For the fifth consecutive year, the Jewelers of America Political Action Committee (JAPAC) led a delegation of jewelers -- all JA Members -- to Washington, D.C., on June 16-17. This year's meetings connected jewelers with over 30 lawmakers and legislative staff. The "fly-in" -- which Jewelers of America organizes annually -- allows jewelers to connect directly with influential legislators and discuss the issues that matter most to their bottom lines.
JAPAC Chair Jenny Caro, co-owner of Jewelry By Design, gives us a play-by-play of the eventful days:
When eight Jewelers of America members arrived in our nation's Capitol to advocate on behalf of the jewelry industry's interests, we came from many states and different store volumes. Our group included Jewelers of America Board Chair Bill Farmer, of Farmers Jewelry in Lexington, KY; JA Board Directors Missy Krause, Signet Jewelers Ltd.; Akron, OH; Brian Mann, David Mann Jewelers; Potomac, MD; Betsy Wolgemuth, Koser Jewelers, Mount Joy, PA; and JA Members Brian Alter, Alter’s Gem Jewelry, Beaumont, TX; Michael and Eva Greene, Wick & Greene, Asheville, NC.
Our day started out with Jewelers of America President & CEO David Bonaparte and Director of Public Affairs & Education Susan Thea Posnock with a VIP tour of the Supreme Court arranged by Jewelers of America's legislative counsel, Haake and Fetzer. We were able to tour the courtroom, law library and several areas not normally open to the public. It was inspiring!
We then walked to a nearby Capitol Hill restaurant for dinner with Ben Sasse, Junior Senator from Nebraska. He spoke about his goals being newly elected and how he manages being a father with his family still in Nebraska and the demanding duties of being a Senator. We all enjoyed the discussion and asked him questions about his election experiences and what it is like to be in the "freshman class" of Senators. After dinner, we returned to our historic hotel The Army and Navy Club to get a good night's sleep.
The next morning, we started the day at 8:00AM with a breakfast presentation by pollsters representing the Republican and Democratic positions. They gave us insights into how political campaigns work and also gave us their predictions about who would be on the 2016 ticket. This information helps JA's political action committee, JAPAC, strategize who to support for the coming Congressional elections.
After breakfast, we broke into separate groups to make the most impact with legislators. We dashed off to the Hill for in-person meetings with Representatives and their key staff to discuss tax issues that greatly affect jewelry businesses, like sales tax fairness, LIFO accounting repeal and the 15-year depreciation of leasehold improvements. As legislators listened to our points, I could tell we were making a difference in their perception of how much sales brick-and-mortar stores can lose to the Internet if no sales tax fairness bill is put into legislation.
Lunch at The Capitol Hill Club followed, including meetings with Congresswomen Barbara Comstock, VA, and Congressman Jason Chaffetz, UT. Chaffetz had introduced a sales tax fairness-related bill just two days before, called the Remote Transactions Parity Act. I especially enjoyed watching Chaffetz explain the bill to Comstock who will, hopefully, support it. We saw politics in action!
After discussing our various experiences, we broke up into different groups and went back out for afternoon meetings. The lobbying didn't stop for dinner at The Monocle; Joni Ernst, Junior Senator from Iowa, joined us and delighted us with stories of serving our country during war with Iraq and becoming a Senator. After dinner we went back to the Capitol Hill Club for drinks with several other lawmakers.
Our busy day of advocating for jewelers closed with a special treat: a late night behind-the-scenes tour of the Capitol building. Walking under the Capitol Dome at midnight was a pretty awesome experience. We are already trying to decide how to top that experience next year!
As I collapsed onto my four poster bed that night, I thought about how different it is when you meet in person with the men and women running our government. I realize that representatives on both sides of the aisle consider themselves servants of the people. While many admitted our government is dysfunctional, they said they are trying hard to make it work. What I know is that Jewelers of America and JAPAC will keep working on the jewelry industry's behalf to keep our business concerns on their agendas.
Learn more about how you can be involved with JAPAC, the only PAC that supports the fine jewelry industry in Washington, D.C., at www.jewelers.org/japac/. Through JAPAC, individual Jewelers of America Members can join with other jewelry businesses to support candidates for office at the federal level, who understand the interests of the jewelry industry.