AVMA Answers

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Why should veterinarians care about the political process?

Dr. Michael Chaddock, director of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division in Washington D.C.,

Decisions made by public policy makers at all levels affect every one of us. Their decisions are certainly made on a scientific basis, but also on other bases, and political science is one of those factors. If we're going to be a player in any field involving our personal or professional lives, we have to accept the political process and understand it.

I hear a lot of apathy about politics and the political process. It's like making sausage—a lot of people are not interested in the process but do care about the outcome. But many of them would rather leave that process of public policy making, including the politics, to others. That's unfortunate, because it takes everybody being involved at the local political level for the process to be successful. As Speaker Tip O'Neill said, all politics are local.

Why does the AVMA need a Washington office, and why staff it with veterinarians instead of professional lobbyists?

Our profession has high credibility and respect in Washington, D.C. When you're on Capitol Hill and you introduce yourself as a veterinarian, people always smile and greet you warmly. Not so with professional lobbyists. Even though we're lobbying for veterinary medicine, we're veterinarians, number one, and the people here in Washington see and respect that. For the AVMA to be able to be involved in the political process, we have to have accessibility to the federal public policy makers' offices. Sometimes, on a moment's notice, a meeting is called and they'll want someone from the AVMA there.

How is the AVMA GRD addressing veterinarians' small business concerns?

The AVMA has heard quite clearly from our membership that these are issues they want us paying attention to in Washington and on the state level. Our profession is made up mainly of small businessmen and businesswomen, because 73 percent of them are in private clinical practice. This past year when we reorganized the GRD, we hired a veterinarian, Dr. Ray Stock, whose portfolio is entirely small business issues that affect veterinarians. His work here is dedicated to those issues. Dr. Stock works on everything from taxation to student debt to OSHA—anything involving the bread-and-butter economics of veterinary medicine. The Executive Board has also responded to this member priority by setting a legislative agenda that directs the GRD to seek passage of bills that have a direct effect on our members' economics.

Describe the AVMA's political advocacy process.

The Executive Board takes up recommendations from the AVMA Legislative Advisory Committee and other committees and councils, and sets the agenda on what the AVMA will do in the legislative and regulatory arenas. We set out to do that by influencing and advocating for those positions with members of Congress and executive branch staff. The Association uses funds donated to the AVMA Political Action Committee to support candidates for federal office. The PAC, through its policy board of six members, scores members of Congress and candidates on their accessibility, committee assignments, voting record on issues the AVMA has set as priorities, and the intangibles, such as whether they've been a friend of veterinary medicine. Every dollar of the money donated by our members to the PAC goes for contributions to the members of Congress and candidates we support. The PAC's slogan is "accessibility, influence, and impact"—meaning that PAC dollars give access to the candidates so that we can influence the decision making and have impact upon legislation and public policy.

Our grassroots network is also important and influential. Veterinarians throughout the country who have gotten to know their senators and members of Congress then volunteer to contact them when we put out a call for action on an issue of priority to AVMA members or ask them to deliver AVMA PAC checks. This gives AVMA members a great opportunity to bring it back home to their elected officials, where they have influence.

How can veterinarians make a difference in Washington and in their own states?

Every veterinarian can make a difference by contacting their congressional representative and senators and telling them about the AVMA's legislative agenda. Tell them how the legislation would affect them at home—their employees, their clients, their patients, themselves. That can be done by phone calls, letters, e-mails, and faxes.

As we gear up for this election year, the legislators and the candidates running for those offices are campaigning in their districts. They'll hold meetings and town hall sessions. Our members could talk one-on-one with them there and do very effective grassroots lobbying.

If an AVMA member plans to visit Washington, D.C., we invite them to contact us so we can set up meetings for them at the Washington offices of their representatives to talk about AVMA issues. They are the constituents, and no one can bring an issue home the way a grassroots member can.

Contact the AVMA GRD at (800) 321-1473.