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Regents say no to PAC

From the February 2000 ACP–ASIM Observer, copyright © 2000 by the American College of Physicians–American Society of Internal Medicine.

The Board of Regents has voted against recommending the formation of a political action committee (PAC).

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At a Jan. 21 meeting, the Board decided not to recommend that ACP–ASIM Services Inc., a separate organization affiliated with the College, create a PAC. (IRS rules prohibit non-profit organizations like the College from forming a PAC.) The vote laid to rest for the time being an issue that became the subject of intense debate soon after the College and the ASIM merged.

The meeting sparked considerable debate among Regents. Much of the discussion examined whether a PAC would give internal medicine enough political clout to outweigh what some view as ethical problems that result from mixing money and politics.

Opponents of a PAC expressed concerns about endorsing questionable campaign practices by paying for political access. Other opponents pointed out that there was not a pro-PAC consensus among College members and that College advocacy efforts are already successful without the potential conflicts of interest that forming a PAC might pose.

Several Regents said that during visits to chapter events over the past year, no clear mandate on the PAC issue emerged. One Regent pointed out that only 4% of ASIM members contributed to its PAC when it was active, adding that "such a small minority should not carry the logo and history of an organization." Supporters of the PAC, however, countered that the College offers other programs—such as Annual Session—that are supported by a similarly small percentage of members.

Supporters also argued that a PAC would help the College enhance its mission and help its members. They pointed out that by giving internal medicine a stronger political voice, a PAC could be an appropriate outlet for beleaguered practicing physicians. They also claimed that patients could be better served with a more active voice in Congress, with one Regent charging that it was "two-faced" for the College to sponsor advocacy efforts like the Congressional Key Contact Program but be unwilling to advocate as a group.

Since a recommendation to form a PAC had been approved by the Board of Governors, several supporters urged their colleagues to respect the College's political process and not turn back the Governors' resolution. Opponents replied that while the Governors have a valuable advisory role, it is up to the Regents to decide College policy.

The question of forming a PAC has been an issue since merger negotiations began. While the College never established a PAC, ASIM had one for 10 years. When the two organizations merged in 1998, it was agreed that the ASIM PAC would be terminated. Then, in the fall of 1998, the Board of Governors resoundingly passed its resolution recommending the formation of a new PAC to be run with voluntary contributions from ACP–ASIM Services.

The Board of Regents forwarded the Governors' resolution to two committees for further study and received conflicting recommendations. The Regents then decided in February 1999 to defer their decision for one year to allow time to gather feedback from members.

The prospect of a PAC was discussed at several chapter meetings, in chapter newsletters and in articles published in ACP–ASIM Observer. Nine governors also distributed surveys to members; one Governor reported that response was "underwhelming."

When chapters did vote on the issue, the results were contradictory. Some chapters—like North Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin—strongly supported a PAC, while others such as Iowa and Alabama were almost unanimously opposed. Still others were split, with an equal number of supporters and opponents.

After the decision, College officials were quick to emphasize that advocacy activities, including the College's Decision 2000 campaign, will be unaffected by the decision. "We have demonstrated our ability to affect the national agenda, as evidenced by our leadership in a national campaign to improve health care and medical access for all Americans," said Whitney W. Addington, FACP, the College's President.

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