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What the Midterm Elections Mean for Museums

Photo of the U.S. Capitol building DC, Photo by E.Neely

Advocacy Alert – November 12, 2018

What the Midterm Elections Mean for Museums

Were you as gripped by the midterm elections as we have been? Following the Nov. 6 elections, the Alliance is pleased to share this brief analysis of historic highlights and possible impacts for museums.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats won a majority–33 seats so far, with 11 races yet to be called (23 seats were required to flip for control of the House). Republicans held onto control of the U.S. Senate with 51 seats so far and three races yet to be decided–Mississippi (run-off Nov. 27), Florida (recount) and Arizona.

There was historic voter turnout and historic diversity. It was the first midterm election in U.S. history to exceed 100 million votes and the highest turnout rate since the 1974 Watergate-era midterms. Also, young people aged 18 to 29 had the highest turnout rate for a midterm election in at least 25 years. In addition to voters sending a record number of more than 100 women to Congress, other firsts included the first two Native American women, the first two Muslim women and the youngest woman (age 29) elected to Congress. In addition, the first black woman from Massachusetts was elected to Congress and the first Latinas were elected to Congress in Texas.

“Congress will see one of the largest and most diverse group of new members in decades, which presents a great opportunity for museums of all types and sizes in 2019,” said Alliance President and CEO Laura Lott. “Building on our success of the past year, we will quickly engage our newly-elected representatives and share the value of museums and what the Alliance can quickly deliver to their districts. Fortunately, Museums Advocacy Day (Feb. 25-26) comes just weeks after the start of the new Congress, serving as a catalyst for our outreach and advocacy for all museums.”

116th Congress Convenes January 3

The conventional outlook for the next two years is political gridlock with few major legislative accomplishments. On the other hand, the regular work of Congress will continue and museums need to be alert to potential opportunities. While there are many unknowns and we are still processing the impact of the elections, following are a few highlights:

House Agenda: House Democrats are expected to debut in the majority with plans to vote on bills to reform government, infrastructure investment and the rising costs of prescription drugs, and testing the president’s willingness to work together on shared policy goals. Other likely agenda items are included in the House Democrats’ suite of policy proposals, “A Better Deal.” With little intention of taking up most House-passed legislation, Senate Republicans are expected to focus on confirming as many administration and judicial nominations as possible.

Museum, Humanities and Arts Funding: Without a deal in Congress to raise statutory budget caps, FY 2020 will be a very tough budget environment. The federal debt and budget deficit likely will reemerge as a top issues. Even so, with a record 154 House Democrats who signed onto the FY 2019 Office of Museum Services (OMS) funding letter last year, museums are in a strong position to advance their funding priorities.

Charitable Giving and Tax Policy: Incoming House Ways & Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) has indicated his support for incentivizing charitable giving, including possibly enacting a universal charitable deduction, and fixing the UBIT “siloing” and transportation fringe benefits tax. The Senate is receptive to these issues, but advancing them will require strong and unified advocacy by the charitable sector, including museums. On the Senate side, Chuck Grassley (R-IA) could be the new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He has a history of investigating tax-exempt organizations, including museum-related issues. AAM will be monitoring developments closely.

Education: House Democrats outlined their education agenda, which includes a number of funding initiatives. AAM will seek opportunities to highlight museums’ expanding role in an evolving ecosystem of P-12 education in committee hearings and staff briefings.

Lame-Duck Session of Congress November 13-December (TBD): In the meantime, the current Congress returns November 13 with much unfinished business. Key priorities for the museum community include IMLS reauthorizationunfinished appropriations and nonprofit and charitable giving tax legislation.

What You Can Do Now

Share Your Connections: The AAM Government Relations & Advocacy staff looks forward to working with the new Congress. We know that you may already have connections with your new or returning members of Congress and hope you will share that information with us by filling out our Washington Connections Contact Form, so we can work together on outreach.

Invite Legislators to Visit your Museum: We also encourage you to invite returning and new members of Congress to visit your institution and tell them your story about the vital positive impact you have on improving your community.

Mark Your Calendar for Museums Advocacy Day 2019: Registration for Museums Advocacy Day 2019 will be opening shortly and we can’t wait to join with museum advocates this February on Capitol Hill to make our case early in the new Congress. Together as a field we’ve defeated several attempts to eliminate or de-fund federal agencies supporting museums, but we must keep speaking up for museums. Museums Advocacy Day is a unique opportunity to network with peers from your region, hear from agency and nonprofit leaders and build your own professional skills. Whether you are a new or seasoned advocate, you will get all the preparation you need to effectively make the case for museums in 2019. We hope you will Save the Date, Feb. 25-26 in Washington, D.C. and plan to participate!

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