Inside the NALP-PAC

November 8, 2016 -  By

We break down the spending of the National Association of Landscape Professionals Political Action Committee—the largest PAC in the landscape industry—and speak to its treasurer to add context to the numbers.

Five billion dollars will be spent on this year’s election, the Economist estimates—proof that money runs the U.S. political system. According to OpenSecrets.org, at least $500 million will come from Political Action Committees (PACs), which are organizations—which typically represent business, labor or ideological interests—that raise and spend money to elect and defeat candidates. In all, PACs will raise about $2 billion during the 2016 election cycle.

The National Association of Landscape Professionals Political Action Committee (NALP-PAC) is the largest PAC representing the landscape industry. It’s a separate entity from the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), which spent $60,000 on lobbying this year but cannot legally donate to a political campaign.

“At the federal level, members of Congress are not allowed to accept any corporate money,” said Paul Mendelsohn, treasurer of NALP-PAC and vice president of government relations for NALP. “Part of the rationale of forming the PAC is so that you can have members use personal checks or their own personal credit cards to donate money to NALP-PAC, which we in turn use to support candidates in their reelection bids. It’s all personal money, as opposed to corporate dollars.”

As of Oct. 28, the PAC had raised $32,287 in donations from members and spent $15,638 during the 2016 election cycle, according to OpenSecrets.org. While that tally doesn’t include a $7,000 fundraiser that occurred during GIE+EXPO, it remains close to accurate, Mendelsohn said.

It’s a drop in the bucket when compared to PACs for other industries, such as the National Electrical Contractors Association, which has spent $1.3 million in the 2016 election cycle. For comparison, the National Pest Management Association PAC has raised $82,248 and spent $33,675. Still, it’s a way to ensure the industry’s voice is heard on issues of concern, Mendelsohn said.

“Obviously for the small amount of money we’re able to give, it doesn’t buy votes, and that’s not the purpose of the PAC, but it does allow you to show that your organization has a unified voice on behalf of the profession,” he said. “When political candidates get a check from an individual, they understand it represents the interest of the individual, even if they are from a given profession. When they received one from the PAC, it’s usually viewed as a consensus support by the industry as a whole.”

Of the $15,638 spent by NALP-PAC on the 2016 election cycle, $12,200 went to federal candidates with pro-H-2B or anti-pesticide-regulation platforms. In the House, NALP-PAC gave $5,000 to Andy Harris (R-MD), $3,200 to Steve Chabot (R-OH) and $1,500 to Suzan DelBene (D-WA). In the Senate, Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), an attendee of NALP’s Renewal & Remembrance event and spouse of a landscape contractor, received $2,500.

“We don’t give money to try to influence,” Mendelsohn said. “We give donations to indicate that we agree with them on an issue and that they’re continuing to be champions on issues that are very important to us.”

Harris, who represents the first district of Maryland, is an NALP-PAC sweetheart. He received the PAC’s largest donation in 2016 and $2,500 in the 2014 cycle.

In 2014, Harris introduced HR 4238, a bill designed to fix the H-2B program, and he also put pressure on Congress to take action on processing delays and other issues with the program. In 2015, he worked with Chabot, another NALP-PAC donation recipient, on the Strengthen Employment and Seasonal Opportunities Now Act, which also addressed H-2B issues and was supported by the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance. DelBene and Ayotte also have supported Chabot and Harris’ bills and have ties to other pro-H-2B efforts.

“I think Andy Harris is a really good example,” Mendelsohn said. “He’s been one of the primary voices in favor of H-2B, and that is an extremely important issue for a number of our members.”

Harris and Ayotte also have fought Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, specifically the Clean Water Rule. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) has also received a $2,500 donation from the NALP-PAC due to his vocal opposition to the rule, Mendelsohn said.

Presidential support?

“Because we have such a small PAC, in comparison to other things in D.C., we try to make sure that we are supporting candidates who are very closely aligned with members on key strategic issues,” Mendelsohn said.

The reason the NALP-PAC doesn’t support a presidential candidate is twofold. For one, presidential campaigns are big money, and a small PAC wouldn’t make much of a dent, making the donation a waste of money, Mendelsohn said. Second, as a Trade PAC, the NALP-PAC is a separate segregated fund (SSF) and cannot legally donate to a presidential campaign during the general election, though it could donate up to $5,000 during the primary. It could donate directly to the Republican National Committee or Democratic National Committee or to another PAC, like a Leadership PAC, which could in turn donate to a presidential candidate.

Mendelson believes it’s important for a Trade PAC to donate based on issues and not have partisan ties.

“I think it’s important for organizations to be as nonpartisan as possible, especially when you’re talking about the executive level because there are so many things that can happen,” he said. “So I think it’s in the best interest of landscape professionals for us not to get involved in those particular races.”

Still, the NALP-PAC leans right. Eighty-eight percent of the NALP-PAC’s 2016-cycle spending has gone to Republican candidates, and it donated $3,200 to the Together Holding Our Majority PAC, a Republican PAC. Though it could donate to a presidential candidate, that PAC had only donated to U.S. Senate campaigns, including Ayotte’s and Toomey’s, as of October. The purpose of Leadership PACs is typically to support a candidate of a certain party who might be in a tight race, Mendelsohn said.

The NALP-PAC still has nearly half of its 2016 donations in a reserve. After the Nov. 8 election, the PAC’s board, which is separate from the NALP board, will start gearing up for the next go around.

“The money carries over, and most PACs try to hold money in reserve,” he said. “One thing we’re going to do after the election is sit down as a board, look at what we have in our reserves and determine whether we want to invest in future campaigns. We can’t do anything with that money other than support federal office holders.”

While the NALP-PAC is the largest in the industry, it is not the only landscape-industry PAC. The American Nursery & Landscape Association PAC raised $7,000 during the 2016 election cycle and donated $1,500 to the campaign to reelect Rodney Davis’s (R-IL) in the Illinois 13th congressional district. State organizations like Ohio Nursery & Landscape Association, the California Landscape Contractors Association and Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association also have their own PACs, which typically support campaigns for state-level offices, Mendelsohn said, but they may have the ability to support federal candidates depending on how they’re filed with the Federal Election Commission.

“It’s important that we’re talking to members of Congress about our issues,” Mendelsohn said. “I don’t think in this day and age that you’ll find many trade organizations that are successful and don’t have a PAC.”

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About the Author:

Dillon Stewart graduated from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, earning a Bachelor of Science in Online Journalism with specializations in business and political science. Stewart is a former associate editor of LM.

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