But the political process remains. Because the Academy is dedicated to an
objective, non-partisan mission, engaging
in the political process has previously been
viewed as anathema to that commitment.
There are, however, some surprising benefits to such a consideration, if done right.
First, let’s demystify the whole notion of
such an engagement.
Effectively influencing outcomes
Nearly every trade and professional association, corporation, and ideological
organization now sponsors a federal political action committee (PAC) to support
its strategic goals. Why? It’s legal, constitutionally protected free speech. And it’s
effective. Colleges and universities are
doing it (along with their fraternities and
sororities), the Humane Society does it,
as do the American Kennel Club, funeral
directors, exterminators, crop dusters,
social workers, women’s professional
and business clubs, the VFW, Mickey
Mouse (well, Walt Disney Productions),
the Gridiron Club, acupuncturists, ethnic
minority groups (Armenian, Vietnamese,
etc.) and many more.
Of more relevance to the actuarial
profession, there are PACs for the Committee to Preserve Social Security and
Medicare, the life, casualty, and health
insurance industries and many of their
largest companies, the surplus lines industry, the accounting profession and
the American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries (ASSPA).
With the coupling of political contributions and lobbying activity (defined
as registered directly with the U.S. Senate Office of Public Records under the
Lobbying Disclosure Act, or recorded as
having retained the professional services
of lobbyists for hire), there’s a significant
commitment to influencing outcomes in
Congress. According to the Center for
Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.
org), the insurance sector spent more
than $41 million on federal lobbying activities, and an additional $6 million was
As thought leaders, it’s
imperative for the actuarial
profession to be heard by
contributed to the campaigns of federal
candidates by affiliated insurance PACs
in the first half of 2009. And the
Washington Post reported on July 8, 2009, that
$1.4 million a day was being spent on efforts to communicate with Congress on
federal health reform.
First established in the 1970s, PACs
are a fact of political life in Washington. They were founded in a regime of
transparency and disclosure, and their
ascendancy is cited by political reform
ethicists as one of the few success stories in efforts to bring responsibility to
campaign fundraising. As much as we
all want to believe in the spirit of “Mr.
Smith Goes to Washington,” is it realistic
to expect our elected representatives to
foist off the myriad influences they are
subjected to and, ignoring constituent
interests, base their vote solely on the
merits of the issue?
Trade associations and professional
lobbyists are armed with their own “facts”
and “analysis” (some of it developed responsibly through think tanks, academia
and, yes, even actuarial consulting firms)
to help them represent the issues according to their own perspectives. They also
periodically leave a “calling card” in the
form of a campaign check written by
their affiliated PAC to get the legislator’s
attention before approaching with the
“facts” of a particular issue.
These days, making your case in isolation isn’t enough to get you noticed.
If a tree falls in the proverbial forest
(producing paper for an actuarial monograph), but no member of Congress is
around to see it fall (or read the monograph), has it really happened?
With so many other outlets for information, the market competition is
beating us. The actuarial profession is
on the leading edge of tools, technologies and techniques that keep it current
and competitive in a dynamic business
environment. Why wouldn’t its public policy arm, through the Academy,
do the same thing? Many of the same
technologies available to political parties could be utilized by an actuarial
PAC to better focus the profession’s
own communication internally on the
issues at hand.
A PAC wouldn’t mean that the
Academy has become “political” in the
conventional sense of partisan politics.
And special care should be taken to
protect its well-established objective
reputation. Certainly, with appropriate controls, governance and oversight,
it would be as responsibly managed
as the Academy itself (with a board
of directors with representation from
all of the U.S.-based national actuarial
organizations), and it would pursue
the bipartisan facilitation of the Academy’s underlying objective goals. Of
course, launching and executing a PAC
would require support from the entire
profession, since it would be reliant
upon individual, voluntary contributions from the profession (and only the
In a complex, vibrant democracy
such as ours, we are all challenged to be
open to new ways of thinking and acting. As thought leaders, it’s imperative
for the actuarial profession to be heard
by official Washington. In true, small-d
democratic fashion, I ask you to tell me
what you think. The Academy needs to
hear your voice as it charts its future as
the voice of the entire profession.
CRAIG HANNA is the Academy’s
director for public policy. The opinions
expressed here are his own and not
necessarily those of the American
Academy of Actuaries.