Chair of the AOA Political Action Committee (AOA-PAC), Ron Benner, O.D., has the task of generating member contributions to support candidates who understand the legislative issues facing optometry.

Simply put, he's the 'PAC-man'—navigating the maze of federal government to find the candidates who will help give optometry a boost on the decisive political level.

In an excerpt from a Q&A with AOA Focus, Dr. Benner, who has practiced optometry in Laurel, Montana, for 28 years, discusses the importance of political action and keeping optometry competitive alongside other lobbying interests on and off Capitol Hill.

How does the AOA-PAC make contributions to members of Congress?
AOA-PAC supports U.S. Senate and House candidates who support optometry and AOA's priorities on Capitol Hill. Under federal law, only AOA members—our doctors and students—can be asked to support AOA-PAC, another reason why membership is so important.

The AOA-PAC Board and the Washington office team look at every U.S. Senate and House race on a regular basis, and take input from state leaders, federal Keypersons, doctors and students who want to tell us about a particular race close to their home. We then work to determine if and at what level we can support a candidate. Whenever possible, we want our doctors to deliver AOA-PAC contributions to candidates in their home communities.

What other entities does the AOA-PAC compete with at the federal level?
AOA-PAC takes on the PACs with deep pockets connected to medical groups, including ophthalmology, as well as big-time PACs that support the agenda of insurance companies and visions plans. There are thousands of PACs operating at the federal level, but AOA-PAC is the only one working to elect and reelect pro-optometry candidates to Congress.

How important is it for the AOA-PAC to support optometry-friendly candidates in difficult reelection races?
AOA-PAC support says loud and clear to U.S. Senators and House members and even first-time candidates that we're not going to sit back and let anyone attack you unfairly for being courageous and for doing the right thing. It shows that we stand with those who take a stand on the health care policy issues that we, as physicians, know are important.

Why did you become involved with the AOA-PAC, and why should other members as well?
I like to fight and win for optometry, and that's what AOA-PAC does 24/7/365. It's an essential element of our federal advocacy efforts and a main reason we're as effective as we are in Washington, D.C. That's why it's just essential that our comparatively small profession—which can be impacted at any time in countless ways by new legislation or new regulations—needs to do more to get the 4 out of 5 member doctors who don't participate to do so now.

Click here to donate to AOA-PAC (member login required).

Photograph by Lynne Donaldson

November 4, 2014

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