President's Position

Supporting decision makers

December 1, 1998

Maybe you were thinking about AOPA on election day last month, maybe not. (If you are like me, though, you were definitely thinking about flying!) Perhaps one of the candidates was a pilot, or a local general aviation airport was an issue in the campaigns. You might even have considered aviation issues in casting your vote.

We know from surveys that AOPA members are much more likely to vote than the average citizen. With 346,000 AOPA members on our rolls, that's a great source of political power. There are enough pilots across the nation to make a difference in almost every race in the country. But there's another way pilots made their voice heard last month.

AOPA Legislative Action's Political Action Committee (PAC) is AOPA's political arm. Its funds come solely from voluntary contributions by AOPA members. The PAC is a tool that allows AOPA members to pool their resources to have maximum effect in the political process. Like the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, AOPA Legislative Action PAC is a separate entity from AOPA — and by law, your dues money cannot go to the PAC or for political contributions.

In last month's elections, the PAC provided $354,000 in financial assistance to candidates who have demonstrated a commitment to general aviation. On your behalf, it picked its candidates based on aviation issues only, and on a strictly nonpartisan basis. Many candidates were pilots themselves.

Pat Toomey, an AOPA member and small businessman who ran for a U.S. House of Representatives seat for the first time, is now congressman-elect Pat Toomey — thanks in part to AOPA Legislative Action PAC's support. The PAC first helped Toomey's campaign when he was struggling to the top of a slate of six candidates for the Republican nomination in eastern Pennsylvania's Fifteenth Congressional District.

Robin Hayes is another AOPA member coming to Washington next year, thanks to the PAC's help. Hayes (R-N.C.) has been a member for more than a quarter of a century, and he will make a thoughtful and effective legislator.

Joining Hayes and Toomey are another 88 members of the House and Senate elected with the financial backing of AOPA Legislative Action PAC during 1998. They range from experienced senior chairmen of key committees to neophyte politicians; from pilots who know general aviation up and down to people who, although they don't have a certificate, have demonstrated their appreciation for the value of aviation to our nation. We count among them House aviation subcommittee Chairman John Duncan (R-Tenn.), to whom I was pleased to give AOPA's Hartranft Award at Expo '98 in late October.

In this turbulent and uncertain election year, it's a testament to the wise use of their member contributions that only six of the 95 candidates the PAC supported lost — an excellent 94 percent overall success rate. There were a few disappointments, like Matt Fong's loss in the California Senate race. I met personally with Fong when he was in Washington, D.C., this summer, and my impression is that he would have made a fine senator. But the sting of that loss is softened by the success of our other friends.

The allies whom we helped to elect will come to Washington to begin the "Year of Aviation," as proclaimed by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bud Shuster (R-Pa.). Chairman Shuster and the Transportation Committee's ranking Democrat, James Oberstar (Minn.), have pledged to "unlock" the Airport and Airway Trust Fund next year to assure that the revenue pilots pay into the fund through fuel taxes is spent promptly for aviation purposes. Shuster and Oberstar are two more friends of general aviation who won their races with AOPA Legislative Action PAC support.

Campaign finance reform is a big issue these days, as are campaign funding abuses. The prevailing problem isn't PAC contributions, though — the problem is loopholes that many politicians have found to get around them. The political reform laws passed in the early 1970s used PACs as a solution to campaign finance abuses. PACs have strict contribution limits ($5,000 per candidate per election); contributions must come from individuals, not companies or corporations; and every single contribution is reported to the Federal Election Commission for public record, including publication on the Internet (see AOPA Online at www.aopa.org/whatsnew/caphill.cfm#govlink, or go to www.fec.gov). At AOPA, we support meaningful campaign finance legislation to make the current law better and preserve the right of pilots to join together through our PAC and participate in the process.

Some members have indicated to me that they don't support the AOPA Legislative Action PAC because they don't believe in "buying votes." Our political campaign contributions don't buy votes, but they do provide us access and the ability to be able to meet and share our political agenda with those who can make it happen. The PAC helps to elect and retain members of Congress who already understand and care about our issues. For each candidate it supports, it makes us part of the team. If we present our case well, the candidate will listen to our concerns and take them to heart. We'll still be part of the team, whether or not these legislators agree with our position on the issues that affect us.

AOPA Legislative Action PAC has helped us to become a positive force for pilots in Washington. I'm proud of its achievements in the 1998 elections and grateful to those AOPA members who made it possible with their generous donations. And I'm especially proud of the many aviators, both incumbents and first-timers, whom AOPA members voted to bring to the 106th Congress.