Like many Americans, I don’t pay very close attention to Washington outside the presidential election cycle. As a result, I often struggle to see the impact decisions made on Capitol Hill have on my everyday life.
It’s Erica Fitzsimmons’ job to help people like me understand that connection, although she can’t do it directly or she’ll get arrested. Sounds easy, right?
Fitzsimmons’ official title is Director of Political Affairs & Grassroots Advocacy for the International Franchise Association. She has two important duties. The first is making sure the decisions made by legislators benefit franchising. To do that she needs money.
In a representative democracy like ours, you get what you want by having legislators vote for it. That’s hard for them to do if they don’t get elected, which is where the Political Action Committee comes in.
You may have heard some nasty rumors about PACs, but in truth, they simply promote candidates who align with a PAC’s causes. FranPAC, the franchising industry’s largest PAC, is the means by which Fitzsimmons does her job. Its advisory board contributes money to the campaigns of franchising-friendly candidates in hopes of getting them elected and, in turn, voting in a franchising-friendly way.
Where does the money come from? This is where we enter ‘don’t get Erica arrested’ territory as well as her second duty. All contributions come from IFA member donors, but Fitzsimmons is legally unable to directly solicit donors unless they fill out a form to be “prior approved.” That means franchisors, franchisees and suppliers must first recognize the impact Washington’s decisions can have on their bottom line and come to her to contribute. Over the past 10 years, more and more members of the IFA have made that realization and contributions grew from $66,000 in 2001 to $600,000 in 2009.
Fitzsimmons’ says her current goal is to get the younger generation of franchising involved. Apathy and a lack of understanding on the part of young entrepreneurs is a problem for FranPAC, but it’s one she plans to attack by promoting lower-level donations and offering social benefits.