Guidance for Congressional Visits at BA Member Facilities (August 2013)
The following guidance is provided to assist BA members in arranging Congressional visits to your facilities. It does not cover fundraising events. If you have any specific questions on these issues, please contact the BA staff.
Members of Congress should depart Washington in early August for what is known as the Summer District Work Period in the House and the State Work Period for the Senate. They may be available in their local offices from the beginning of August through the Labor Day weekend.
These work periods provide excellent opportunities to meet your Senators or Representative in their district offices or to invite them to visit your business. For brewers with facilities in the vicinity of summer festivities or Labor Day events, a cold craft brew might be a welcome respite. While many people make light of Congressional recesses, they are an important tradition, particularly for House members whose terms expire at the end of every even-numbered year. Americans expect to see their elected officials and constituent contact is critical for a Senator or Representative to be effective.
To schedule a meeting at your brewery:
- Call or e-mail the district or state office of your House member or Senator
- Ask to speak to their district scheduling secretary or whoever is in charge of the calendar. (Put “ATTN: Scheduling or Invitation” in subject line of e-mails.)
- If you have a brewpub or if your brewery is open evenings or weekends, invite them to visit in the evening or over a weekend, as they are often attending meetings or events seven days a week and well into the evening.
- If you are successful in getting your Senators or Representatives to plan a visit, make some basic preparations with your employees.
- Think through a quick tour of your facility that will enable them to see the scope of your business activities and your employees at work (production, packaging, transportation, offices, kitchens, etc.).
- Make sure your employees are alerted about the visit. Urge them to be respectful whether or not they agree with every vote or position taken by their elected officials. Tell them not to be intimidated and to describe their role(s) in your business. Members of Congress need and want to hear from constituents gainfully employed in their state or district.
- In the course of the visit, you should feel free to explain your excise tax payment process and seek support for S. 917 and H.R. 494.
- At the end of the visit you may invite the Senator or Representative to join you for a beverage and snack keeping in mind the guidance below.
- You can suggest to the District or State staff that press or a photo may be appropriate to publicize the visit.
Food and Novelty Items
The House and Senate have rules that generally prohibit free meals. The rules also apply to Congressional staff. The rules do include some exceptions that are applicable to visits to constituent businesses.
Senate Rules include the following exceptions that would allow you to provide a sample of your products, a snack, and/or a specialty item:
Food or refreshments of a nominal value offered other than as a part
of a meal; and
An item of little intrinsic value such as a greeting card, baseball cap,
or a T shirt.1
The Gift Rules of the House of Representatives include an identical food or refreshment provision and a very similar rule permitting acceptance of items of “nominal value such as a greeting card, baseball cap, or a T-Shirt.2
The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct has informal guidance suggesting that an item of nominal value should be less then $10. The Committee also provides the following additional guidance, which recognizes certain situations where a “meal” may be included:
[t]he Committee has granted a general waiver of the gift rule to enable a
Member, officer, or employee to accept the following items incidental to
legitimate official activity:
Food or refreshments, including a meal, offered by the management
of a site being visited, (1) on that business premises, and (2) in a
group setting with employees of the organization…”
Some members of Congress choose not to accept any type of gift and may politely decline. There is no rule, however, against showing them to a good table if they want to stay and buy themselves dinner at your establishment!
1Senate Rule XXXV(c).
2House Rule 25, clauses 5(a)(3)(U) and (W).
(accessed through http://ethics.house.gov/Links/Default.aspx)
Building Relationships and Personal Connections with your Elected Officials
This is arguably the most important “government relations” function you can perform as a member of the craft brewing community.
Brewers Association (BA) Board of Directors and staff have made the development of a strong and meaningful government affairs component for your craft brewing trade association a priority, and together we've achieved some notable results – twice turning back potential new taxes in the form of TTB user fees, successfully streamlining the excise tax payment schedule for many small brewers, petitioning TTB to expand the recognition of traditional ingredients and processes, the passage of a Congressional Resolution recognizing the valuable contributions of craft brewers, and introducing legislation to recalibrate the federal excise tax rate for small brewers.
This success, however, has only come because of the direct involvement of BA members. Much of our success is the direct result of brewery members taking 2 or 3 minutes to write or call their elected officials and express their opinions on issues affecting them. A small investment of time can pay huge dividends. None of this would have been possible without individual members like you reaching out to your Congressman to tell them how you feel about these issues and making the “ask” for support of your business. The effectiveness and success of these contacts, in turn, relies on the building and cultivating of relationships and personal connections with your elected officials.
As a “hometown” brewer, your elected officials will be interested to learn more about your business and eager to meet you and everyone at your business. It's their job to know their constituents and to understand the issues of importance to you and your business. And, because you create jobs, pay taxes and contribute to the community, your elected officials most certainly want your business to thrive and succeed.
Because so much of the brewing industry is regulated at the state level, forming positive relationships with your State Senators and Representatives is crucial to the continued success and strength of your business. With so many states facing budget shortfalls in these tough economic times, the temptation to increase taxes on alcohol is stronger than usual. Proactively educating your officials on the consequences of more taxation and regulation will help them understand the impact on your small business, your employees and your bottom line.
We continue to face many real challenges and opportunities—it is essential that you continue to take the time to make and solidify those relationships which will allow us to meet and overcome those challenges and capitalize on those opportunities.