August 4, 2021
When I first got involved in national AIA leadership, I had no idea that New Jersey was the only state that required an architect to design single-family homes. When I asked other state representatives why they weren’t pursuing similar regulations I got responses like, “it’s too late”, “the contractors are too strong”, “we have bigger issues to deal with” and other excuses all relating to a lack of will to fight for changes and a lack of political capital; architects had none. I just couldn’t take that defeatist attitude lying down.
Around that time, when I was the Legislative Rep and then President of my local Section, we had a state-wide political action committee (PAC) with only $1,500 in its coffers. It was counterproductive to have a PAC that couldn’t make more than a few small donations each year. We experienced some rather large legislative losses, losing ground to contractors and interior designers who were much more politically savvy and well-funded. I couldn’t even get my brother-in-law, who was then the Governor’s Chief of Staff, to listen when one piece of interior design legislation was being introduced and passed (in less time than Megan’s Law took to pass.)
Five years later, as President of AIANJ, I put the issue of our PAC to a vote; either up the ante and become a viable PAC or shut down the PAC and accept the will of other groups. We voted as a group to institute a dues allocation, with an opt-out. Since then, 96% of our members have opted to allow that allocation.
Working with the AIANJ Legislative and Government Affair Committee, which I chaired for over a dozen years and have been a member for 30, we were able to get some significant legislation passed. For instance, we had the Governor’s ear after Sandy and were involved in the shaping of regulations relating to the recovery. Recent wins include Good Samaritan legislation, Historic Tax Credit, electronic seal, and many bills relating to sustainability. We have successfully stopped professional tax legislation several times and several bills banning the use of wood products in multi-family residential projects. We had some influence on issues dealing with the role of the architect in publicly funded school construction in underserved communities. We limited the role of Home Inspectors to reporting on previously occupied dwellings of up to four units. We were able to keep the majority on our own State Board when interior designers became certified (title act) and landscape architects became licensed (practice act) and were given more seats on the board by increasing the number of seats dedicated to registered architects.
Fast forward to a few years ago: As the new chair of the New Jersey Architects Political Action Committee (NJAPAC), I pointed out that our $15 per member allocation – which gave us around $30,000 per year to work with – was now worth about half of what it was 15 years ago. We struggled with this issue for a year or so, but eventually, the members of AIANJ voted – 80% to 20% of attendees at an annual meeting – to increase that allocation to $50 per member. Less than $1 per week. My annual Rotary Club dues are more than 4 times that, before any donations are made.
NJAPAC, which represents the entire profession, not just AIANJ members, has grown to the 2nd largest state-wide PAC representing the architectural profession between Florida and Texas both with twice as many AIA members as NJ. In fact, we now raise nearly half as much as the national PAC with over 95,000 members, almost 50 times as many members.
Our legislators now recognize when we’re in the room and are listening to us. We are bipartisan, we support candidates who support the agenda of the architectural profession. And last year, we assisted three AIANJ members, Citizen Architects, running for local and county offices on both sides of the aisle.
Still, our donations are nowhere near the level that contractor groups make. The laborer sweeping up at your job site donates more to their PAC than the average architect does to ours. Several contractors PAC’s, as well as Realtors and other groups, raise two million dollars every legislative cycle in NJ alone. Their numbers are much greater, and their individual donations are much larger.
For those who are naysayers when it comes to donating to PAC’s, consider the fact that the U.S. Constitution established a representative government that guarantees our right to free speech and the right of the people to petition the government for a redress of grievances. And that modern PAC law was developed in the ’70s, after Watergate, to allow individuals to pool their resources for the benefit of the entire group, rather than for the benefit of the individuals with the most money.
The bottom line is that nobody else is going to be looking out for our profession if we don’t do it ourselves.
Today, the NJAPAC is stronger than ever and working hard for its over 1900 members. Anyone interested in getting involved can contact me at email@example.com.
By Stacey Ruhle Kliesch, AIA, AIA NJ Advocacy Consultant | Posted in AIA-NJ News | Tagged: #APACIMPACT, #DavidDelVecchioAIA, #NJAPAC | Comments (0)
Architects are creative professionals, educated, trained, and experienced in the art and science of building design, and licensed to practice architecture. Their designs respond to client needs, wants and vision, protect public safety, provide economic value, are innovative, inspire and contribute positively to the community and the environment.