June 21, 2017

Written by Dan Deans, Asurion

Asurion is a proud member of Jewelers of America. For the past seven years, JA’s political action committee, JAPAC, has held an annual legislative fly-in, visiting Capitol Hill and speaking with members of Congress whose actions directly affect the jewelry industry.Dan Deans met with his home-state Representative, Barbara Comstock (VA-10), during the JAPAC Fly-In
Asurion is a proud member of Jewelers of America. For the past seven years, JA’s political action committee, JAPAC, has held an annual legislative fly-in, visiting Capitol Hill and speaking with members of Congress whose actions directly affect the jewelry industry. This was the first year that Asurion participated, and we are very glad that we did. Before reviewing the day’s events, I want to share what I learned from participating directly in the forum:

Anyone can do this.

The Senators and Representatives we met valued our input. They wanted to hear what we said, especially when they represented our area (district or state). They, or their staff, took notes and were genuinely engaged. I was impressed by how impactful our meetings were on our lawmakers’ understanding of how the laws they were considering affected our industry.

Everyone should do this.

While we understand how taxes and regulations affect our industry, we are mistaken if we assume our legislators do too. Some had not considered the impact of the Border Adjustment Tax (BAT) on jewelers, and if not for our visit they never would have. If we do not meet with lawmakers to advocate for our industry, other competing interests will, and they will win the day. Jewelers of America makes it easy for us to share our opinions on the issues with their Legislative Action Center, where you can quickly send a message to your legislators.

Jewelers are especially effective.

Every day we make personal connections with guests visiting our stores. I was impressed with how quickly my fellow jewelers established genuine relationships with those they met! Our ability to make connections quickly gives us a natural advantage over other visitors. We make our visits memorable and impactful, because this is what jewelers do.

It’s easier than you think.

All the heavy lifting was done in advance by the JA & JAPAC team, and we were escorted and accompanied throughout the day. There were no scripts to memorize (see the 1st bullet point above), the JA staff made the legislation simple to understand, and we were never rushed. I wish I had participated in previous years and I’ll be sure to do so in the future.

The visits to the Congressional offices and from Congressmen and Congresswomen were scheduled and well-coordinated by the JA staff and JA’s DC-based legislative counsel, Haake Fetzer. Jewelry industry participants were briefed fully well in advance of travel to D.C. Any questions were answered prior to and during the visit, and we were given an opportunity to begin our day with an experienced Congressional Chief of Staff who briefed us on the “lay of the land” in Congress. The frank nature of the discussion prepared us for the day ahead, and the JA and Haake Fetzer team helped us choose those areas that would be best to emphasize in our upcoming meetings.

Tax reform is one of the primary goals of Congress this year, which was reflected in JA and JAPAC’s strategy for us. We were asked to be sure to discuss our concerns on two taxation issues and, if time allowed, to weigh in on an FTC ruling:

  • “Fight the Border Adjustment Tax.” Included in the House Republican Tax Reform Blueprint is a Border Adjustment Tax that could impose a 20% tax hike on imports: including finished jewelry and mined materials used to produce jewelry. Imagine the impact on our industry if the price of nearly all diamonds, gemstones, and precious metals increased by 20%? There are industries today who are advocating for the Border Adjustment Tax and they are meeting with your lawmaker; if your voice is not heard in opposition, how do you expect them to vote?
  • “Support Sales Tax Fairness.” We agree that brick and mortar jewelers must adapt to the changing retail landscape. But the competition must be fair, and allowing online retailers to circumvent existing state sales tax laws tilts the playing field unfairly. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have pending bi-partisan legislation that we support. Visits with lawmakers and staff helped them understand our common sense approach: traditional jewelers are not Luddites, we just want a fair fight.
  • “Fight FTC Proposed Use of ‘Cultured’ to Describe Synthetic Diamonds.” The FTC has proposed that its revision to the Guides for the Jewelry, Precious Metals, and Pewter Industries include use of the term “cultured” for synthetic diamonds. While JA believes that the terms “Lab Created” or “Lab Grown” help to inform jewelry consumers about synthetic diamonds, the use of the term “cultured” does the opposite. This is a reputational issue for our industry, and while we found a surprising number of congressional staff members were familiar with synthetic diamonds, very few were aware of the FTC’s proposed actions.

Our group of Virginian jewelers, along with our lone (but very capable) Kentuckian jeweler, were accompanied by Susan Thea Posnock, JA’s Director of Public Affairs and Education. Susan understood the importance of our presence with the lawmakers and their staffs, and wanted us to carry the conversation. When legislative questions arose she was quick to answer before steering the discussion back to our personal anecdotes and concerns. Susan’s guiding hand kept the conversation on track and allowed us to focus on our strengths: explaining to our personal representatives our needs.

Our meals with Senators and Representatives were more impactful, perhaps because of the informal nature of a lunch or dinner. Conversations were off the record and, while respectful, very frank and straightforward. Lawmakers want to hear from their constituents, especially business owners, and seated together at a table increased the intimacy of our discussions: it is difficult to make this connection with an email or on the phone with a staff member. (Did you know Senator Orrin Hatch once sold diamonds?) JA and JAPAC created this opportunity for us, and we should all take advantage of it.

From Asurion’s perspective the visits were incredibly valuable. Independent jewelers were able to share an important view; as a leading service supplier to the jewelry industry Asurion was able to share another. We expressed our concern on how the B.A.T. would injure our retail and service partners in specific terms that lawmakers understood. The potential loss of jobs on a large scale as a result of unfair taxes was a revelation for many, and we believe was a part of the influential message our legislative forum carried for the day.

Please consider how you and your business will benefit from participating in future legislative forums and a membership with Jewelers of America. Jewelers of America’s political action committee, JAPAC, is the only PAC that supports the fine jewelry industry in Washington D.C. They work hard for you, and with more support from all of us more can be done to defend our industry’s interests. 
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