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A Government Affairs Program That Works for You

Joanne S. Barry

I've discussed before how crucial an advocacy tool the NYSSCPA's political action committee (CPA PAC) is to the Society's membership and to the CPA profession in New York State. There is a reason for that. The rules that govern a CPA's day-to-day business operations are often determined by lawmakers, including the tax code, the not-for-profit corporation law, and the uniform commercial code—almost any piece of legislation that affects business also affects CPAs and their clients. For example, the state budget bills affect you not only as a CPA in New York State, but also as a private citizen, along with the state's nearly 20 million other residents.

The NYSSCPA represents more than 28,000 CPAs located in the financial capital of the United States, making it incumbent upon the Society to take a proactive stance when it comes to providing a CPA perspective on legislation that either affects the profession or has a financial impact on the public. The Society currently has a robust comment letter process, through which our technical committees establish a position in response to myriad exposure drafts and requests for comment from accounting regulators. In fact, we are one of the most prolific state societies when it comes to providing our perspective on state and federal regulatory proposals; not only is that perspective well-received, but it has also had an impact on how regulators shape the rules by which CPAs practice.

While I cannot overstate the importance and success of this process, I also cannot overstate the need for the NYSSCPA to also take a proactive—not simply a reactive—approach to legislation affecting the profession. When there is a change to the tax code, for example, it is often CPAs who are left trying to figure out how to respond to the regulations implementing the new law. Most of our lawmakers are not tax professionals; their aim is to set policy with a specific outcome and, often, the drafters’ only financial consideration is how much money the policy will either bring into or take from the state.

Although CPAs are often not invited into the legislative process, does that mean we should wait quietly on the sidelines? New York CPAs are in a unique position to provide fact-based analysis and critique on local, state, and national issues. It is time for the NYSSCPA to take a more proactive approach to advocacy. And this is how we can do it.

Enhanced Advocacy Efforts

Currently, state advocacy efforts begin with the Society staff identifying an issue that is meaningful to the profession. Such an issue might be brought to the staff's attention through legislative monitoring, media sources, member participation, or committee activity. Once a relevant issue is identified, it is forwarded to the NYSSCPA Legislative Task Force for consideration. The task force then recommends an official position to the Society leadership, who either approve or reject the position. If approved, the task force implements the Society's official position through various channels, including correspondence and personal meetings with government officials.

While these have been useful tools for our organization to create change in the past, we must constantly strive to find additional ways to augment and strengthen our position with policymakers in order to protect the profession and the public interest. To build upon this foundation, the Society is reassessing its advocacy outreach program. The new action plan will require increased participation by our membership and more direct efforts from NYSSCPA staff.

Much of the Society's interaction with policymakers has been established through our members' personal or professional connections. As leaders in their communities, our members have contacts in every level of government, and we need to leverage those contacts so that they become long-lasting, effective relationships with the NYSSCPA, rather than ones that begin and end with an individual member's participation.

Keeping with that same idea, the Society will also centralize much of its advocacy efforts, which will stimulate increased engagement from our membership and allow the Society to take further action on behalf of the profession and the public interest. This plan will empower the board on government affairs issues, and it will ensure that a uniform agenda is followed throughout the legislative season. By bringing our information and resources together under one action plan, the Society leadership can more precisely shape policy on government advocacy and can direct staff to focus on those issues most crucial to members' needs.

In the coming months, NYSSCPA members will begin to see—through our various publications, social media platforms, and website—campaigns that aim to recruit more members into our government affairs program. Participation might be as simple as including your name and contact information in a database of members who are politically active, or it might mean participating in a grassroots campaign to contact local elected representatives about a particular issue on which the NYSSCPA has established an official position.

All of this work is aimed at better serving your interests. The insight and knowledge that our members possess should be harnessed to do more than just react to proposals; with it, the Society has the power to proactively shape sound policy that benefits both the public and the profession.

Joanne S. Barry. Publisher. The CPA Journal, Executive Director, NYSSCPA, jbarry@nysscpa.org.

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