Shortly after passage of the $1.1 trillion “Cromnibus,” the House and Senate concluded their legislative business for the 113th Congress and adjourned. Many issues of importance to surgeons and our patients remain unresolved and are expected to be high on the legislative agenda of the 114th Congress in the first quarter of 2015.
Returning as Members of Congress in January will be two physicians whose campaigns were assisted by the active participation of SurgeonsPAC. They are Dr. Ami Bera, an emergency physician from the 7th District of California (Sacramento area) and Dr. Dan Benishek, a general surgeon and fellow of the American College of Surgeons from the 1st District of Michigan (Upper Peninsula). Both Dr. Bera and Dr. Benishek have served as champions for the cause of the legislative agenda supported by the College.
One of the ways by which SurgeonsPAC participated in the re-election campaign of both Members is known as an independent expenditure (IE). The Code of Federal Regulations defines and independent expenditure as an expenditure for a communication that expressly advocates for “the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate that is not made in cooperation, consultation, or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee, or their agents, or a political party committee or its agents.” [11 CFR 100.16(a)]
In August, the Board of Directors of SurgeonsPAC unanimously voted to direct staff of the Division of Advocacy and Health Policy to develop recommendations for independent expenditures for a bipartisan slate of candidates who had a record of being supportive of the College’s legislative agenda and whose election was enough at risk that an independent expenditure by the College would potentially be of significant benefit for their race. In October, the PAC Board considered those recommendations and voted to support the expenditure of $100,000 each for IEs for Dr. Bera, a Democrat, and Dr. Benishek, a Republican. Both have been champions on issues such as repeal and replacement of the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), medical liability reform, and repeal of the 96-hour rule.
For Dr. Bera, the SurgeonsPAC dollars were utilized for a radio and direct mail campaign that was part of a larger effort in which other physician political action committees participated similarly. For Dr. Benishek, a television ad was produced and run through local cable providers.
On election night, Dr. Benishek was declared the winner, receiving 52.1% of the vote compared with his opponent’s 45.3%. As one of four fellows of the American College of Surgeons in Congress, we look forward to continuing to work with “Dr. Dan” and his excellent staff in his upcoming third term.
Dr. Bera’s race was much closer, as he actually trailed his opponent when election night closed with 49.8% of the vote. Subsequently, with the counting and inclusion of the mail-in ballots specifically targeted by the physician community’s IE effort, Dr. Bera overtook his opponent’s slim margin. Two weeks later, on 19 Nov. 2014, the Associated Press called the election for Dr. Bera, whose 1,400-vote lead at that time was felt to be substantial enough to preclude his opponent making up the difference with the remaining 4,300 provisional ballots that had yet to be counted. Dr. Bera’s CA-7 district race proved to be the most expensive in the nation with an estimated $19.6 million in total expenditures. Despite representing only 0.51% of that total, SurgeonsPAC’s contribution, in the collective with that of other physician organizations, no doubt played a significant role in returning a physician to Congress to continue to champion our causes.
In my opinion, these examples of careful candidate selection and subsequent support of Drs. Benishek and Bera exemplify the importance of a strong political action committee. The ultimate goal of SurgeonsPAC is the election to Congress and retention in Congress of those who support our policy positions and legislative agenda. Though SurgeonsPAC is one of nine physician PACs that can be accurately labeled as “million dollar” (per election cycle) PACs, our relative size and, thus, the number of candidates like Drs. Bera and Benishek we could support would be much greater if the Fellow participation rate more closely resembled that of our colleagues in other physician organizations. However, year after year, only 3%-4% of Fellows contribute, as compared with participation rates of 10%-25% in those physician PACs larger than SurgeonsPAC.
Recently, all Fellows received an e-mail from Dr. Andrew Warshaw, founding SurgeonsPAC Board Chairman and current President of the ACS, urging Fellows to make a $25 donation to SurgeonsPAC. Those wishing to learn more about the critical role SurgeonsPAC plays in our advocacy efforts can log on to www.surgeonspac.org.