Gala on the eve of the 2014 Miami shows figures to raise the industry’s profile on Capitol Hill
There hasn’t been much fanfare regarding the Boating Political Action Committee, but next February’s Blue & White Ball in Miami could change that.
“People will be talking about this party for years as being the first one and saying, ‘Remember when?’ ” says Phil Estes, co-owner of Horizon Holdings LLC, the private investment firm that owns Malibu Boats. “The Boat PAC is a bit of an unknown entity. It’s the voice of the industry on Capitol Hill, but historically it’s been an organization that hasn’t probably gotten the support and attention that it’s needed.”
The Blue & White Ball will be one way to shed more light on the committee’s role in the industry, says Denny Salas, PAC manager and special projects coordinator for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “The political action committee is just one way to raise our voices here in Washington. We definitely need to get more press when it comes to our PAC, to help get our message out there.”
The ball will be held at the Botanical Gardens in Miami on the eve of the 2014 Progressive Insurance Miami International Boat Show and the Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach. It will benefit Grow Boating as well as the PAC.
Salas calls the event the “brainchild” of Mastervolt’s Michele Goldsmith, who is on the board of the NMMA’s Accessory Manufacturers division, the group that has taken the lead in organizing the ball. Goldsmith says she expects about 550 people, launching what she hopes will be a tradition. “We expect we’ll run out of tickets,” she says.
There has been little contact with news outlets regarding the political action committee, Salas says. “The Boat PAC is just another avenue we use to get our foot in the door. It’s very important, especially as the economy starts to pick up, that there are no new regulations to harm the manufacturing side of the industry.”
The Boat PAC reached its fundraising peak in the early 2000s, generating about $200,000 in contributions, Salas says. Then it saw an “immense slowdown” when the recession hit. “We saw it on the floor in 2008,” he says. “I think, in that year, we generated about $30,000. Once we saw that happen we wanted to know what to do to revitalize it.”
The NMMA enlisted people, including Salas, to help achieve that goal. And it has worked. Last year, the PAC had a 22.5 percent increase from 2011, with $80,000 going to the committee. This year’s goal is to raise more than $100,000, Salas says. “We’re trying to increase political influence here in D.C.”
Estes says Salas has “taken the bull by the horns.”
“With the industry now coming out of the significant part of the downturn it’s a perfect time to have us all come together and lobby Capitol Hill on things that are important to our industry — access to waterways, smart legislation that governs our waterways, fuel for our cars and boats, sensible tax legislation,” Estes says. “We are outdoor enthusiasts, we are conservationists, we are stewards of and users of, but most importantly, stewards of the public waterways.”
Fundraising on boats
The PAC’s mission is to increase the recognition level and influence of the boating industry in the best and most efficient way possible, Salas says. “Maybe we don’t have the biggest PAC, so what we did starting last year, and what we’re going to do more broadly this year, is we started hosting political fundraisers.”
During such an event, “We actually put members of Congress on a boat” and raise funds for re-election campaigns, Salas says. Last year the PAC did three fundraising events; this year’s goal is 15.
Supporting fundraisers helps raise the group’s recognition level in Washington. “With the creation of super PACs, money has become very important,” Salas says. “If you’re a congressman or woman, you have to raise around $1 million to have an adequate war chest. That’s a little over $1,500 a day you have to raise. A lot of these members of Congress are dialing for dollars — they’ll literally be sitting in a room just constantly making calls to donors in order to just have money for their election campaigns. This lessens the burden on legislators in order to allow them to do the jobs we’ve elected them to do.”
When these boating fundraisers do well, they can earn between $20,000 and $50,000 each, Salas says.
Also new last year was an NMMA presence at the Democratic and Republican national conventions. “We had a lot of sponsors and our own members there … so members of Congress got to talk to our members about what they do,” he says.
Designating some of the Blue & White Ball dollars to Grow Boating reflects the importance of that campaign, Goldsmith says, but it also extends participation in the ball to more people. “We made it a very inclusive event,” she says. “We expect people from all segments of the marine industry. We didn’t want different rules and regulations about who could attend.”
Legal parameters clarified by the Federal Elections Commission dictate who can contribute to PACs, Salas says. For the Boat PAC, contributors have to be NMMA members and part of a restrictive class of senior management or executives. “It’s a very specific group,” he says.
Attendees who don’t meet those criteria will contribute to Grow Boating or to the PAC’s administrative fees, Goldsmith says.
The Blue & White Ball will be a statement to boating itself, Salas says. “This is about celebrating the industry,” he says. “We hadn’t done anything to say, ‘Hey, we survived, we’re back,’ and we wanted to do something to benefit the recreational boating industry as a whole. We are a uniquely American manufacturing industry that puts $72 billion into the U.S. economy and provides 350,000 American jobs.
“Miami takes place during Valentine’s week, and the whole event is to show your love for boating,” he adds.
The ball will feature an area for attendees to write about specific ways boating has touched their lives or why they love boating. There will be cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, a full dinner, dancing, a silent auction and “other surprises,” Goldsmith says. In early May, the NMMA’s Accessory Manufacturers division was printing posters, save-the-date cards and finalizing sponsorship fliers, she says. “Things are moving forward. It’s going to be a fun night, and hopefully we raise a lot of money.”
“I think Michele’s got a great idea here, and I think she’s the perfect person to pull this off. She’s an event planner by background,” Estes says. “The boating industry’s made up of a lot of folks who have a lot of common interests, and we take that all very seriously. It’s a big part of what we do, in addition to being enthusiasts of fishing and wakeboarding and water skiing. This is an awesome concept. There are some really fun ideas for stuff going on at the party. It’s going to be a ball.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue.