By now orthopaedic surgeons should understand the importance of providing input to politicians—in Washington, D.C., and our home states—as they make decisions affecting the future of our profession.
Although many orthopaedists may think that their input “doesn’t matter,” others have discovered that politicians do listen to their constituents, and they understand that having a personal relationship with a politician is invaluable when that politician has to vote on an issue important to them. In many instances, our members have been able to give their input to the politician right before a vote, which wouldn’t have been possible if they had not developed a relationship with the politician beforehand.
The importance of fundraising
Political fundraising is an important part of any relationship with a politician. Hosting a fundraising event on their behalf shows candidates that you believe in them and their views and that you think it is important for them to stay in office. It is another way to maintain a friendship and relationship with your representatives, and enables you to share your and your colleagues’ views on important issues.
Although vital to the political process, fundraising can be difficult. Donations are not tax deductible, and everyone has their own views of what is important. To make the most of your efforts, you need a plan.
Steps to success
The first step is to select a candidate and develop a relationship with him or her. This can be done in person or on the phone in the form of an introduction or a brief discussion. The better you know the politician, the easier it is to proceed with an event.
Find out who on the politician’s staff is in charge of fundraising. Many politicians have an outside firm handling fundraising. It is also very important to have enough lead time—at least 6 weeks. Oftentimes, the political fundraiser will try and push you to do an event quickly, or they may call you and say that the politician has an opening on a date 2 weeks down the road. But getting an event ready that quickly is difficult.
Next, I spend several weeks putting together a host committee of at least 10 people or couples. Members of the host committee make a monetary contribution to the campaign, which can be anywhere from $500 to $1,000 depending on the event. They also commit to bringing people and soliciting contributions for the event.
Once the host committee is set, I ask the politician’s political staff to create an invitation listing the host committee and the details of the event. Try to hold the event in a relaxed atmosphere, such as someone’s home, which fosters informal communications. If necessary, a hotel or conference center can also be used, but they are not as desirable.
Once the invitations are mailed, I resend the same invitations via email. Most people also need to receive a phone call and personal request to attend the event. I always make sure I have enough time to call people to make the event successful.
About a week before the event, I arrange to speak with and advise the politician on the topics for discussion at the fundraiser. It is important to try and focus the event on two or three issues within a single topic. For example, at a medical/orthopaedic event, topics might include the sustainable growth rate, tort reform, and physician ownership of ancillary services. Specific topics let the politician know that these issues are important to you and help keep the message focused.
How much money does a successful event raise? That is a complex question with many variables. As a general rule, for a local congressional representative, a successful event raises $6,000 to $8,000, with 15 people present. For a U.S. senator from your own state, an event in the $16,000 to $20,000 range is usually very acceptable. For U.S. senators who travel from out of state to visit, or for representatives or senators who hold House or Senate leadership positions, a successful event pulls in $25,000 to $30,000. I try to avoid making any commitments higher than these amounts.
Holding a fundraising event takes a lot of work and commitment on the part of the host. However, the end result cannot be overemphasized: the ability to count that representative as a friend and be able to give him or her input on the issues that are important to you. If each orthopaedist would commit to establishing a personal relationship with each of his or her Congressional representatives, the efforts of the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons would be greatly enhanced.
Steven B. Wertheim, MD, is a member of the AAOS Advocacy Resource Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org