WASHINGTON -- Between the beginning and end of March, leaders of the import-brand auto dealers' association made a 180-degree turn.
During the week of March 6, the American International Automobile Dealers Association said it stood by its plan to create a political action committee. The PAC would collect and distribute dealer contributions to congressional candidates.
Last week, though, AIADA Chairman Don Hicks confirmed that the association's executive committee had decided unanimously to kill the PAC. "It just wasn't a good time," Hicks told Automotive News. He cited increased legal and ethical scrutiny toward lobbying and campaign funding in Washington.
In a letter to state dealer association executives, Hicks said the initial report of a fence-mending committee was another factor in the reversal.
AIADA established the committee in February to help it heal internal rifts and repair relations with other automotive groups in Washington. Former AIADA Chairman Joe O'Brien chairs the panel.
Sources said committee members got an earful. They learned AIADA's reputation has been damaged far more than association leaders thought, the sources added.
O'Brien, president of the O'Brien Automotive Team in Peoria, Ill., would not discuss the committee's findings. He said the committee has more work to do.
AIADA's decision last November to form the PAC created friction among association members and between AIADA and other industry groups.
Dealers contribute more than $3 million a year, mainly to congressional candidates, through other political committees. The National Automobile Dealers Association runs a PAC. Another committee, called Automotive Free International Trade PAC, is independent.
Some AIADA leaders argued that their lobbyists would be more effective if lawmakers and congressional staff members saw them delivering campaign checks at fund-raisers.
Critics said another PAC would dilute dealers' influence and could cause them inadvertently to violate campaign finance laws. Some detractors said the PAC controversy symbolized broader ills at AIADA.
Former AIADA President Marianne McInerney was a chief proponent of the new PAC. McInerney unexpectedly resigned March 6.
Hicks, owner of Shortline Automotive Inc. in Aurora, Colo., said AIADA will look for other ways to accomplish the goals of the PAC. The group has no specific plan, he added.
AIADA's full board of directors must approve the decision to abandon the PAC. Hicks said he expects that to happen next month.
You may e-mail Harry Stoffer at [email protected]