Few people in the horse industry are likely to see Congress Daily, a must-read publication for inside-the-Beltway politicians, their staff members, and lobbyists. A recent article in that journal on efforts by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to pass a bill ending online gambling contained a comment by author Bill Swindell that bears repeating:
"Frist was able to pick up key Senate support after including a carve-out for the politically powerful horse racing industry."
That's right, politically powerful.
That political clout didn't happen accidentally and isn't a result of one or a handful of people who have "connections" in Washington, D.C. The political power the horse racing industry now enjoys in our nation's capital is a result of a strategy planned and executed by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and supported by knowledgeable individuals who understand that contributions to the NTRA's Legislative Action Campaign and Political Action Committee are an investment in their future.
The Legislative Action Campaign supports lobbyists hired by the NTRA to represent them in discussions with members of Congress and, more importantly, their staff -- which does the real behind-the-scenes work in legislative matters. Funds also help provide an annual payment to the American Horse Council, which often works side-by-side with the NTRA.
Money for the Legislative Action Campaign comes from breeders, consignors, and buyers in the form of a 0.25% checkoff on transactions -- plus various funds from sale companies. "All the money focuses exclusively on Washington, D.C., and legislative activities that improve the economics of the business," said Peggy Hendershot, who as the NTRA's vice president of legislative and corporate planning oversees the program.
Individuals (including foreign nationals) and corporations are free to give to the Legislative Action Campaign, and there is no limit on the amount of the contribution, which may be deductible as an ordinary business expense.
The NTRA's Political Action Committee, better known as Horse PAC, has, by federal law, a personal limit of $5,000 in contributions per individual ($10,000 per couple) each year. You must be either a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien to contribute. Corporations are not permitted to give to a PAC.
Money from the Horse PAC is given strategically to support federal political campaigns of people who sit on committees relevant to racing and breeding, among them House Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Agriculture.
Both the Legislative Action Campaign and Horse PAC have seen contributions decline from their all-time highs in 2004, when $3,370,000 and $382,874 were raised for the respective programs. As that revenue has declined, the volume of legislative activity affecting the racing and breeding industry has mounted.
Key issues include defending the $2-billion Internet wagering market permitted under the Interstate Horseracing Act, but under fire from many in Congress; the Equine Equity Act, which can deliver $445 million in tax relief to the horse industry over 10 years; agriculture and immigration issues that are vital to the future; and the withholding tax on horseplayers that has not been adjusted since 1992.
Lots of people have issues with the NTRA. Some are angry it didn't do enough to support the Thoroughbred Championship Tour proposal. Others may be upset that Little League baseball or golf has pre-empted racing telecasts on ESPN. Others have criticized the NTRA's marketing efforts or inability to broker a deal between TVG and HRTV.
None of that should matter when it comes to the NTRA's Legislative Action Campaign or its Horse PAC. If you are materially active in this business and not contributing, you are part of the problem.
Get with the solution.