Looking for High Touch in a High-Tech World: DSA’s Conversation with Rep. Marsha Blackburn

April 13, 2017





DSA President Joseph Mariano sat down with Representative Marsha Blackburn to discuss her priorities for the 115th Congress and thoughts on the future of direct selling.







Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) is Co-Chair of the Congressional Direct Selling Caucus and was the lead sponsor of H.R. 5230, the Anti-Pyramid Promotional Scheme Act introduced in the 114th Congress — legislation that would have defined a pyramid scheme under federal statute and clarify that personal use of products is legitimate.

DSA President Joseph Mariano had a chance to sit down with Representative Blackburn not long after Congress convened for a conversation about her current policy priorities, and her views of the direct selling industry — informed by her personal experience as a direct seller.

Blackburn is a native of Mississippi. Her move to the state she has represented in Congress was actually because of direct selling; she: “talked the Southwestern Company into letting me sell books door to door, and they sent me to an area just outside Nashville.”

Blackburn recalls with pride the products she promoted that “appealed to moms at home during the day,” Among them, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Cooking, which is still in print today.

The skills and strengths you develop as a direct seller serve well in any profession, and Blackburn attributes her determination and resilience to her experiences in an era when women were underrepresented in direct selling. “You learn the stuff you’re made of knocking on doors,” she remembered. “You didn’t have any woman sales managers and very few in the salesforce. Not many women wanted to sell door to door back then.

Blackburn is impressed by the number of companies that are building direct selling divisions in response to the digital revolution, the explosion of online commerce, and the diversity of “cottage industries” it’s spawned. “What people want in this high-tech world,” she observed, “is high touch. They want someone to show them personally how to use a product.

A desire to support the continued growth and diversity of businesses that operate online and that encourage entrepreneurship in rural as well as urban communities has shaped Representative Blackburn’s legislative priorities. She recently became Chair of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Her top priority on the Committee is access to high speed internet.

To illustrate the importance of broadband expansion, Blackburn uses the challenges facing a rural-based direct seller, “who uses a YouTube video as part of her presentation, but some areas didn’t have the bandwidth to run it.”

Blackburn added it was critical to the entire American renaissance promised by the Trump administration and the Republican Congress. “Bringing high speed Internet to places where manufacturing and other jobs have disappeared will bring new opportunities.” Many of the tech initiatives intended to spur economic development in distressed communities will come through her subcommittee, she maintained.

Many of her other goals were focused on budget and spending discipline, including her “Penny Plan,” mandating a penny be cut from every appropriated dollar — a proposal, she was pleased to observe, that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin has endorsed. “The American taxpayer is overtaxed,” she insists, “and the government is overspent.”

Blackburn is equally determined to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens on businesses. “We want these agencies to make sure that before they issue a rule or regulation they actually hold conversations with the people they would affect,” she insisted. “When agencies take the time to engage with businesses, they come away with a better understanding and often make a different decision.”

She suggested regulatory reform and tax code reform were related endeavors, seeming to indicate they would be pursued in tandem to spur economic growth and job creation. While discussing tax reform, Mariano stressed that recognizing direct sellers as independent contractors has been a feature of the tax code since 1982, and its preservation is essential to the future of direct selling.

Blackburn promised that any tax reform passed by Congress would lower estate and corporate taxes as well as individual rates. Reducing corporate rates, she noted, was essential to keeping American businesses competitive in global markets and keeping American jobs at home. But it has implications for all businesses, large and small, including direct sellers.

“Business owners will have more money to invest in their businesses and pay higher salaries,” she explained. “With higher salaries, people will have more disposable income, and more interest in the products you sell.”

Mariano concluded the interview by noting Representative Blackburn’s business experience and political experience at the grassroots and the highest levels and asked if she had any advice for a young direct seller seeking to get involved in the community and country.

“I love to see young people value entrepreneurship and build something. Ask yourself, what can I innovate? What can I create? What can I start?” she answered. “I would love to see us return to the point where it’s considered worthy to desire to be significant in your community — in every way.”

Executives representing every facet of direct selling will be joining invited policymakers and government officials at DSA’s Annual Meeting in June in Orlando as we continue the conversation on how best to leverage our business model in the eyes of those with the power to affect all our businesses. Please visit annualmeeting.dsa.org to learn more.

DSA will be conducting more interviews with members of the Direct Selling Caucus and other prominent government figures. For more on DSA's government relations agenda and how you, too, might engage policymakers, contact Brian Bennett, DSA Attorney & Government Relations Manager, at bbennett@dsa.org.

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I have additional questions, who can I contact?

You may contact Adolfo Franco, Executive Vice President.