From left: Rep. Pete Sessions; John T. Gill, MD; Rep. Sam Johnson; Mrs. Gill; Rep. Joe Barton


Published 7/1/2010
John T. Gill, MD

Getting to the top of the political pyramid

Tips for hosting political fundraisers

Do you know the name of your Congressional representatives? More importantly, does your U.S. Senator or Representative know your name? If you answered “no” to either question, read on.

To become an effective advocate for our patients and our profession, you need to become a known entity to your elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels. Once you are, you’ll never have to go through this scenario again:

Your state is considering a scope of practice bill. You have some thoughts on the issue and want to share them, but when you call your representative, you end up with a 22-year-old intern who thanks you very much for your concerns and promises to pass them on.

Over the next few months, the members of the AAOS Advocacy Resource Committee will present a series of articles in AAOS Now to assist you in becoming an effective advocate for orthopaedics.

The most effective way to establish a good relationship with a legislator is to participate in his or her election or re-election campaign. The November 2010 elections are just around the corner, which means this is prime campaign season. There is no better time to establish or strengthen your relationships with legislators than when they need more from you than you need from them.

The political pyramid
Each of the 435 congressional districts in the United States has a population of roughly 650,000 people (
Fig. 1). About 20 percent of a district’s population is not eligible to vote and an additional 20 percent who are eligible don’t bother to register. That leaves approximately 390,000 registered voters in each congressional district.

In a good year, when there is an exciting race or a presidential candidate tops the ticket, about half of a district’s registered voters will actually go to the polls. Only 5,000 voters, however, will make a financial contribution to a candidate’s campaign and only 500 voters will volunteer some of their time to assist the campaign.

Simply by voting, you exert more influence than 70 percent of the population in your district. That figure rises to 99.9 percent when you also make a financial contribution and donate some of your time to the campaign. These are the folks who have their calls to their Congressional representatives answered by the chief of staff or even by the member.

Fundraising is a necessary evil of our election system and I know of no candidate who enjoys it. Yet good candidates can lose the election without it and lousy candidates can win with it. A sure-fire way to get a member of Congress to remember your name is to host a fundraiser in his or her honor.

Because every seat in the U.S. House is up for grabs this November, representatives will be returning to their home districts to campaign during the August recess. That makes August a great time to host a fundraiser. If you start now, you’ll have the 6 weeks lead time needed to put a fundraiser together.

I have hosted many fundraisers over the last decade, including three already this year. The following are some “pearls” I have learned that may assist you in hosting a successful event.

Three steps to success
First, select the candidate you want to help and contact the campaign manager to determine a potential date for the fundraiser. The campaign staff will be very helpful with the details and logistics; after all, you are doing them a big favor. If you promote this as a medical community event, your candidate will love it because doctors are the most difficult group to reach. You should also contact the AAOS office of government relations to see if your candidate is eligible for political action campaign (PAC) funds.

Next, recruit members for a large Host Committee. Ninety percent of your contributions will come from members of the Host Committee, and their names will be printed on your mailed invitations. For a Congressional candidate’s fundraiser, I have three levels on the Host Committee: Co-Chair ($2,400), Host ($1,000), and Sponsor ($500). I also include a Guest ($250) level whose names are not on the printed invitations.

Successful recruiting usually requires a personal contact—a phone call, an in-person chat, or a personal letter. Start with your partners, practice colleagues, friends, and known political contributors. Even though it’s billed as a “medical community” event, do not exclude family, neighbors, or others who wish to contribute and attend. If possible, collect the contributions (credit card or check) right away.

The third step is to plan carefully. Remember, the idea is to raise money, not spend it. Keep expenses low by holding the event at your home, where it is also more personal. Serve light hors d’oeuvres, beer, wine, and soft drinks.

I’ve found that short evening events—lasting from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and requiring only business attire—work best for doctors. If the candidate’s schedule does not permit an evening event, a casual Sunday afternoon event can also be successful.

Need more help?
A detailed “tip sheet” on how to host a fundraiser can be found on the
AAOS Government Relations Web site. You may also contact me directly and I would be pleased to assist you. Look for a new article next month with another set of ideas on how you can become a player in the political arena.

John T. Gill, MD, chairs the AAOS Advocacy Resource Committee. He can be reached at

Visit the Orthopaedic PAC for more information, or e-mail Cheka Gage, PAC and grassroots specialist in the office of government relations,