affected — this is where you come in.

The grassroots process for this particular legislation began with a letter posted to the NACS Grassroots website (nacsonline.com/grassroots) asking members to ask their representatives and senators to support either H.R. 4345 or S. 2264. In just six weeks, more than 100 retailers took action, sending more than 350 emails to their members of Congress (66 senators and 98 represen­tatives received at least one letter) — and 37% of those 100 retailers were engag­ing in the grassroots process for the first time through the NACS website.

Roll Your Own
Earlier this year, legislation introduced in the U.S. House (H.R. 4134), which would clarify that retailers who permit consumers to use roll-your-own (RYO) cigarette machines in stores are in essence "manufacturers," has gained considerable traction thanks to NACS grassroots efforts.

A call to action by NACS has so far yielded more than 1,100 retailers who sent a letter to their representatives asking for their support of the bill. Through the NACS Grassroots website, more than 30% of the 1,300-plus emails were sent by employees of just one company! So far, more than 200 representatives have a received a letter asking for their support, and 93% of re­tailers who got involved did so for the first time through the NACS website.

Rest Stop Commercialization
Another successful example of grassroots in action took place this March in the Senate, where an amendment offered by Senator Rob Portman (R­OH) to a highway-funding bill sought to allow for the commercialization of Interstate rest areas, which NACS opposes. The NACS call to action resulted in more than 200 retailers sending more than 1,200 emails to 90 senators, of which 97% of partici­pants were using the NACS website for the first time. The amendment was crushed by a vote of 18 to 86.

Fight for Your Right
The bottom line is this: Members of Congress want to hear from their constituents, and oftentimes their decisions are based on the feedback they receive from voters back home.

Strength in numbers is alive and well in Washington, because the more individuals who contact a legislator on any given issue, the more seriously the legislator will look into it.

Some congressional offices do keep a tally of how many phone calls, emails and letters they receive on an issue —and this can influence how a legisla­tor votes.

To jumpstart your personal grassroots en­gagement, visit nacsonline.com/grassroots. Your involvement does make a difference. It takes an average of three minutes to serve a customer in your stores and it takes just two minutes, through the NACS Grassroots website, to change Washington. Get engaged today.

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Communicating With Congress
The anthrax scare following the September 11 terrorist attacks forever changed how members of Congress receive constituent mail, and all mail in general. Standard mail can take up to three weeks to reach a congressional office. Therefore, more appropriate and timely means of communicating are email and fax (yes, still) and the good old telephone.

Send an Email
Through the NACS Grassroots website, you can quickly and effectively communicate with your legislators in just a few minutes. This web-based tool also allows NACS to track correspondences from retailers to their intended inbox on Capitol Hill. This measurement feature allows us to keep a pulse on the relationships you are developing and hold legislators accountable to their retail constituents.

To get started, visit nacsonline.com/grassroots to view the current active issues and click on the issue of interest. If you are a first time visitor, simply enter your contact info. Returning users with cookies enabled on their computer are directed to a quick login page to enter their email and zip code.

The process for sending an email is easy: NACS posts ready-to-send, issue-specific letters that you can send off as is, or edit to provide detailed information about your business and how the issue will affect you, your employees and your customers.

The grassroots system identifies your members of Congress based on your business address (required) and your home address (optional).

Send a Letter
You also have the option to write your own letter. Here are a few guidelines:

  • State your purpose for writing in the very first sentence.
  • If your correspondence pertains to a specific piece of legislation, identify it.
  • Make sure you are referencing the correct legislation to the correct body of Congress. House bills are designated with H.R. ###; Senate bills are designated by S. ###.
  • Address only one issue in each letter.
  • Include personal information about why the issue matters to you.
  • Be polite and thank the member of Congress for taking the time to read your correspondence.
  • Close by clearly restating your purpose, your position and/or your request.
  • Provide your contact information — legibly.

Make a Call
Using the telephone works, too. Congressional staff typically fields calls. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Identify yourself as a constituent and the issue you are calling about.
  • Request to be transferred to the chief of staff or the legislative assistant who handles your issue, and clearly state that you would like the senator or representative to support or oppose an issue or specific legislation.
  • State your reasons for your support or opposition, and ask for the legislator’s position on the bill.
  • Emphasize that you are a constituent and leave your full name and address so that you can be mailed a response.
  • Inform NACS of your conversation by contacting Grassroots Manager Kelly Fink at kfink@nacsonline.com or (703) 518-4228.

