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AHC Holds Forum on Getting Involved in the 2008 Elections

The American Horse Council’s 2008 National Issues Forum was held June 16-17 in Washington. Industry leaders and horse owners alike came from all over the country to represent the industry’s many different segments. The theme for this year’s forum was “Getting Involved in the 2008 Elections.” The half-day forum, which is believed to be the first of its kind and featured speakers with experience in federal campaigns, was followed by a half-day spent lobbying for the various issues that face the industry.

AHC Chairman Nick Nicholson set the stage. “The 2008 elections are a great opportunity for horse associations, businesses and individuals to step up and be heard by the candidates, incumbents and those running for the first time,” he said. “Remember, they want to hear from you, they want your help and most of all they want your votes. This is an opportunity to educate them about the issues important to the horse community and show them your votes are important.”

Jeff Glassie, Esq. of Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw and Pittman LLP, offered an overview of the limits that the Internal Revenue Code and Federal Election Commission regulations put on non-profit associations. For example, a Section 501(c)(3) charitable, educational association is limited in the amount of lobbying it can undertake, while a Section 501(c)(6) trade association is not. But both can invite candidates to events, such as meetings and shows. Individuals, of course, are not so constrained and may invite candidates to their farm, ranch, show, etc., to illustrate the importance of the horse industry.

Scott Jennings of Peritus Public Relations talked about the importance of the “grassroots” approach to campaigns. It is perhaps the easiest way to reach your representatives, he suggested. This involves sending letters, faxes and emails, as well as lobbying, volunteering and raising money. By repeating your message, there is a stronger chance that it will get through. “If you stand on the sidelines during the election, don’t expect a seat at the table after the election,” Jennings said. “Find a candidate that you are excited about, and get behind them and support them.”

Derrick Crandall of the American Recreation Coalition said “Every even-numbered year we can affect public policy. Don’t minimize your impact.” Mr. Crandall suggested that organizations give awards to those federal officials who have been supportive and present them in a public forum. “Be sure to have a camera and issue a press release to the local papers and media.”

Mr. Crandall also stressed the importance of voting. “There will be states where the outcome may be determined by fewer people than those who are equestrians in those states. The horse community has to be registered to vote. Get out and talk to friends and families and get them to register to vote. Get the people who care about your issues to register to vote,” Crandall said. “Becoming involved in local and community events is a good way to make people aware of the issues that are facing the horse community,” he said.

Greg Cohen of the American Highway Users Alliance emphasized the importance of not only speaking to representatives, but also staff that supports those representatives. Leaving information for them is one way to make sure that the information stays in front of them. Getting in front of the media and local press will help make the subject matter known publicly as well. “Have an army of grassroots people ready to move quickly on issues.”

Representative Lincoln Davis (D-TN), a horse owner, spoke to the group about the impact that the horse community in his home state of Tennessee has, and encouraged horse owners and breeders to speak up and voice their issues to their representatives. That importance gives the industry strength.

Representative Cliff Stearns (R-FL), Co-Chair of the Congressional Horse Caucus, spoke to the group about the impact that the horse industry has on the economy in Ocala, Florida, which is in his district. “Horse owners represent a significant portion of my constituency in Florida, and they can be an influential group,” he said. He encouraged the horse community “to get out and speak with their Congressional representatives about the issues they face as horsemen and horsewomen and mentioned inviting candidates to farms to observe the issues first hand.” He specifically mentioned that he had recently been to a therapeutic riding facility and praised the work going on for the children.

Other ways to get involved, he suggested, are writing a letter to an editor and attending public meetings to inform candidates, as well as other constituents on the issues.

The American Horse Council has prepared a guide for the horse industry on “Getting Involved in the 2008 Elections.” Copies can be obtained by contacting the AHC at (202) 296-4031 or by email at ahc@horsecouncil.org.


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