``If every eligible member of TIA contributed at least $25 to TirePAC, we could raise over $100,000 to give to members of Congress who work for the best interests of the tire industry!''
Thus states the ad in Today's Tire Industry, the official magazine of the Tire Industry Association (TIA), about TirePAC, which began in December 2000 under the aegis of its predecessor group, the Tire Association of North America. It is one of several tire-related political action committees (PACs) listed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
Often misunderstood, PACs in general have sometimes garnered suspicion about their goals-and the influence they may try to wield. Tire Business took a look at some of the PACs operated by tire and automotive industry-related groups.
Influence on `The Hill'
Originally called TANAPAC, TirePAC was part of the beefing up of government affairs activities TANA did at the end of 2000 in response to member demand and passage of the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act. Those efforts also included the hiring of Becky MacDicken, government affairs director, first for TANA and now TIA.
The TIA board of directors has a fundraising goal for TirePAC of $50,000 by May 31, according to Ms. MacDicken. At this point, however, the PAC isn't even close: it had $6,311 on hand as of Dec. 31, 2003, according to files at the FEC. It had total receipts of $4,048 and total disbursements of $5,029 during the previous six-month period.
``I think there's a lack of understanding of what the PAC really does and perhaps a perception that a PAC is evil,'' Ms. MacDicken said. ``We need to tell our members about the good a PAC can do.''
Supporting the re-election of Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Ill., is a good example, she said. Rep. Manzullo, chairman of the House Small Business Committee, has gone to bat for TIA and its members and allies on a number of issues-particularly in their concerns over the U.S. Postal Service's plans for national retread services contracting. TIA fears the contract plan will devastate small retreaders dependent on local and regional USPS business, and Mr. Manzullo contacted the USPS himself on TIA's behalf.
The biggest benefit TirePAC offers, according to Ms. MacDicken, is the chance for its tire dealer members-mostly small businesses-to make their influence felt on Capitol Hill. This was the same reasoning that the Specialty Market Equipment Association (SEMA) used in establishing its PAC this year. From a balance of zero on June 30, 2003, SEMAPAC held $19,000 as of Dec. 31.
``It's pretty cool for all those small businesses to be part of the political process,'' said Linda Spencer, director of government and international affairs for Diamond Bar, Calif.-based SEMA.
Tire maker PACs
Among tire manufacturers, the rationale behind PACs is different than among tire dealers and repair shop owners. As larger businesses, tire makers have the wherewithal to have their own PACs, rather than look to their professional associations to run them.
The Rubber Manufacturers Association, for example, dropped its PAC in the early 1990s, largely because several of its members already had their own PACs. ``It's a question of how you best raise PAC money,'' an RMA spokesman said. ``If companies already have their own PACs, they don't want any other PAC soliciting their employees.''
For example, Goodyear's PAC, called the Good Government Fund, had $109,224 on hand as of Dec. 31, with receipts of $121,189 and disbursements of $50,144 during the previous six months, according to the FEC.
``You'll see different patterns of PAC participation within different industries,'' noted Isabel Jasinowski, vice president of government affairs for Goodyear. ``Those industries that are very active in Washington feel they can solicit money for their own activities and still have money left over for other PACs. But it's not uncommon for associations to bow out and allow the individual companies to run their own PACs.''
The potential for conflicting interests also may keep associations from running PACs, Ms. Jasinowski said. ``Company A may support one candidate in a race, and Company B may support the other,'' she said. ``Their association would be hard-put in that case in deciding which candidate to support.''
Besides Goodyear, Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc. and Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. also have PACs. Bridgestone Americas' PAC-formed, like TIA's, in response to the TREAD Act-had $45,228 in hand as of Dec. 31, with receipts of $99,268 and disbursements of $100,083.
Cooper's PAC held $65,580 on the same date, reporting receipts of $53,712 and disbursements of $21,500.
All these PACs were substantially bigger than those of TIA and SEMA, but still dwarfed by those managed by their main customers, the auto industry. The Ford Motor Co. Civic Action Fund, for example, had $208,288 on hand as of Dec. 31, with receipts of $397,806 and disbursements of $356,025.
Corp. vs. assn. PACs
Corporate PACs have one major advantage over association PACs, Ms. MacDicken noted. Federal law requires association PACs to obtain prior approval from their members before they can solicit them for funds.
``No one else in the country has to do that,'' she said.
But there are certain legal limitations as to whom corporate PACs can solicit, according to Ms. Jasinowski. They may not contact hourly employees about contributions-only the upper echelon of salaried workers.
TIA's earliest predecessor organization, the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, had a PAC for years but discontinued it in the early 1990s, Ms. MacDicken said, adding, ``I have no idea why.'' TIA's other prececessor organizations-the American Retreaders Association and the International Tire & Rubber Association-never had PACs, according to TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield, who worked for both groups.
In any case, TIA will do everything it can to ensure TirePAC's success, Ms. MacDicken vowed.
``We'll solicit for it through our magazine, letters, phone calls and on the floor of every trade show where we have space,'' she said.
The Automotive Service Association has a PAC, but a spokeswoman said it has been inactive for some time. The Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association said it has an active PAC, however a search of the FEC database did not turn up any information on it.
Michelin North America Inc. does not have a PAC, according to a spokeswoman.
A Continental Tire North America Inc. spokeswoman told Tire Business the tire maker does not have a PAC but is thinking about establishing one.
Yokohama Tire Corp., Pirelli Tire North America Inc., Toyo Tire (U.S.A.) Corp., TBC Corp. and American Tire Distributors Inc. all told Tire Business they do not have PACs.