The CPA Advocate recently sat down with AICPA Senior Vice President of Congressional & Political Affairs Mark Peterson for a look at the profession’s legislative agenda and thoughts about member advocacy.
What are the profession’s most pressing legislative priorities for 2015, Mark?
We have some issues that are left over from the 113th Congress, not necessarily because they are controversial – as a matter of fact, they are very bipartisan in nature – but because the clock ran out.
One is mobile workforce legislation. At the moment, each state imposes different withholding requirements for non-residents. In fact, some states require withholding for as little as one day of work. Legislation that is strongly supported by the AICPA would ease the burden on taxpayers by creating a uniform national standard. Employees would be subject to state or local taxation only if they work for more than 30 days in the jurisdiction.
Another priority is patent reform. The AICPA is supportive of actions by the House and Senate to adequately curb the threat of patent holding companies, or patent trolls, on our members’ practices and businesses. These trolls are entities which acquire patents and bring lawsuits against companies, usually small companies, regarding patent infringement for mundane daily uses of technology. We know that many firms and several state societies have been hit by these trolls. Our hope is that legislation to fix the problem will come out of the chute early next year.
And we also are working with members of the CPA and Accountants Caucus among other leaders in Congress to add accounting to the definition of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math or STEM. The existing cap of 65,000 visas each fiscal year does not provide adequate flexibility for the profession to attain recruitment goals. The effort is tied up in the debate over immigration reform, which is controversial. However, we are working hard to position ourselves in the event it moves forward.
I also want to call attention to our work to preserve the use of cash accounting by CPA firms and other small businesses, which has been part of the debate over tax reform. The AICPA and state CPA societies have been engaged in several letter-writing and calling efforts to inform members of the House and Senate of the profession’s opposition to any proposed requirement to mandate the use of accrual accounting. With new faces in Congress and renewed interest in tax reform in the offing, we will continue to fight any effort to mandate the use of accrual accounting.
How would you characterize the CPA profession’s reputation on Capitol Hill?
The profession has a great reputation on the Hill. When we walk into congressional offices, they understand it’s CPAs who are coming in to talk with them. And they will start nodding even before we discuss an issue. That’s because of the hometown relationship they have with accountants. The members of Congress and staff realize that CPAs are drivers of their local economies. As a result, CPAs have a terrific reputation and influence. And that extends to the AICPA’s Congressional and Political Affairs team. It provides a very positive platform to be talking to policymakers regardless of the issue.
What advice do you have for CPAs who would like to get involved in the profession’s advocacy efforts?
First, I’d say it matters. A lot. It is easy to say, ‘someone else will take care of the problem.’ But we need CPAs from across the country to join us in advocating on the profession’s behalf. The truth is that in order to be impactful and get something done, the action has to be bipartisan and accomplished by reaching out to both sides of the political aisle. So we welcome the input of Democratic CPAs and Republican CPAs alike. And secondly, as good as our game is in Washington, if the story we tell on the profession’s behalf is bookended by a constituent from the same zip code talking about how important an issue is to the accounting profession and the local economy, it is an incredibly powerful message.
What should we know about your congressional and political affairs team?
One thing about the team is that we have individuals who have been in the profession and people who have joined us from Capitol Hill. So there is knowledge of how Capitol Hill works and thinks, as well as insights into the profession. What we try and do is help educate, navigate and interpret – both from the profession to Capitol Hill and from Capitol Hill to the profession. And because we work in a bipartisan manner, it really doesn’t matter which party is in the majority.