What is the AIA Virginia PAC? The AIA Virginia Political Action Committee (PAC) is the funding vehicle used to support legislators in office and candidates seeking elected office whose policy positions support the profession of architecture and align with our Directory of Public Policies and Position Statements. Contributions to the PAC are voluntary and shall in no way be a condition of membership in AIA Virginia. The PAC is governed by its own Board of Trustees, separately from AIA Virginia’s Board of Directors. However, the Chair of the Board of Trustees is the Vice President of Government Advocacy (from AIA Virginia’s Executive Committee) as an ex-officio member. The Executive Vice President of AIA Virginia also serves on the Board of Trustees as ex-officio.
Why does the organization have to give money to legislators? Shouldn’t legislators just do the right thing?It sounds like you are trying to buy votes.
We will never buy votes. Investing in legislators provides access and forms partnerships. Any legislator only has so much time to balance the competing demands, priorities, and requests that are a part of their job. Often, time allocations are as follows: constituents first, then supporters, and if any time remains after priorities are complete, it is allocated to everyone else.
Showing support for a legislator or candidate is done in one of two ways: time or money. Handing out flyers and knocking on doors to reach 140 individuals is unfeasible for an organization of our size. Therefore, we demonstrate our support through contributions, not unlike personally showing your support to a non-profit. For example, to advance the mission of Habitat for Humanity, one must either swing a hammer on site on a Saturday or make a financial contribution. This is the only way Habitat can achieve its goals and how it knows you exist as a resource.
The same principle holds true for a legislator or a candidate running for elected office. In addition, making a contribution to attend a legislative event provides the organization an opportunity to educate legislators about what we do as architects. This is the foundation for relationship-building and establishes AIA Virginia as a resource for consulting when certain bills are introduced during the General Assembly session. Remember, the Virginia General Assembly is comprised of members of varying backgrounds, professions, experiences, and cultures. Many have no idea what architects do or why what we do is important for a community. If we don’t speak for ourselves in terms of educating legislators, then you better believe that another entity will.
The PAC only focuses on procurement issues. My firm does not do public work, so the PAC is irrelevant to me and provides no value to my firm. The PAC benefits ALL firms. If you like the way you are allowed to practice in Virginia, then the PAC is relevant to you. We have established a positive legal framework for practicing in Virginia, and the PAC is essential to ensuring this framework continues to benefit the profession as a whole. Historically, you have heard the most about procurement for two reasons. First, many of the bills introduced in the General Assembly that have a negative impact on the profession involve procurement of design services using taxpayer dollars. Second, the AIA Virginia PAC’s historically low funding levels has allowed us to only be reactive and extinguish the “greatest fires.”
In reality, we advocate for issues outlined in our Directory of Public Policies and Position Statements, including the following: civic engagement, resiliency, mass transit, tort reform, regulation, the business of architecture, environmental responsibility, diversity + inclusion, accessibility, housing, historic preservation, and livable communities to name a few priorities. For example, AIA Virginia was instrumental in the passing of a bill that requires all school projects to be reviewed for security and crime prevention through building design elements during the 2019 General Assembly. Since 2018, our members’ perception of the PAC has shifted, and the PAC’s value is being recognized through increased investments. This investment is allowing AIA Virginia to begin shifting to advancing many of these issues.
Why is this now just coming up? The PAC has been around for some time and everything has seemed to be going alright. The PAC is unique in that members participate voluntarily, yet the benefits impact everyone in our profession. AIA VA’s PAC initiative is the only equitable way to fully support the many elements of advocacy. Prior to 2018, less than 3% of our membership invested in the PAC. Though this number has improved since last year, it is far from reaching a level that is meaningful and sustainable. As such, 100% of the 2020 dues increase will be transferred to the PAC unless one decides to opt-out.
In March 2019, a survey of 2,338 AIA Virginia members and allied members garnered nearly a 20% response rate. The responses clearly indicated the value of advocacy to members. Surveys have also shown that members desire the AIA to be more instrumental in the public realm and proactively promote the value of architects and architecture. Our PAC is the first step in building relationships with policymakers and those who have influence over our profession and the built environment.
