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Outstanding PACs Meet New Challenges

Outstanding PACs Meet New Challenges

March 2024

The year was 1982, and the first treasurer of Walmart’s political action committee — Sam Walton himself — penned a letter to store managers. There were fewer than 500 stores at that time, so postage was not a major line item on the retail chain’s budget.

Back then, reaching Walmart store managers with a straightforward message on encouraging employees to contribute to the PAC was not a daunting project. Today, there are 4,600 Walmart stores, 600 Sam’s Club locations and more than 200 distribution centers, spread across markets, regions and divisions throughout the country, so getting managers’ attention takes more ingenuity. That WALPAC has reached its eligible members, spread out as they are, with such success has earned it the Council’s 2024 Outstanding PAC Award in the Corporate category. The winner in the Association category is TIPAC, the American Land Title Association’s PAC, which leaned into “fun” to increase PAC donations at its annual conference. The winners and finalists were recognized at the Council’s National PAC Conference in early March.

“This year’s Outstanding PAC Award winners remind us that some of the best campaigns succeed through resourcefulness and enjoyment,” says Victoria Ellington, senior manager of political engagement for the Council. “Both WALPAC and TIPAC have a great story to tell.”

WALPAC — Corporate Category

“Our store managers don’t spend a whole lot of time sitting behind their desks in their offices, looking at emails,” says Timothy Foltyn, Walmart’s senior director, political programs. “They’re out on the floor, working with their people to make sure things go as smoothly as possible for our customers and associates. They’re focused on their own store’s operations, which is as it should be. So just sending a personal letter, like Sam Walton did, or hitting the send button on emails doesn’t cut it anymore. You need person-to-person, peer-to-peer outreach, and that, given the size of the company, is challenging.”

Maintaining a vibrant and effective PAC, which can be difficult enough for anyone, is also complicated by the high turnover among retail associates and, therefore, high turnover of PAC contributors. That makes it vital to constantly add new contributors to make up for those who have moved on, which in turn adds to the pressures on store managers, especially those selected as PAC Champions.

To reach and motivate the managers, in June 2023 WALPAC flew some 50 of its PAC Champions to Washington “to see for themselves the importance of our political advocacy and why it matters to them at the store level,” Foltyn says. “There they met not only with members of Congress, but with Walmart’s own lobbyists, who explained how the store-level impact of legislative and regulatory issues can directly impact a store’s profit-and-loss statement. Because our store managers are as focused as they are on day-to-day operations, they follow the metrics, so when this is explained to them, they understand, and they care.”

The plan was to motivate these Champions so that when they went back home, they would be more effective communicators of the PAC’s value. And by every indication, the effort paid off. “You could see in their eyes how charged up they became,” Foltyn says. “A number of them seemed unsure and even a little skeptical when they arrived, but by the time we did a debriefing at the end, they were excited. And they took that excitement back with them to field operations — stores mainly — where three-quarters of WALPAC’s eligible associates work.”

The numbers speak for themselves. In the weeks following the fly-in, by Aug. 1, more than 1,300 new donors were added to the rolls, and receipts boomed. In May, before the program, WALPAC’s receipts were just under $95,000. In August, after the Champions had returned from the capital, receipts had reached almost $155,000, a 64% increase.

Incentives were offered, as might be expected. A PAC match program was activated during this period, in which every dollar contributed to the WALPAC was matched by $2 from Walmart. These corporate dollars went into the Associates in Critical Need Trust (ACNT), which helps employees facing family crises and unanticipated financial need, with more than $120,000 donated to ACNT.

“We are always trying to educate our associates about the importance of the PAC, but we also learn a lot from them, too,” Foltyn says. “Our people are not sitting around in their offices, looking at their laptops. They are on the shop floor. And part of our success in 2023 is a result of what we learned from the experience of the year before.”

What Foltyn and his team didn’t quite appreciate back in 2022, he says, “is that, in Walmart stores, September is the beginning of the holiday season, where managers are focused on inventory and other seasonal concerns. We learned our lesson, and because we had the program in June instead of September in 2023, we saw the results we were seeking.”

Tim Foltyn, senior director, political programs for Walmart

Title Insurance Political Action Committee (TIPAC) — Association Category

Sometimes, it pays to let your hair down. Literally. If you want to reach people and persuade them to donate to a worthy cause, you should lighten up, not take yourself too seriously, and have fun. That’s one takeaway from the success of a notable component of TIPAC’s 2023 fundraising program. “Lean into the crazy ideas because they just might work,” says Leah Shimp Vass, director of grassroots & political affairs at the American Land Title Association (ALTA).

The crazy idea, in this case, required the services of a mechanical bull. At ALTA’s annual convention at The Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs in October 2023, members of TIPAC’s committee — trustees, they are called — found conventioneers to sponsor them to ride the bull. “A few trustees, citing back problems, for example, raised money by getting sponsored not to [ride the bull],” Vass says. “We created a huge buzz for the first three days of the convention, with 10-15 trustees asking for $20 to $50 to ride the bull. In previous years, we’ve had a bowl-a-thon and a dunk tank, but this was by far the most well-received event we’ve had. It was so popular we had to shut it down. Otherwise, it would have gone on all night. People had a ball.”

Having fun was important, especially since this has been a rough year for the real estate economy, with low inventory and high interest rates. The industry had some of its best years ever in 2020 and 2021, but TIPAC members “have really been tightening their belts, and that includes on their personal PAC contributions,” Vass says.

They loosened up that night in October with impressive results. TIPAC expects to raise $1 million for the 2023-24 election cycle, and it got a good boost at The Broadmoor. Lining up sponsors began a week or two before the convention, and the bull ride alone raised nearly $43,000, with an additional $25,000 in ticket sales for that night’s event.

In 2022, TIPAC raised just under $32,000 at the convention. In 2023, it raised more than twice as much. “Besides those $20 and $50 donations, smaller sums came in from people who don’t ordinarily contribute at all, giving us a good start toward that $1 million goal,” Vass says. “We actually had people who couldn’t be at the event — people back home — contributing to the sponsorships. But just as important, it generated a lot of interest, excitement and engagement. When people are good sports and willing to risk making a fool of themselves — I’m thinking of our trustees here —wonderful things can come of it.”

Council President Doug Pinkham says, “This year’s Outstanding PAC winners both demonstrated an ability to meet the challenges of changing circumstances and reminded us of the importance of having fun as we engage our workforces in our political activities.”

The Outstanding PAC Awards are presented each year at the Council’s National PAC Conference. Winners are invited to present their campaigns during a special conference session. Could your organization be a future winner? Learn more.

Leah Shimp Vass, director of grassroots & political affairs for the American Land Title Association

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