Face-to-Face Meetings
You’re a successful convenience store operator. You know the value of friendly and courteous customer service — the same should be extended to a meeting with your member of Congress. And to meet with your members of Congress, you don’t have to hop on the next flight to Washington, D.C. Your representatives and senators have district offices they visit several times each month. Because of hectic schedules, appointments may have to be scheduled weeks or even months in advance. A general rule of thumb is that members of Congress are usually in their D.C. offices Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and in their home districts the rest of the time.

When calling your legislator’s district office to schedule a meeting, request to speak with the scheduler. Explain your purpose and whom you represent, which gives the legislator time to prepare for your meeting and include a staff member who is responsible for the issue or issues you’re discussing. NACS is also available for assistance by providing you with an update on current legislative and regulatory issues. NACS lobbyists can also help facilitate the meeting, as well as identify other NACS members in your district who may be politically active and interested in joining you.

Once the meeting is scheduled, first and foremost, arrive on time. It’s not uncommon for a senator or representative to be late, but their excuses could range from voting on the House or Senate floor to meeting with the president. NACS lobbyists follow the same guidelines for face-to-face meetings as you do — the most effective methods for advocating the industry’s "ask":

  • Be organized. You should cover your position, the opposing argument and the reason your position is better for your business and the legislator’s home district. Whenever possible, bring to the meeting information and materials supporting your position to leave behind.
  • Be specific. Make a point to mention the bill by number and, whenever possible, demonstrate the connection between what you are requesting and the interest of the member’s constituency. Provide specific data or anecdotes about your business that are relevant to the issue you are discussing.
  • Be accurate. To build a working relationship and get action, you need to be a credible source of information. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. Take notes, let them know you’ll find the answer and get back to them. Contact NACS for help with your response.
  • Be a good listener. The legislator’s comments and questions should provide insight into a strategy for follow-up materials.

After the Meeting:

  • Get the names of additional staff members who were helpful during your meeting. It is important to thank both the legislator and his or her staff.
  • Thank your legislator for listening to your concerns, especially if they take action. Commend them publicly, including letters to the editor or items in a newsletter. Share these with their staff.
  • If you promised to provide an answer to a question you couldn’t answer, follow through.
  • Inform NACS of your conversation by contacting Grassroots Manager Kelly Fink at kfink@nacsonline.com or (703) 518-4228. We can enhance the effectiveness of your meeting by following up with the legislator or his or her staff directly.

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What Is NACSPAC?
The NACS Political Action Committee (NACSPAC) was created in 1979 by NACS as the entity through which the association can legally contribute funds to political candidates supportive of our industry’s issues.

PACs have been around since 1944, when the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) formed the first PAC to raise money for the re-election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The PAC’s money came from voluntary contributions from union members, rather than from union treasuries, to avoid violating federal laws.

How PACs Work
PACs can give $5,000 to a candidate per election (primary, general or special election) and they can also give up to $15,000 annually to any national party and $5,000 annually to any other PAC. PAC funding of congressional elections is heavily, though not exclusively, directed toward candidates already elected and seeking re-election. The reason for this is clear: Elected representatives have a voting record on issues of importance to interest groups that can indicate future support of, or opposition to, relevant legislation. Further, if incumbents have legal access to money to finance an election campaign, they are likely to have an advantage over challengers.

It is generally agreed that the starting point for a Senatorial election is $5 million and a House election is $1 million. A candidate wishing to get involved in politics at a national level obviously has to have access to large sums of money.

How a representative votes on an issue should be grounded on sound public policy and constituent support of the position. But the most important role PAC contributions play is to enhance access to the representatives and their staffs to compellingly present the association’s position on an issue and to urge support of that position. For more information about NACSPAC visit nacsonline.com/nacspac.

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NACS Day on Capitol Hill
March 19 to 20, 2013 | Washington, D.C.

In 2012, nearly 100 industry representatives took to Capitol Hill to educate members of Congress about the convenience and fuel retailing industry. These NACS members navigated the halls of Congress and participated in 224 meetings in the House and Senate, urging support of key issues such as fuels liability reform, roll-your-own tobacco, payment card data security and menu labeling. Our industry continues to face challenges in Congress and your voice is needed more than ever.

There’s nothing more impactful than telling your story directly to the individuals that make the laws. Legislators want to hear from business owners to learn about their industry and to understand how proposed legislation can positively or negatively affect those businesses in their district and/or state.

Every day NACS advocates on behalf of the convenience and fuel retailing industry on Capitol Hill. The involvement of retailers and state associations is essential to advocating the industry’s agenda. The more who attend NACS Day on the Hill, the louder the message.

NACS will schedule meetings, provide a detailed issues update and educate attendees on how to successfully lobby Congress. A NACS staffer and/or an experienced advocate will accompany every retailer and help facilitate the meetings. Mark your calendar for this important event in early 2013!