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What are 'grassroots' anyway?

What Are `Grassroots' Anyway?

The NSPA National Affairs Committee has undertaken efforts this year to expand the Society's legislative "grassroots" network. The NSPA Department of Congressional Relations-Tax Counsel has "activated" the grassroots network on one issue already this year. It has occurred to those of us intimately involved with the grassroots network that many NSPA members are potentially unfamiliar with what a grassroots network is, how it works and how it can help both your profession and your practice.

In Washington, people use the term "grassroots" to refer to the "folks back home" -- that is, the constituency that elected them. They know that they must always be responsive to their roots. Therefore, a senator or a representative will always ask how the grassroots will react to a given legislative proposal before endorsing it.

That is why interest organizations have grassroots networks. A grassroots network is nothing more than a list of an organization's members who are willing to let its elected officials know how they feel about a particular issue. It's actually an important part of how our system of government works.

Influence can take many forms here in Washington, not all of them very pretty. One of the most effective and honorable methods of influencing legislation, however, is the grassroots legislative campaign. Congress listens to experts from think tanks, industry and professional groups (such as NSPA), unions and other organizations. It has occasionally been known to listen to less scrupulous forms of persuasion. But nothing, absolutely nothing, is as effective in persuading a member of Congress to vote for or against a particular issue as a bag of mail from the people who elected him or her.

How does a grassroots campaign work? When an issue of importance to an organization's members comes up, the organization activates, or notifies, its grassroots of the pending action. It informs them about all sides of the issue, explains how the issue will affect their interest and then encourages them to contact their members of Congress either in support or opposition of the particular proposal. This is referred to as "grassroots lobbying". Frequently, the organization will provide its members with sample letters to assist them in communicating their views to Congress. NSPA frequently employs this technique.

An organization develops a grassroots network in order to maximize its limited resources. Since not all members of an organization are politically inclined, it is more effective to request help on a particular issue only from those members who have demonstrated an interest by "signing up" to be included in the group's grassroots network. Occasionally, an issue arises that is so central to the organization's interest (or even existence) that the entire membership will be asked to do some grassroots lobbying, but most often it is only the grassroots that are involved.

NSPA has had a grassroots network for some time. It began very informally and has grown over the years. It has successfully been activated on issues such as penalty reform and the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. In fact, the NSPA grassroots network single-handedly achieved modification of the latter legislation in order to better protect the interests of independent accountants and their clients. Grassroots networks work.

The acquisition of new computer equipment within the past year has given the NSPA grassroots network the capacity to grow considerably and to operate much more effectively than it has in the past. What the network needs now is volunteers.

NSPA's grassroots are short, very short, particularly in comparison to similarly-sized groups here in town. Currently, there are approximately 500 members in the grassroots' computer files. That's only about 2% of our membership. These dedicated members have answered the call whenever grassroots are activated, but they cannot do it alone. Five hundred people simply do not give NSPA a loud enough voice in a city as noisy as Washington, D.C. The grassroots network must expand; it needs more participants. It needs YOU.

Participation in the grassroots network requires no special skills; the only expense involved is the postage to get your letters to your members of Congress; the time commitment is absolutely minimal. It usually takes grassroots members less than half an hour to read, digest and respond to grassroots alerts. Alerts come only three or four times a year. It's easy, it's personally satisfying and it works!

Most importantly, you could be protecting your practice's bottom line. The pace and reach of federal legislation show no signs of abating. There can be no doubt that Congress will continue to interject itself into your business; don't you think you should have some say in how they do so?

If you would like to participate in NSPA's grassroots network, simply fill out the questionnaire which will appear in the next issue of the Washington Reporter or contact the Department of Congressional Relations-Tax Counsel.

It would be gratifying to have every member of NSPA participate in the grassroots network. It could well be the most important long-term investment your practice will ever make.

Peter M. Berkery, Jr. Director of Congressional Relations /Tax Counsel
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Title Annotation:National Society of Public Accountants' political involvements
Author:Berkery, Peter M., Jr.
Publication:The National Public Accountant
Article Type:column
Date:Sep 1, 1990
Previous Article:PACs, socials, honorariums and tax programs for legislators.
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