What AOTPAC Can Do For You
Fall 2008 Capitol Hill Day : Advocates for Occupational Therapy
In the United States every adult citizen—regardless of gender, race, or religion—has a voice in government, and one important way to make that voice heard is to vote. The American Occupational Therapy Political Action Committee (AOTPAC) wants all occupational therapy practitioners to vote in the November 4 elections, regardless of what candidate they choose. In addition to electing a new president, all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for election on November 4 as well as one third of the U.S. Senate.
“I often hear people say ‘my voice doesn’t make a difference,’” says Amy Lamb, chairperson of AOTPAC. “Think about the hundreds of thousands of people who think the same way. If they would all vote, imagine how different the outcome would be.”
No matter what candidate the country elects on November 4, aggressive health care reform will be a large part of the agenda of the next president and Congress. “We need to make our voice heard that occupational therapy must be included in such reform,” says Lamb.
Decisions of the federal government do have a direct and long-term effect on the occupational therapy profession. “There is no guarantee that occupational therapy will be included in health care reform,” says Lamb. “If we think back to what the Balanced Budget Act in 1997 did to our practice, we can see the impact of policy in our daily lives.” Lamb was a new graduate in 1997 and was one of more than 100 occupational therapy professionals who lost their jobs in Omaha, Nebraska, alone.
A political action committee (PAC) is the legally sanctioned vehicle through which organizations, such as the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), can engage in otherwise prohibited political action and work to influence the outcome of federal elections. AOTPAC is a voluntary, nonprofit, and unincorporated committee of members of AOTA. For 30 years, AOTPAC has furthered the legislative aims of AOTA by influencing and supporting candidates.
AOTPAC is a vital link in making sure that congressional candidates who support occupational therapy are elected. AOTPAC also makes it possible for representatives of occupational therapy to be at the table for discussions and decisions on health care reform, Medicare home health and outpatient therapy cap, IDEA, funding for research and education, and many more issues that affect the practice of occupational therapy. Meaningful reform requires a bipartisan approach, and that is why AOTPAC supports candidates from both parties who are supportive of the occupational therapy profession. AOTPAC does not endorse candidates in the presidential election.
“We work to have a balance to our political parties so as to always have friends on both sides of the aisle and to have a collective voice of the profession on Capitol Hill,” says Lamb.
A common misconception is that AOTPAC campaign contributions are a means of buying votes; on the contrary, contributions ensure that responsible and dedicated legislators—who understand and support the occupational therapy profession—are elected or remain in office. “It’s not about buying votes,” says Lamb. “It is about opening doors and having your friends and supporters in Washington to help prevent bad public policies from being established. AOTPAC promotes initiatives to move the profession forward.”
AOTPAC follows strict criteria in selecting candidates for support, including analyzing congressional voting records. AOTPAC has made political contributions to candidates for election in almost every state to both the House and the Senate, enabling AOTA to broaden its contacts in Congress. AOTPAC touts its 94% success rate in the 2006 federal elections, when it helped elect 109 candidates through campaign contributions.
AOTPAC has released a list of supported candidates for the 2008 state elections. “I encourage everyone to really look at the candidates, not superficially, but think about what they are saying and what that means to your profession,” says Lamb.