Meeting or junket? Incentive reward or boondoggle? Distinctions that may be perfectly clear to meeting professionals are clearly confusing to many Americans. This has resulted in extraordinary negative press coverage, meeting cancellations, and impending government regulation.

The U.S. Treasury Department has issued new guidelines for expenditures — including meetings — at the more than 360 companies that have received funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. In addition, a bill introduced by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., would prohibit companies receiving TARP funds from hosting or sponsoring conferences and events unless they receive a waiver from the Secretary of the Treasury.

While government and media attention has so far focused on companies receiving TARP funds, federal legislation could affect corporate meetings across the board, association meetings, trade shows, and other events, say industry leaders. “This draconian concept of no involvement or investment in meetings, conferences, or anything else is going to have a trickle-down effect,” said Gregg Talley, CAE, president and CEO of Talley Management Group Inc., Mount Royal, N.J., which manages the Convention Industry Council. “Business and industry play a huge role in association meetings, so any pullback by corporate America has a huge potential impact, whether that's in the area of support, exhibit scale, or the number of people attending.”

In response to the attacks, a coalition of meeting and business-travel organizations has developed a model policy for approval of meetings, events, and incentive travel, which they want the Treasury Department to incorporate into its guidelines. In addition, it rolled out a public relations tool kit to help people communicate the value and return on investment of meetings to local media and congressional representatives. The coalition's efforts are organized at meetingsmeanbusiness.com. For the latest developments, visit meetingsnet.com.