May 27, 2016

President’s Message
Help strengthen our voice in Harrisburg
By Mark Martini

 

Last year when Gov. Tom Wolf was pushing for a budget that included a taxation on legal services, a more senior member of our bar asked me what the bar association was going to do about it. When I informed him the ACBA had a political action committee and was doing the best we could with the resources that we had, I was greeted with sincere surprise that ACBA has a PAC working for its members.

The ACBA PAC has been in existence for many years, and has been working in Harrisburg to fight for the interests of our members. But our efforts, and success based upon them, are severely limited by the relatively minimal resources in our coffers. While the members of the Board of Governors have vowed to contribute to the PAC, the contributions of approximately 25 ACBA members out of membership of 6,000 only takes us so far which is not far at all. While our PAC has a total account balance of $5,000 on a good day, other political action committees across the Commonwealth – some with interests adverse to ours – consider such an amount to be pocket change.

For years our PAC has struggled to raise funds despite frequent articles in this publication and our electronic media. It seems that everyone wants the bar to stand up for the issues important to our members, but very few have been willing to contribute funds to help us with the fight. I don’t believe that it’s because our members don’t want to donate or feel it is an unworthy cause. It could be something as simple as a shortcoming on the bar’s part in providing a mechanism to allow individuals to contribute. So I am pleased to report that at the urging of the ACBA PAC chaired by Bryan Neft, the ACBA recently passed a resolution authorizing a “check-off” campaign on your soon-to-be received dues statements. We aren’t asking for much, and if just a third of our 6,000 members contribute $10 to $20, we will be in a much better position than we have been in years while we’ve treaded water.

Because I am penning this article in May, I haven’t yet seen the 2016-17 budget proposals. But I have no reason to believe that the issue of taxation on legal services is going away. Notwithstanding the direct negative effects such a tax would have on our members, it is regressive and would serve to most harm those who can least afford it. Just as a tax on life insurance proceeds would serve to kick a person when they are at their lowest, so would taxing a person on legal services when they are going through life-changing events such as divorce, criminal charges or estate distribution. Let’s face it, people aren’t hiring lawyers because they want to and have nothing better to do with their money. A lawyer is engaged as a necessity when a person is facing the loss of life, liberty, property or civil rights.  

It is important to note that the ACBA PAC does not exist exclusively to oppose taxation on legal services. It also advocates for issues such as adequate funding for our courts, appropriate expenditures for civil legal services and indigent defense, and the preservation of publication requirements in local legal journals. While these topics may not be as “juicy” an issue as taxing legal services, they nonetheless directly affect our profession and the practice of law, and, therefore, are important for us to fight for in Harrisburg.

We need a voice in Harrisburg, and we cannot expect to have one when our PAC is operating below the poverty line. Please consider giving in this year’s dues check-off campaign so we can have a real impact. If you’d like to otherwise give to the PAC or want to sign up for a monthly credit card contribution, please contact Assistant Executive Director Diane McMillen at dmcmillen@acba.org.