Weiser established Capitol Strategies Group, Inc, (CSG) in 1998 and seven years ago he began working with the ICRA. He has been a registered lobbyist with 33 years and CSG is a full-service lobbying, consulting, and advocacy company providing services at the statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa and in Washington, D.C.
Q: Some lobbyists are attorneys, but others are full-time lobbyists and not lawyers. Which are you and describe the difference?
A: I am not an attorney. Some lobbyists are lawyers and some aren’t. Attorneys are usually seeking negotiated outcomes, but when you’re an advocate like I am, you don’t always get negotiated outcomes. There are winners and losers, so it’s an interesting dynamic. Sometimes we’re for something or opposed to it and that’s all there is to it. There’s no room for negotiation when it comes to many of these situations, especially in the collision industry. So, that’s how a lobbyist can differ from an attorney.
Q: What do you do specifically for the ICRA?
A: I represent a wide range of business groups here in town. I took on the ICRA as a client several years ago because I like these people and I’ve stayed with them because I really enjoy working with them. They’re hard-working honest folks and top business people and not afraid to fight, so I enjoy working on their behalf at the State House.
The ICRA has recently had some successes and that’s really important to any association in terms of building membership and visibility and tracking other winners. We had a tax issue here about three years ago now. Our body shop guys were one of the last businesses in Iowa that were still being taxed on the products they use on their repairs. In other words, tape and putty and fillers and other ancillary products that they need in order to complete the work for their clients was being taxed. They were paying six per cent on that and we were able to secure an exemption for them for the past three years. That was a nice rallying point for our members and I think our group is stronger now than it has been in years because of that victory. We got that handled and it’s definitely a shot in the arm for the collision industry in Iowa, because now the body shops can take the six per cent and put it in their pockets.
Q: Is it difficult for the body shop owners in Iowa to be heard by their legislators?
A: No, not really because the ICRA, has an excellent reputation for gaining access over at the State House. We built a three-pronged approach to how to solve problems here in Iowa and it works. We have our legislative work which involves committee work and testifying and those sorts of things. We also are working on the regulatory side to engage our Insurance Commissioner and our Attorney General as it relates to things like PartsTrader and other things that begin to be issues for them as well as the industry.
Q: What are some of the hotter issues right now for you and the ICRA?
A: During this past session, we introduced some legislation after carefully looking at some other states to see what they’re doing and how they’ve had successes. So we looked at a couple of issues, one of which involves the use of aftermarket and recycled parts in repairs and the other concern is with short pay. It was our first shot out of the box addressing the short pay issue and it wasn’t as fruitful as we imagined. We have a very large insurance presence here in Des Moines. We’re second only to Hartford, Connecticut for insurance company headquarters, so we’re very insurance-friendly here. Almost all of the insurance companies are right here and of course they show up at the State House whenever you introduce a piece of legislation and they tend to have data–lots of data.
On top of that, we currently have one of the lowest auto rates in the nation here in Iowa, so we began to testify. The problem is that when our members are asked to testify on something such as short pay, for example (involving what we believe includes things such as safety issues and other issues) we don’t have any data on our side. We’re giving them individual stories from our members and they’re valuable, but here in Iowa it’s difficult to pass bills without the data. Our members are pretty sophisticated over here and they work it pretty hard. So, right now we’re regrouping and during this past year, we’ve been working pretty hard to capture and quantify short pay issues that are going on right now in the collision industry in Iowa. We’re going to have some good, solid, well-supported and documented cases of short pay and will be able to go toe to toe with the insurance companies. We’re going to professionalize our approach more, so by owning the data that we’re assembling it’s really going be a key thing for us here.
Q: What are the main issues surrounding short pay?
A: Well, first off–the consumer is being short changed here—the customer is not being made whole. There are safety concerns when certain parts of the vehicle are not paid for or used appropriately. In many cases, our own elbow grease is being short paid, but sometimes it’s other things and so I think we’re hoping by the end of December we’re going to have a pretty good documentation to use.
Q: What does the future of the ICRA hold for you and your members?
A: Our body shop members have done a great job politically here in Iowa, but it all comes down to the fact that we have to help ourselves ultimately. That’s where we find ourselves right now. Our Executive Director Janet Chaney is doing an excellent job and that’s important, because these body shop owners can’t do it alone. We’ve got some good things happening right now with the ICRA and with Janet onboard, they’re definitely headed in the right direction. I am paid to be an advocate for this organization and it’s a pleasure because they take their own time, energy and money to try and make a difference and by achieving things for them is very fulfilling personally and professionally.