Looking back over 1997, Jim Clarke, vice president, government affairs, American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), observes that the meeting industry is establishing a stronger presence on Capitol Hill. With the reestablishment of the travel and tourism caucus, a group of legislators who lend support to relevant issues, Clarke says, "the industry is starting to find some champions."
Here's an overview of associations' 1997 victories and defeats: Music Licensing: Meeting industry groups hailed as a victory the new music licensing agreement reached this past spring between the leading meeting associations and Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI). But not everyone was cheering. Although the agreement simplified the reporting process and reduced costs for associations, it did not address the major sore spot for tradeshow organizers--vicarious liability. Organizers are still held liable if an exhibitor plays music without a license. The Fairness in Music Licensing Act (H.R. 789) would eliminate that liability, and also allow disputes between show organizers and music licensing groups to be settled in jurisdictions outside of New York City. This summer, the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property held hearings on the H.R. 789. No further action has been scheduled.
Protection Act: Eleven years of hard work by the National Coalition for Volunteer Protection finally paid off when President Clinton signed the Volunteer Protection Act into law on June 18. While a major victory, the bill only shields volunteers from liability lawsuits, and does not extend that protection to associations, points out Clarke. Now, ASAE is focusing efforts on the passage of the Liability Reform for Volunteer Services Act (S.515), which would help protect nonprofit organizations from civil actions resulting from groups' activities or services. The bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee.
Corporate Sponsorship: Associations scored another victory with the passage of the tax bill this summer. The final version includes a provision clarifying that corporate sponsorship funds paid to associations and other tax-exempt organizations are not taxable in most cases. Associations may offer recognition on meeting materials for those donations without having to pay the unrelated business income tax.
Business Meals/Entertainment Deductions: S114, which would repeal the reduction in allowable deductions for business meals and entertainment expenses, has been referred to the Committee on Finance.
Associate Member Dues Not Taxable: In other tax news, the Internal Revenue Service ruled that associate member dues are not taxable. While Clarke says that the decision, issued in a technical advice memorandum, is encouraging, he adds that it applies only to one association.
The 1998 Challenge: The biggest challenge over the next few years will be changes in the tax code, Clarke predicts. With the country's leadership pledging to do away with the tax code as we know it, Clarke stresses that associations must monitor the development of tax bills. "Where will tax exempt organizations fit into that puzzle?" Clarke asks. "It is imperative that everybody in the association community start to ponder that question."