Let's Talk Politics · Dr. Michael Spektor
“Congress shall make no law…..abridging the right of the people…. to petition the government for redress of grievances.”
— First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (Bill of Rights) 1791
One could argue that the first amendment to our Constitution acknowledging freedom of religion, free speech, free press, and the right to peaceable assembly are the bedrock of our democracy, but the right to petition the government is just as fundamental to our republic as a means of protecting and encouraging public participation in government. In a vibrant democracy, lobbying, letter writing, email campaigns, and the like — all public discussion of the issues designed to spur government action — qualify under the petition clause.
This is not meant to be a civics lesson, but rather a call to action to make sure that our profession takes advantage of this freedom. The Government Affairs Committee advises the WSDA Board of Directors of the issues and concerns that need to be raised in the state legislature and a legislative agenda is then approved by the House of Delegates. The WSDA lobbyists, along with informed and concerned individual member dentists, carry the message to Olympia and our state legislators.
In order to help facilitate these discussions, we have DentPAC. DentPAC’s main purpose is to create relationships with state legislators in every district and to raise and distribute contributions to them.
The lifeblood of legislators is money. Without it, they don’t get elected. The cost of elections keeps rising every year, especially in key districts. In 2014, around $4 billion was spent nationally on elections, and that was not even a presidential election year. (In 2012, the total was more than $6 billion, double what it was in 2002.) The hue and cry about election reform is certainly not without merit, but the Supreme Court pretty much assured that costs will continue to escalate by ruling that campaign donations are a form of free speech which limits allowable donation restrictions. To put this in context, Americans spent $83 billion on beer sales in 2013 and $69 billion on lottery tickets in 2012. Currently, they spend $6 billion on potato chips alone. Perhaps elections really are a bargain for keeping a free society.
State law allows a maximum contribution of $1,900 per election cycle ($950 for the primary and $950 for the general election) to an individual. In addition, each party has a fund for state representatives and senators that has no limits. The problem with these funds is that they are spent at the discretion of the parties. DentPAC can also do independent expenditures for a candidate. This type of contribution usually involves voter contact through a flyer, phone call, or television ad that supports an issue favored by a collection of PACs. It is a legal requirement that an individual’s campaign cannot have any prior knowledge of a contribution such as this.
This system has served the dental profession very well over the years. The one component that has been lacking, however, is the ability of our member dentists to support candidates with individual contributions.
Most state legislators are very close to the voters in their districts. If you ask them, pounding the pavement is a huge part of their success. In fact, if they ignore their constituents very much, they likely won’t get reelected, so PAC money only goes so far. This means that dentists who live or work in their district and also help raise money for those candidates have more access to the legislator than a member who does not. This access and a willing ear are critical when we are asking for a vote or help with one of our issues.
This summer, the DentPAC board will identify key races that may affect how the Legislature will view our issues next session. We will be calling upon our members to help support fundraising efforts on behalf of these legislators. This mission is critical for us to be effective citizen lobbyists. We are the experts on the oral health of our patients and, by extension, how this affects their general health. Fundraising is one way that we can assure that a legislator will at least listen to us. So when we call upon you to help us with a contribution, we hope you will answer the call. It is too late to lament after the fact. Our opponents know how this works, and they will not be on the sidelines.
Please put aside any negative feelings you may have about politics or politicians and understand that the state decides how we are allowed to practice our profession. It is up to each of us individually to make sure that our voices are heard. After all, it is our constitutional right to do so.
Dr. Spektor is chair of the DentPAC board of directors, a position he has held since 2011. He maintains a periodontal practice in Bellevue.