In 1999, the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) established the Orthopaedic Political Action Committee (PAC) to advance the advocacy goals of the AAOS and orthopaedic specialty societies. Since then, the interest and involvement of AAOS fellows has continued to rise, culminating in a record-setting participation rate during the 2013–2014 election cycle. Following nearly a decade of continued growth, the Orthopaedic PAC remains the only national PAC in Washington, D.C., representing the interests of orthopaedic surgeons before Congress.
When Stuart L. Weinstein, MD, assumed leadership of the PAC in 2006 after serving as AAOS president, he recognized that orthopaedic surgeons needed a better understanding of the role of political advocacy in their professional lives. He also sought to expand the influence of what was then a relatively young PAC.
Throughout his tenure as chair of the Orthopaedic PAC, Dr. Weinstein has managed to succeed in moving both goals forward. PAC receipts have increased from $2 million in 2005 to more than $3.5 million in the 2014 election cycle. Similarly, membership participation has increased from 22 percent in 2006 to an all-time high of 31 percent. This is nearly double national participation in association-sponsored PACs (17 percent) and triple physician participation in the American Medical Association’s PAC.
Room to grow
Although Dr. Weinstein’s term as PAC chair will end with the 2015 AAOS Annual Meeting, he hopes to see the PAC continue to grow as it has in the last decade, stressing the work is far from over. “We’ve achieved remarkable success, but we still have a long way to go. We still haven’t reached even a third of membership participation, and ideally, every AAOS member should understand the importance of contributing to the PAC,” he said.
The growth achieved by the PAC over the past decade has increased the visibility and influence of AAOS on Capitol Hill. AAOS members, as well as staff in the AAOS office of government relations, have built relationships with key members of Congress and their legislative aides. This has resulted in unprecedented access and provided the AAOS with opportunities to present the orthopaedic perspective on issues and help frame the debate on various healthcare priorities.
Although access does not guarantee policies will always be shaped the way orthopaedists would like, “without a vibrant PAC, we have no voice in the debates taking place that will affect our practice and our patients,” Dr. Weinstein. said.
Making a difference
During the 2013–2014 election cycle, the Orthopaedic PAC dispersed $2.6 million to members of Congress and candidates for federal office who support physicians’ issues. This made the Orthopaedic PAC the 10th largest association PAC in federal disbursements.
Support from the Orthopaedic PAC helped re-elect 150 Representatives and 8 Senators who will continue to be champions for the orthopaedic community. In addition, more than 25 pro-physician candidates who were also supported by the Orthopaedic PAC were elected.
Throughout his time as chair of the Orthopaedic PAC, Dr. Weinstein has spearheaded various outreach and education programs to orthopaedic residents and fellows alike to help members understand how these PAC successes affect not only their professional lives, but musculoskeletal patients as well. Becoming involved early helps set the stage for a lifelong commitment to political advocacy. These efforts are paying off. In 2014, five residency programs—University of Hawaii, Geisinger Health System, University of Connecticut, University of Vermont, and Columbia University—achieved 100 percent PAC participation.
“Political involvement is sometimes looked upon negatively. People don’t like money in politics and often view all PACs as ‘special interests’ muddying the American political system,” Dr. Weinstein explained. “But the fact of the matter is that to fund campaigns, accepting political donations is a routine necessity for most candidates. Without a robust PAC, orthopaedists simply would not have the access to legislators required to play a meaningful role in policy debates.”
Dr. Weinstein stresses that the Orthopaedic PAC, although a separate entity, functions more as a vehicle that enables the AAOS to pursue the advocacy goals established by the Council on Advocacy and AAOS leadership. The PAC empowers the advocacy agenda with additional resources needed to succeed.
Because it is issue-driven and bipartisan, the Orthopaedic PAC backs both Democratic and Republican legislators who support orthopaedic issues. The PAC executive committee carefully studies legislators’ positions, so that decisions ensure that member contributions are put where they will best represent the profession.
Each time the PAC makes a contribution, it sends a clear and collective message from orthopaedic surgeons to the candidate. It also expands the influence of individual surgeons beyond their own legislative districts through its support of other candidates and legislators. As the PAC grows, its message resonates louder and reaches more lawmakers.
A personal commitment
Perhaps the most significant contribution Dr. Weinstein has made to the increasing success of the Orthopaedic PAC is the personal attention he brings to the task. He personally signs each PAC thank-you note (more than 9,000 of them to date), writes his own solicitation letters, and responds personally to every question or concern that arises about the activities and disbursements of the PAC and its funds.
“The success of the Orthopaedic PAC is a true testament to Dr. Weinstein’s passion for political advocacy and the personal responsibility he has taken for every dollar of PAC money spent,” said AAOS President Frederick M. Azar, MD. “It is that kind of attention that continues to assure thousands of fellows that their generously donated funds are spent both widely and responsibly to make a lasting impact for the future of musculoskeletal care.”
Kristin Leighty Brackemyre is the Orthopaedic PAC manager in the AAOS office of government relations. For more information on the Orthopaedic PAC, visit www.aaos.org/pac
The top 5 in participation
The states/territories with the highest participation rates in the Orthopaedic PAC are as follows (through Dec. 31, 2014):
Puerto Rico—69 percent
South Dakota—51 percent
North Dakota—36 percent
The states/territories with the greatest improvement in their rate of participation in the Orthopaedic PAC from 2013 to 2014 are as follows:
Vermont (16 percent to 58 percent)
Puerto Rico (29 percent to 69percent)
South Dakota (30 percent to 51 percent)
Hawaii (27 percent to 45 percent)
Alaska (16 percent to 29 percent)
Learn more in Las Vegas
For more information on the Orthopaedic PAC and other AAOS advocacy issues, stop by the AAOS Advocacy display in the Technical Exhibits area, booth 2222.