June 1, 2022
As physicians, we use our expertise and empathy to protect and empower patients to be champions of their healthcare and well-being. Such commitment and conviction lead to mutually beneficial relationships between surgeons and their patients. However, if abused, distrust and skepticism can arise. This situation is akin to the current political environment, which is why it is critical that members of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) understand the College’s advocacy and political efforts, including the importance of becoming more engaged at all levels of government.
Many surgeons continue to weigh the benefits and risks of political engagement, including participating in the ACS Professional Association Political Action Committee (ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC). Their hesitancy is reflected in the numbers: fewer than 2% of eligible members contribute to the PAC. Whether this lack of involvement is the result of apathy, conflicting personal and professional politics, or a misunderstanding of the vital role that surgeons play in the political process, one unavoidable reality is clear: we must play a larger role and recruit others to get involved. Healthcare will change, with or without our input.
It is better for both the profession and our patients that our voices are heard. Having weighed the pros and cons of participating in these activities, the PAC undertook to effect change and improve access to quality surgical care. To encourage your engagement, we want to clarify what you can do and why your participation is important.
The ACSPA was established in 2001 as a 501(c)(6) affiliate to ensure the College, as a tax-exempt not-for-profit organization, could maintain the standard-setting and educational activities at the heart of its mission. The ACSPA allows for a broader range of activities and services that benefit surgeons and patients, including expanded legislative advocacy and political programming.
As the SurgeonsPAC celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, it’s important to note that the ACS always has recognized that for the profession to be successful, surgery requires a strong presence in Washington, DC. The ACS Division of Advocacy and Health Policy (DAHP) advances the College’s health policy agenda through Congress via lobbying activities, grassroots engagement (SurgeonsVoice), and political affairs (SurgeonsPAC). To help propose and advocate for healthcare policies that are in the best interests of surgical patients, the DAHP liaises with Congress and government agencies, such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and other entities under the purview of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
So, what is a PAC? A PAC pools resources from like-minded individuals, contributes to candidates’ campaigns, and advocates on behalf of its members’ common interests.
PACs focus on policy, not politics, and remain among the most transparent and regulated campaign finance entities. PAC contributions and expenditures are monitored by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and other independent groups, such as the Center for Responsive Politics. For more information about PACs, visit OpenSecrets.org.
The ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC was established to promote access to quality surgical care for patients by supporting the election of federal officeholders who share surgery’s perspective on relevant policies and priorities. All political efforts are financed through voluntary contributions from ACSPA members paid directly to the ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC. To learn more, visit facs.org/advocacy/get-involved/surgeonspac.
Amid the ongoing political rhetoric, SurgeonsPAC serves as a united voice for you and your patients in Washington. Each year, we face many challenges unique to surgeons and surgical patients, which is why a collective, strong surgical presence in the political and policymaking process is increasingly vital. If the more than 98% of ACS members who do not participate in SurgeonsPAC decided to join, the potential to become a top industry PAC would be great.
SurgeonsPAC raises money from its eligible members to help elect and reelect candidates seeking federal office. All active, US dues-paying members and green card holders (and their spouses), as well as ACS employees, are eligible to join SurgeonsPAC. All voluntary contributions to SurgeonsPAC are considered “hard dollars.” SurgeonsPAC uses all hard dollar funds to support congressional candidates, political campaign committees, and other PACs. Corporate contributions, or “soft dollars,” include monies received from groups or private practices and are used for educational and administrative expenses.
It is important to note that SurgeonsPAC was established as a nonpartisan entity to unite surgery’s voice on Capitol Hill and therefore does not, and legally cannot, earmark contributions to specific members of Congress or contribute to candidates based on a single issue or legislative effort. SurgeonsPAC works to elect members of Congress but does not participate in presidential or state and local elections.
The ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC Board of Directors plays a key role in considering and evaluating congressional candidates seeking financial support. Representing various surgical specialties and interests, the SurgeonsPAC Board of Directors considers several factors before determining which federal campaigns to support, including candidates’ viability, professional background, committee assignments (particularly committees with jurisdiction over healthcare issues), voting record on healthcare-related legislation that could affect surgery, and leadership positions within their political party.
As a PAC member, you can ask the PAC to support viable candidates running for federal office, deliver a PAC check at an in-district event, and more.
Misinformation regarding PACs is one reason prospective contributors may hesitate to give. Following is a sampling of frequently asked questions, comments, and responses about SurgeonsPAC.
Neither do we. However, advocating for patients and on behalf of all surgeons often requires setting personal politics aside. Participating in SurgeonsPAC is meant to amplify, not replace, your individual advocacy efforts. You are encouraged to contribute to campaigns and other specialty PACs, in addition to supporting SurgeonsPAC. Participating not only ensures your voice is heard in Washington and by decision makers, but also can help leverage your interests within the ACS.
In line with the ACS mission, SurgeonsPAC upholds the highest ethical standards to ensure that contributions are distributed in a nonpartisan manner, in compliance with FEC regulations, and to individuals who support excellence in surgical care and exhibit professionalism when advocating on behalf of surgery.
Once logged in to SurgeonsPAC.org, all calendar-year contributions to candidates are available to review by state at surgeonspac.org/Disbursements.aspx.
SurgeonsPAC serves as the voice for all of surgery regarding common issues across subspecialties. SurgeonsPAC works with other surgical specialty PACs and recognizes the critical role they play for their members.
The College has the membership and bandwidth to become the largest medical PAC in Washington, a tremendous benefit to all surgeons and specialists. Again, PAC contributions to individual surgical societies are a critical component of surgical advocacy, and SurgeonsPAC urges members to continue these contributions. That said, surgeons of all specialties are encouraged to consider contributing to the ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC.
Communicating with Congress can be frustrating, but the College must continue to play a proactive role in proposing meaningful health policy solutions for Congress and state legislatures to consider. Surgeon advocates need to become experts within this space and advocate for meaningful, practical policies at the federal and state levels.
Establishing yourself as a surgeon advocate is crucial to making your voice heard. Regular engagement with members of Congress and their staff and serving as a trusted resource on issues of importance to surgeons and surgical patients is essential. As a surgeon, your firsthand expertise and training provide a realistic perspective on health policy issues to members of Congress. As a result, many lawmakers, particularly your elected officials, will look to you for guidance on complex issues.
If politicians are getting bad advice, you can become their trusted resource. Meeting with your members of Congress in conjunction with the annual ACS Leadership & Advocacy Summit or through the Advocacy at Home program is a great way to witness advocacy in action and begin building relationships with lawmakers and their offices.
Focusing on professional versus personal politics while recognizing the plethora of issues directly affecting our patients and colleagues can help us become more effective surgeon advocates. Whether this includes writing letters or scheduling meetings through SurgeonsVoice or deciding to join SurgeonsPAC, participation is paramount.
Successful advocacy starts with common goals, strength in numbers, and opportunities to engage elected officials and decision makers. The College advocates on behalf of surgeons, patients, and the surgical profession at the federal and state levels. With more than 84,000 members, the College has the potential to make a strong impact at all levels of government while advocating for a better future for surgeons and patients. It is our hope that more of our peers will join us, so that together we can be a powerful voice and catalyst for change.
Contributions to ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC are not deductible as charitable contributions for federal income tax purposes. Contributions are voluntary, and all members of ACSPA have the right to refuse to contribute without reprisal. Federal law prohibits ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC from accepting contributions from foreign nations. By law, if your contributions are made using a personal check or credit card, ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC may use your contribution only to support candidates in federal elections. All corporate contributions to ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC will be used for educational and administrative fees of ACSPA and other activities permissible under federal law. Federal law requires ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC to use its best efforts to collect and report the name, mailing address, occupation, and the name of the employer of individuals whose contributions exceed $200 in a calendar year. ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC is a program of the ACSPA, which is exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code.