Members Help NEMPAC Identify Pro-EM Candidates

June 2010

By Martha Collins
ACEP News Contributing Writer

ACEP members play a key role in the work of the National Emergency Medicine Political Action Committee not only through their financial contributions, but also by bringing congressional candidates in important races in their home districts to the attention of the NEMPAC staff and Board of Trustees.

That's what happened recently in South Carolina. State Representative Jeff Duncan (R), who was already well known to several members of the South Carolina College of Emergency Physicians (SCCEP), announced his 2010 candidacy for the state's third congressional district.

"Jeff Duncan was taking an active role in asking us to help him define the issues," explained Dr. Tripp Jennings, SCCEP's president. "He said, 'Help me understand what's happening on Capitol Hill and how it affects emergency medicine.' "

ACEP Outlines Its Legislative Priorities

NEMPAC assesses races as they develop, evaluating candidates based on their support of ACEP's legislative priorities. In addition to health care reform, ACEP's legislative and regulatory agenda for 2009/2010 includes:

  • Access to Emergency Medical Services Act.
  • Medical liability reform.
  • Medicare physician payment reform.
  • Medicaid reform.
  • EMTALA-related issues.
  • Patient safety and quality of care.
  • Bioterrorism planning and funding.
  • Trauma center and Emergency Medical Services for Children funding.
After discussing it with other emergency physicians, Dr. Jennings contacted the NEMPAC staff and learned that they already knew a lot about the South Carolina 3rd Congressional District race.

"I was impressed that at first contact, NEMPAC was already interested in this race, was already looking for someone to support, and knew about the campaigns of each candidate," Dr. Jennings said. "And that allowed for kind of a two-level approach with not just people who know the candidate evaluating him, but also the NEMPAC staff."

Because this election is for an open seat, NEMPAC had not previously supported any of the candidates. With the additional information from the South Carolina chapter leaders, the NEMPAC Board of Trustees approved funds in March for Rep. Duncan's primary campaign.

Hosting Fundraisers and Delivering Contributions

When delivering contributions, NEMPAC gives priority to smaller health care-specific meetings and fundraisers. These events allow candidates to focus solely on health care issues and to hear ACEP's concerns and priorities. NEMPAC also targets events and meetings back home in a candidate's state or district where ACEP members can personally deliver a NEMPAC check.

Dr. Russ Harris has hosted fundraisers for members of Congress and has delivered checks for NEMPAC. Dr. Harris works in Camden, N.J., but lives across the river in Philadelphia, so he is active on behalf of NEMPAC in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

"Emergency physicians can introduce candidates to the greater house of medicine, because we work with all of the specialties within a hospital," Dr. Harris said. "It's pretty profound when an emergency physician can bring cardiologists, gastroenterologists, internists, family doctors, obstetricians/gynecologists, and orthopedists into a room and be the person who leads the candidate's introduction to these specialties."

Being a member of the 911 Legislative Network and hosting fundraisers can also help an emergency physician gain credibility with members of the House and Senate.

"You become a subject matter expert for them. And they reach out to you and say, 'Educate me about this. What's your perspective on this issue?' " Dr. Harris said. "Congressional representatives want to do what's right, and they know that emergency medicine is a white-hat specialty. So, they'll call and ask you about an issue."

Supporting Friendly Incumbents

NEMPAC follows a "friendly incumbent" policy, which means the PAC will not contribute campaign funds to a candidate running against an incumbent who has been supportive of ACEP.

As in previous election cycles, this year NEMPAC will direct contributions to friendly incumbents who serve on key committees and subcommittees with jurisdiction over health care issues, who hold positions of leadership, or who have supported ACEP's key legislative priorities by cosponsoring bills or voting in favor of ACEP-supported legislation.

Incumbents who have a history of working with ACEP members and staff and who have received contributions from NEMPAC in previous election cycles will also be considered for contributions. Candidates who meet criteria in several categories are eligible for more support.

Relating to Candidates

A candidate's relationship with ACEP leadership, 911 Legislative Network members, staff, and other ACEP members is another factor that's considered when evaluating contribution requests. If a candidate has a good relationship with someone associated with ACEP, he or she is more likely to take the time to listen to ACEP's position on a particular issue.

"Our staff and lobbyists in Washington can only do so much on their own. We are a member-driven organization, and the 911 Network volunteers help us communicate our message to legislators," said Dr. Alex Rosenau, a member of the ACEP Board of Directors. "The staff helps us craft effective messages and target where those messages will best be heard.

"NEMPAC gets our message onto the front burner. It takes emergency medicine issues to a forum in which we can move them toward a conclusion: the U.S. Congress," he said.

Dr. Rosenau has attended local fundraisers for his congressman on behalf of NEMPAC. "Recently, my congressman called and said, 'I'd like to go to breakfast with you, and please bring along any other emergency physicians you'd like to bring,' " Dr. Rosenau said. "That only happens because of the fact that we combine our individual contributions into a major influence by joining together through NEMPAC."

In an open-seat election, in which neither candidate is an incumbent, input from the state chapter, local ACEP leaders, and 911 Network members is critical. And discussing ACEP's legislative agenda with candidates for open seats can be a key factor in gauging their support of emergency medicine.

In 2008, when all of New Mexico's congressional representatives ran for an open Senate seat, it meant all three of the state's House seats were also open for that election cycle.

"It was an opportunity to bring the issues of emergency medicine to all of the candidates running for the open seats," said Dr. David P. Sklar, Chairman of the ACEP Board of Directors.

"Dr. Pam Cutler, President of New Mexico ACEP, and I met either individually or together with various candidates to talk about emergency department boarding, the uninsured, disaster medicine, and other issues. And we asked whether they'd support the Access to Emergency Medical Services Act," Dr. Sklar said.

They ended up recommending NEMPAC support for candidates in two House races and in the Senate race.

"We were able to go to NEMPAC and say, 'Here's what's happening in New Mexico.' And there was a rapid response from NEMPAC. They were interested in the fact that we were having direct contact with the candidates," Dr. Sklar said.

As the election approaches and the competitiveness of each race becomes clearer, NEMPAC can have a greater impact by making contributions to candidates who face a difficult election. "In one case, the candidate was running out of money, so I think our NEMPAC support helped him to get over the top and win," Dr. Sklar said.

Dr. Sklar added that NEMPAC is bipartisan and "willing to support candidates of either party as long as they understand the issues, because we don't think emergency medicine is a Democratic or a Republican issue. It's really an issue for everybody."
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