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The key person program - a grass-roots political effort that works.

According to its participants, the AICPA key person program is an ideal community activity for CPAs, performing a much-needed service and also offering personal and professional rewards. Their unabashed enthusiasm is one of the program's most striking aspects.

Says Barry Findley, a partner of Findley and Jenkins, Little Rock, Arkansas, and a key person from that state, "It's the most exciting thing a CPA can get involved in." Gerry Tahajian, a key person from Fresno, California, puts it in even more glowing terms: "What better opportunity can you have for firsthand service to government? The AICPA's Washington office even does all the necessary research on the issues and gives sound reasons for each position you take."

Jake Netterville, the vice-chairman of the AICPA board of directors and the managing partner of Postlethwaite & Netterville, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has been a part of the key person program from its inception in the 1970s. He says, "Collectively, we've been able to help the profession recognize the federal government is intimately involved in our professional affairs. As a result, our lobbying effort has become much more effective."

How the program works

The key person program is a cooperative effort of the AICPA and the state CPA societies. It aim is to maintain personal contact with members of Congress.

Key persons are chosen from CPAs who volunteer their services through their state CPA societies or the AICPA Washington office. On becoming a key person, the CPA agrees to develop and nurture a relationship with an elected representative in order to have a positive impact on legislative issues facing the profession.

From time to time, the key person is called on to contact the legislator about a specific issue, usually through a legislative action alert issued by the AICPA Washington office.It is vital that the key person take immediate action to contact the legislator on the issue and report that action's results to the AICPA Washington office and to his or her stake key person coordinator.

Federal key person coordinators are designated by the executive directors of the state CPA societies. In some cases, they are part of the state society's professional staff; in others, volunteers fill the position. The coordinator provides the key persons in that state with information on legislative and regulatory activities and offers whatever assistance the key person may need to operate efficiently.

Help wanted for a

needed effort

Bill David Smith, a partner of Morrison & Smith, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and the key person coordinator for the state of Alabama, says the program needs additional volunteers. "We've sensitized legislators to issues surrounding the profession, and I think that's important. The program works as it is, but we need to get more people involved."

John Sharbaugh, AICPA vice president-state legislation and legislative relations,stresses the importance of the key person program in keeping legislators informed of the profession's positions on important issues. He says,"There is no way we can be successful without a grass-roots program to communicate our message to members of Congress. The world's greatest lobbyist would fail here in Washington if the various constituencies of Congress didn't back up the message. But when a lobbyist's effort is followed by constituent contact, it reinforces the message."

Getting results

It is usually not possible to judge the key person program's effectiveness on a particular piece of legislation simply because of the multitude of factors that can influence a proposed bill. However, the program's effectiveness was clear in one important instance.

John Sharbaugh recalls the details. "The AICPA spent the 1987 session of Congress trying to get legislation passed that would ease the extremely heavy CPA work load in the first four months of the year resulting from the provisions of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 (the TRA), which required calendar years for virtually all business. But, we were heading into the end of the 1987 session and still had not succeeded in getting provisions to allow fiscal years for certain business entities inserted in the 1987 tax bill.

"Very late in the session, we asked a key person assigned to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) to call him and make a last-ditch telephone appeal. The call convinced Bentsen, who then called House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-III.) and convinced him to insert similar language in the House bill. As a result, our proposal to allow fiscal years for pass-through entities, such as S corporations, partnerships and personal service corporations, was one of only three of the hundreds of proposed special-interest provisions to be inserted into the act. Such provisions were held to an absolute minimum because of a desire to keep the TRA largely intact."

Netterville recalls that, even when key persons lose a battle, they sometimes win the war."We were very involved in trying to keep the TRA from requiring a calendar yearned for partnerships. Even though we lost that fight, I ended up knowing every one of our congressmen on a first-name basis. The relationships formed in that year helped the profession's cause later on."

Developing close relationships

It is helpful for a key person to have an established close relationship with a member of congress, but it is not absolutely necessary to start by making contacts only at the federal level of government. Local politicians also welcome help from CPAs.

As Findley puts it, "It didn't take me long to realize they needed me. They needed someone to make sure the books were kept correctly and reports were field on time." Netterville seconds that notion. "Every candidate for office needs someone who is familiar with numbers, whether it is as a campaign treasurer or finance chairman or member of the budget committee."

It's worth the work

In summing up his experiences with the key person program, Findley says, "I can't think of anything that could be more rewarding for a CPA. It's a lot of work and requires a lot of time, but it's more than worth the effort." Netterville adds, "We need to do what's necessary. After all, if the good guys don't get involved, we leave it to the bad guys."
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Title Annotation:Spotlight on Member Services; American Institute of Certified Public Accountants
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Apr 1, 1992
Previous Article:The FDIC Improvement Act: a precedent for expanded CPA reporting?
Next Article:APFS designation awarded to 145 CPAs.

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