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The Power of a Professional Advocate

Joanne S. Barry, CAE

Of all the benefits that come with NYSSCPA membership, I know that a subscription to The CPA Journal is one of the most highly valued. Members also look forward to receiving The Trusted Professional and taking advantage of quality continuing professional education (CPE). But the reason why most professionals belong to an association—and why many of our members have joined this one—has nothing to do with a publication that arrives in the mail once a month.

Our members range from sole practitioners to large-firm junior accountants and partners, from CFOs of Fortune 500 companies to comptrollers of small New York villages. Our members are as diverse as the regions of the state itself, but they all share one thing in common: they're all New York–licensed CPAs. This is what unites each and every member of this organization, and they are whom this organization advocates for in the halls of the Albany and on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Advocacy is a membership benefit that is inestimable and incalculable, because much of its value is determined and created by the members themselves. There is strength in numbers, and 29,000 voices make for a large constituency—one that legislators can't help but hear. Imagine how much louder that voice would be if all of those 29,000 members saw themselves not only as CPAs but as CPA advocates and how that would translate to more value for our members.

Leveraging Relationships

In a world where we spend more and more time online—both personally and professionally—relationships are more often assigned a measurable value, perhaps because, for the first time, people have a more tangible and consistent way to do so (e.g., the number of “friends” one has on Facebook or “connections” on LinkedIn, and the opportunities that belonging to these communities can afford). So, how does the Society's role as the CPA's professional advocate evolve in this new environment? It's all based on relationships—your relationship with the NYSSCPA, but also our role in helping you to establish relationships with legislators and regulators, so that these relationships can be leveraged for the benefit of the profession as a whole.

For the past two years, I have redirected staff and operational resources in an effort to reinvigorate our government affairs program, and we have seen some positive initial results. We empowered our Legislative Task Force and established a policy allowing it to gain fast-track Board of Directors' approval to act on behalf of the profession's interests. In addition, we revised our Key Contact Program, where we ask our members to share with us any relationships they have with state or local lawmakers; this way, when a bill we want to support or oppose is introduced, the members with the relationship to the sponsoring lawmaker become your NYSS CPA advocates, with the collective power of the Society behind them.

This month, we're launching our next initiative in several chapters—a series of legislative breakfasts, where we invite state lawmakers to meet with their CPA constituents to discuss issues facing the profession and, more importantly, to establish relationships between lawmakers, members, and the Society.

The Year Ahead

As we head into 2014, we have already identified several issues expected to be raised by policymakers that could have dramatic impacts on the profession. Chief among them is the recent desire by both Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature to reform the tax code. They called upon the Society to weigh in on the proposals; thanks to the tireless work of our tax committees, we were able to provide a detailed list of recommendations to Governor Cuomo's Tax Reform and Fairness Commission. I am happy to report that the commission's final report includes several of our recommendations. We were also invited to testify in front of State Senator John A. DeFrancisco (R-50) and State Senator Carl L. Marcellino (R-5) as part of their statewide series of hearings on the issue of tax reform.

Both of our recent reports to these groups noted that tax simplification is a key issue, one that the Society has long supported. Getting involved in the early stages of both of these processes gives us greater access to the drafting process should either of these proposals gain legislative traction. In both instances, the Society was invited to participate based upon our ability to represent such a large portion of the profession.

Our other legislative priorities in 2014 include preventing expansion of the Martin Act, protecting the mandated annual internal audit function in public school districts, and allowing non-CPAs to own minority stakes in CPA firms. Advocacy is one of our major priorities at the NYSSCPA, but members cannot benefit from it without direct engagement. This could be as simple as sharing with us some of your political contacts or attending an upcoming legislative breakfast. And, if you can, bring a colleague who might not yet know the benefits of membership in the NYSSCPA. You might be surprised at what we can accomplish when more than 30,000 CPAs work together for the betterment of the profession.

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

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