The best candidate did not win. I still believe that. He had better ideas, would have brought a fresh approach to office, and would have been more moderate and sensitive to business concerns. But in the end, he could not get the vote out, or communicate his message effectively with the resources he had.
The year was 1982 and the candidate was me. I didn’t expect to win, but I also didn’t expect the finishing order in that race for a state office in Maryland to directly correlate to the amount of money each candidate spent. But it was.
It’s easy to become cynical or disappointed when your candidate loses—especially when you are the candidate—and I suspect that many people are feeling that way this year after their candidate or position did not prevail. But I have good news: The world will keep spinning and the principles you believe in are still there as well. As one Direct Selling Association member CEO said in his Facebook post after Tuesday’s election, “…hard work, personal responsibility and upward social and economic mobility are still our right… and duty. Seize the day, whether the day has sun or rain!”
In fact, despite the disappointment and cynicism about money and politics that sometimes still creep in, I am highly optimistic that the political process will work and that DSA will be able to effectively respond to the challenges facing direct selling. Not perfectly, of course. But after 28 years of representing direct sellers in front of Congress, presidents, state legislatures and local lawmakers, I am convinced that when you have the strongest arguments, and the most articulate voices, and can demonstrate that the lives of real people are affected, you will prevail in the political process. Most lawmakers are honorable people striving to do the right thing—even when their politics might be different from yours or mine.
But still, over the next few years, direct sellers are going to need the active involvement of the thousands of DSA member company executives and the millions of people who sell for us, to ensure that the process works. Here are some of the possible challenges I believe we must be prepared for that could affect the lives and businesses of direct sellers.
- The Administration will step up its efforts to revamp how independent contractors are defined and treated—and make it more difficult for these micro-entrepreneurs to succeed.
- The Department of Labor will put forth regulations that will make it more difficult to use independent contractors.
- Other businesses will seek to gain the kind of protections that direct sellers have as independent contractors and in so doing will open up the question of who should have such protections.
- Lawmakers of both parties—at the state and federal levels—desperate for revenue, will seriously entertain withholding on independent contractors and direct sellers.
- We will see new or increased taxes at the federal, state and local level that will affect direct selling businesses and individual direct sellers.
- The Administration will pursue new consumer protection legislation and/or regulatory action that may affect direct sellers.
- Recent inaccurate press coverage and short selling activity related to direct selling could result in specific—unwarranted—regulatory attention and legislation related to our model at the state and federal levels.
- Implementation of the Affordable Care Act—“Obamacare”—will present as yet unidentified issues for direct selling businesses.
- “Employment” verification will become an issue even for independent contractors as the pressure for jobs and tax revenue continues.
Discouraged? Remember that many of these issues existed before this recent election and would have existed no matter who might have prevailed, and DSA and our members have been successful over many years in dealing with these challenges. The experienced and talented members of our Government Relations Committee have developed a comprehensive strategy to respond to these matters and to ensure that lawmakers know who and what this industry is.
If you are a DSA member, you may have seen the first ever DSA Voter’s Guide we published just before the election. Over 96 percent of the lawmakers we identified in the Guide won their election and 95 percent of the candidates to whom DSAPAC contributed prevailed. (These included Democrats and Republicans.) And our new program of “independent expenditures” helped ensure that two leading members of Congress won reelection this year.
So despite all of the challenges, I am still optimistic. We have the merits on our side, talented and articulate voices speaking for us, the interests—and votes—of millions of direct sellers, and a strategy of support and acknowledgement of lawmakers who understand how direct sellers contribute to the country.
In fact, after seeing how well the political system has worked for direct sellers over the last few years, and even though my electoral loss from 30 years ago still smarts, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.
Joseph N. Mariano is President of the U.S. Direct Selling Association.