Outstanding PACs Succeed by Connecting with Members
In 2019, the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association PAC collected only $14,000 — a “dire situation,” according to Luke Crumley, its director of public policy and nutrient management, for an organization representing the interests of nearly 30,000 grain producers. The PAC did better the following year, bringing in $59,000, but then experienced a bonanza in 2022, with contributions of $142,000. It also hiked its participation rate to 15%, a 50% increase over the previous cycle, earning for the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association political action committee (OCWGA PAC) the Council’s 2023 Outstanding PAC Award in the Association category.
The winner in the Corporate category is the Home Depot Inc. PAC for a campaign that encouraged participation from Home Depot employees outside of corporate offices to build awareness of and engagement in the PAC.
OCWGA-PAC – Association Category
The Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association turned things around so dramatically thanks to a rebranding effort and — this seems key — a significant restructuring of its PAC board. “Until 2020, we pushed for maximum contributions to serve on the board,” Crumley says. “This probably explains why we had only four voting board members in 2019.” By decreasing the contribution requirement and creating a tiered system of access to PAC benefits, the board has grown to 20 voting members, all committed to a two-year recurring contribution cycle.
These improvements are especially impressive given the nature of American agriculture. Farmers tend to work by themselves or with a few family members, and they live on their farms, rather than in densely populated cities with politically engaged neighbors and co-workers.
“Compared to other industries, the farming community tends to underperform in political fundraising, for deeply rooted cultural reasons,” Crumley says. “Although the work of growers is profoundly affected by government policies, many farmers will tell you they don’t think elected officials should be ‘rewarded simply for doing the right thing.’ This attitude, which is commendable in many ways, also makes them reluctant to give to candidates.”
Farmers are also deeply connected to their local community. “If they have disposable income, they usually prefer to invest it in their equipment or give to a cause or organization that’s close to home — to their local 4-H club or high school sports team,” Crumley says. “So it takes some effort to persuade them that their livelihood, even their survival, depends on promoting sound public policy. We’d tried for decades to build an effective PAC. By relying on a peer-to-peer program, broadening the base beyond the same core group of people and lowering the dollar amount expected for board membership, we think we’ve finally done it.”
The Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association has also expanded the candidates the PAC contributes to, which now includes those running in state-level races. “That also speaks to the fact that our members feel such strong connections to their local communities,” Crumley says. “And in all of this, we’ve kept and even increased the marquee events that are fun and that build a sense of community among that ever-decreasing number of Americans who live and work in rural areas — auctions, sporting clays shooting competitions, and an annual happy hour featuring beer and liquor made with Ohio corn and small grains.”
Less than 1% of Americans today live on farms, “and the general public has very little understanding of the complexity of the business of agriculture and what goes into putting the food they eat in grocery stores and on their kitchen tables,” Crumley explains. “The issues that affect farming — trade, crop insurance, conservation, biofuels, water quality, and on and on — are huge. That’s why it’s so important that growers make their voices heard through their respective PACs. We’re excited to be making it easier for them to do so effectively, in a way that reflects their deepest values.”
Home Depot PAC – Corporate Category
Each summer, when The Home Depot hosts its annual “Aprons on the Hill” fly-in, half of attendees are the apron-wearing “Doers” from one of the more than 2,300 stores in the U.S. who can tell you exactly where to find the No. 14 wood screws. The other half encompasses associates from The Home Depot Store Support Center, the company headquarters in Atlanta, representing leaders from every aspect of the business. What’s bringing these orange aprons to Washington? An innovative, competitive PAC campaign that encourages all associates to make their “Orange Voice” heard and promotes PAC membership across the company.
“We wanted to make it possible for them to win the trip to Washington,” says Amber Yanez, The Home Depot’s PAC manager. “The objective was to build awareness of the PAC and encourage engagement in the political process. So PAC Captains earned points based on the number of activities they completed during the PAC campaign, which involved actions like speaking to their peers one-on-one or presenting in meetings about the PAC. Captains even earned points if their peers registered to vote or volunteered as a poll worker using HomeDepotVotes.com, a site that was visited 112,000 times during the PAC campaign, up from 15,000 in 2020.”
When the 2022 campaign concluded, the PAC had 45% of its eligible class enrolled, which includes more than 95% of all store managers, a figure that shatters the 17.5% average among corporate PACs. The average of those contributions is a $5 commitment out of employees’ hard-earned wages every pay period. These small donations reflect buy-in from diverse segments of The Home Depot. From associates in the store aisles to executives in corporate corner offices, these small donations mirror the enthusiasm and commitment that are a testament to true grassroots efforts.
In addition, 700 associates joined the PAC charity match benefit for the first time, extending the company’s impact to communities and causes important to Home Depot associates. For the first time since the start of the benefit, the program will be disbursing more than $1 million to charities all over the country in 2023.
One reason for this success is that the process of engagement has been streamlined, making it easier for the PAC Captains to track their success in near real time through a new peer-to-peer portal. In addition to a leaderboard, the portal provided a set of resources for Captains, including sample emails, past training sessions, helpful one-pagers — even digital backgrounds that captains could use during their virtual calls. PAC Captains also earned points by attending training sessions to help make them effective promoters of the PAC.
“Our PAC Captains in our stores don’t have time to sit in front of a computer in the break room,” Yanez says. “So we’ve made it possible for them to check the portal on their phones. That’s just one example of how we’ve enhanced the program to make it more convenient for the Captains, without losing the competition by overcomplicating or adding items to their workload. This is my full-time job as PAC manager, but it isn’t theirs.
“Through this innovative campaign, the PAC has continued its effort to weave itself into the fabric of the company’s culture. Nothing is more important than providing a reciprocal relationship with not only the PAC Captains but the entire membership on what the PAC accomplishes and how that leads to everyone’s success at the company.”
The Council’s PAC and grassroots manager, Victoria Ellington, who oversaw the judging committee’s work for the Outstanding PAC Awards, says that what is “so impressive about this year’s PAC Award winners is that they have connected so effectively with the class of eligibles which could be indifferent to their employers’ political engagement or even unaware of it. These PACs understand their members and potential members and meet them where they are.”
The finalists in the Association category were the American Dental Association and the Pennsylvania Schoolboards Association.
The finalists in the Corporate category were Eli Lilly and Toyota.
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.