I thought a portion of my dues went to Government Advocacy. Tell me again, what is this for? Currently, a portion of your AIA Virginia dues goes toward paying lobbyist fees and day-to-day business operations of performing advocacy. Today, no portion of your dues goes to supporting political candidates for elected office or legislators currently in office. Support of those individuals is provided through the PAC.
How do you decide which candidates to support? The PAC Board of Trustees, which consists of AIA members, develops a Disbursement Plan using counsel from our lobbyist team at Williams Mullen. Primarily, we focus on individuals who sit on the House and Senate General Laws Committees and members of the House and Senate leadership. Many bills that impact the profession of architecture land in the General Laws Committee. This does not mean that other Committees are unimportant; we strategically contribute to members on other Committees as our available PAC member investments allow.
Does the AIA Virginia PAC benefit candidates for national office or U.S. House and Senate legislators? No. AIA National has a PAC called ArchiPAC, which supports legislators in the U.S. House and Senate as well as candidates for national office—a completely different undertaking than the AIA Virginia PAC. The AIA Virginia PAC is used to support legislators in the Virginia House of Delegates and Virginia Senate as well as candidates for state office.
How much money do you need in the PAC to be successful? Based on our Disbursement Plan, which targets primarily the House and Senate General Laws Committees and House and Senate leadership, a minimum of $30,000 annually is required to be impactful and proactive. As we continue to mature in the legislative arena and proactively advocate for issues in accordance with AIA VA’s Directory of Public Policies and Position Statements, more money is required annually. This is because many of those issues fall with Committees outside of General Laws.
A meaningful contribution from an organization our size ranges from $500 to $1,500, depending on the legislator’s rank and influence. Our 2019 Disbursement Plan consists of 36 individuals and 5 caucus events. Our PAC goal for this year is $35,000. The PAC Opt-In is estimated to generate $20,000 annually. This alone is insufficient. AIA Virginia will still require additional PAC investments to be successful.
Before this proposed PAC initiative, how much did the PAC generate previously? In 2015 and 2016, the PAC generated an amount of money equivalent to less than $1.50 per AIA Virginia member. In 2017, AIA Virginia members invested just over $6,833. In the same year, PACs representing engineers and contractors each ranged from $50,000 to $65,000. This is a factor of 10! AIA Virginia’s historic levels of PAC participation are unsustainable for ensuring the health of our profession in the state.
In 2018, AIA Virginia developed and implemented a multi-pronged strategy to communicate the value and importance of the PAC to members. It worked! Last year, we are proud to say AIA Virginia members and firms invested nearly $22,000.
Are there any other AIA state components that do this? Yes. However, PAC laws vary from state to state. In 2018, the Board of Directors undertook extensive research and planning to position themselves to take action this August. Part of the process included discussions with state components that allocate a portion of their dues to a PAC in a similar way such as AIA Georgia, AIA Illinois, and AIA New Jersey.
You all lean a little too heavily toward one particular party for my liking. How much money did you give to Democrats vs. Republicans? The AIA Virginia PAC is non-partisan. Contributions to one political party may be greater than the other in any given year due to the composition of the General Laws Committees. The political party in power will have more individuals on any respective Committee [not just General Laws] and also Chair committees. As of 2019, the House and Senate are both narrowly controlled by Republicans. As such, our 2019 Disbursement Plan has allocated $15,500 to Republicans and $12,500 to Democrats.
Do you support AIA members that run for state office? Yes, and we encourage it! In 2019, one of our members ran for the 57th District House seat. Through our PAC, we were able to invest $1,225 in this member.
Do I get a check back for the amount of the dues increase if I decide not to allocate it as a PAC investment? By Virginia law, an organization cannot mandate that you contribute to a PAC. As such, AIA Virginia will allow those who wish to not invest in the PAC to have their dues increase go to the organization’s General Operating Fund. No rebates will be issued.
Will this allocation to the PAC occur annually? Currently, the plan is to defer a portion of dues money to the PAC annually starting in 2020. A member will ALWAYS have the option to move that portion to the General Operating Fund instead. This allocation does not always mean dues will be raised by an established amount. For example, in the absence of a dues increase, the intent to make a PAC deferral from membership dues remains.