Meet Us on the Hill
Every year NACS hosts its annual Day on the Hill where retailers and suppliers from all over the country come to Washington, D.C., to meet with their members of Congress to advocate for the issues most important to the convenience and fuel retailing industry.
Last year was no exception, apart from the event being held virtually because of COVID-19 and Capitol Hill security restrictions. What was different about 2022? NACS and several allies from the Merchants Payments Coalition conducted an additional five targeted fly-ins, focused specifically on the issue of credit card swipe fees. While our efforts have not resulted in the final passage of legislation addressing the issue (as of this writing), they have had a significantly positive impact on the level of support for such legislation on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill.
As we have heard from senators on the Hill, “there is truly no substitute for you being here.” Members of Congress are in office to serve the people who elected them—their constituents. They deeply value each constituent’s opinions and concerns. By meeting with your elected representatives either in your home state or in Washington, D.C., your voice can make an impact not just for your business but also for the convenience and fuel retailing industry as a whole.
Many retailers come to our annual Day on the Hill and heed the government relations team’s calls to action through grassroots and grass-tops activities. One of those retailers is Matt Durand, senior counsel, legislative & regulatory, in the office of the general counsel at EG America. Durand has rarely passed up an invitation to visit Capitol Hill for the benefit of the entire industry. In fact, Durand was one of the few NACS retailers who attended every fly-in NACS held in 2022.
Ahead of NACS Day on the Hill March 7-8, 2023, NACS asked Durand to share his experiences.
WHY DO YOU THINK MEETING IN PERSON WITH MEMBERS OF CONGRESS IS IMPORTANT TO OUR INDUSTRY?
It’s a safe bet that you know your business better than most other people, including most members of Congress. Nobody can be an expert in everything. So, if we want congressional members and their staff to learn and fully appreciate the issues we’re dealing with, it’s incumbent on us to tell our story. And there’s no better way to tell our story to a congressional office than going to discuss it with them in person. Whether you’re flying to D.C. or meeting back home in their district office, you’re sending a strong signal about how important the issue is to you, simply by taking the time to show up. It’s one of the best ways to pull an abstract concept down to earth, put a name and a face on it and illustrate its real-world impact on constituents like you.
WHAT IS IT LIKE MEETING WITH A MEMBER OF CONGRESS IN PERSON?
I would say upfront: Don’t underestimate the importance of staff meetings, if your member can’t attend. But meeting in person with the member themselves can definitely be an exciting and rewarding experience, especially
if you’re then able to develop a rapport with them over time. There are too many to name specifically, but my favorite stories are always when the member has shopped our stores back home and they share with us how much they love the team at their favorite store, or how we saved the day when they needed something in a pinch and ours was the only store open. It’s a great bridge to discussing whatever issues we’re facing, but it’s also gratifying to hear that we’re making a difference for them as our guests.
SWIPE FEES ARE A HOT BUTTON ISSUE ON THE HILL THIS YEAR. WHAT HAVE YOU HEARD FROM LEGISLATORS ON THE ISSUE WHILE IN MEETINGS?
The reactions we’ve received on swipe fee reform have been really encouraging. The banking lobby can be a daunting opponent, but I really do believe this is a winnable fight for us if we keep the momentum going. We have a compelling narrative with the facts on our side, and that seems to be resonating with congressional members and staff. For those who seemed skeptical at first, often it’s because they were hearing some misleading talking points from the other side, which gives us a perfect opportunity to correct the record. We’re getting good and thoughtful questions in the process, and it is clear people are taking this seriously on the Hill.
You’ll spend the day talking about serious issues with serious implications for our industry, but take some time to enjoy yourself as you walk around this awesome and historic place.”
I’VE NEVER BEEN ON THE HILL BEFORE. SHOULD I BE NERVOUS? It’s OK to feel nervous. I felt the same way at first, but soon you realize you’re surrounded by a bunch of other human beings who are doing their jobs and living their lives, just like you. I remember meeting with Rep. Katherine Clark for one of my very first NACS fly-ins, then running into her at the airport later that night when our flights home got delayed. She came over and said hi, and we talked about our commutes and our families and our plans for the summer until our planes finally boarded. Something similar happened with Rep. Jim McGovern at a Red Sox game a few years later, after also meeting him during a NACS fly-in. We’re talking about two of the most powerful Democrats in Congress right now, formidable politicians and very good at their jobs, yet there we were out in the “real world” having the most ordinary, friendly, perfectly human interactions you could imagine. Remember that when you’re meeting with members and staff on the Hill, don’t hesitate to make some small talk up front to connect on a personal level. It helps break the ice and sets you up for a more productive discussion when you eventually dive into the issues.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A FIRST-TIME DAY ON THE HILL ATTENDEE?
First, don’t forget to have some fun and appreciate your surroundings. You’ll spend the day talking about serious issues with serious implications for our industry, but take some time to enjoy yourself as you walk around this awesome and historic place. Second, arrive at your meetings a few minutes early if you can. It’ll give you a moment to relax and calm your nerves if you need to, and some of the offices have interesting art or keepsakes on display from the members’ home states. Third, be kind to the staffers. From the intern at the front desk to the policy adviser assigned to your issue, these are people who work hard, don’t often get the appreciation they deserve and can have a huge impact on how the office handles your issue when you leave.
Durand’s advice is invaluable for visiting your representatives in Washington or back home. If you’d like to join Durand and many others at this year’s Day on the Hill, contact NACS Grassroots Manager Margaret Hardin at email@example.com, and learn more at www.convenience.org/DayOnTheHill.