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‘Small’ NFIB gets its big bucks from GOP funders

The Stand

(Sept. 27, 2012) — The National Federation of Independent Business promotes itself as a “non-profit, non-partisan organization” that is “the leading small business association representing small and independent business.”

For a business group so focused on “small” it says it twice, the NFIB reportedly gets a lot of its funding from the biggest names in Republican politics, including Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. As for the “independent” part, the NFIB’s political and legislative agendas at both the national and Washington state levels align closely with the Republican Party and big — not small — corporate interests.

The new “NFIB Watch” website reports that the NFIB accepted a $3.7 million gift in 2010 from Rove’s Crossroads GPS and received another $1.15 million that year from the conservative “conduit group” Donors Trust, which is affiliated with the Koch brothers.

As political money flows unchecked in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, NFIB’s tax-exempt status is being questioned by members of Congress because of the NFIB’s overtly partisan criticism of the Obama administration as it accepts millions of dollars from donors it refuses to disclose. In June, Congress launched an inquiry into NFIB’s hidden sources of funding.

The Washington Post recently reported that a poll of more than 6,000 small business owners found that, by an 8-point margin, they support re-election of President Barack Obama over Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The “non-profit, non-partisan” NFIB, on the other hand, is representing these small business owners by conducting a Stop Obama’s Regulatory Tidal Wave Tour, helpfully focused on key battleground states in this fall’s presidential race, such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

But it’s not just the NFIB’s non-partisan partisanship that conflicts with actual small business owners. As NFIB Watch points out, the right-wing conservative positions of the NFIB frequently run counter to the interests and priorities of small businesses:

Scientifically-conducted national surveys of small business owners show that most small business owners support key provisions of the health care reform, favor ending special tax breaks for the wealthy, support protecting clean air in local communities, and believe in promoting workplace safety — all issues NFIB has lobbied against.

Here in Washington state, the NFIB’s legislative agenda for 2013 mirrors that of big insurance industry lobbyists: expanding lump-sum settlements in workers’ compensation and “relaxing” the state Health Insurance Exchange standards that insurance companies are required to meet as part of implementing the Affordable Care Act.

Likewise, this non-partisan organization’s Save America’s Free Enterprise PAC is hard at work right now trying to elect “pro-small-business candidates” to Washington’s State Legislature — 70 of whom are Republicans and none of whom are Democrats. Even the pro-business Roadkill Caucus of Democrats, which led the fight to legalize lump-sum workers’ comp settlements in the first place, doesn’t earn NFIB’s support.

The NFIB and its state director, Patrick Connor, have stood alongside Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna in efforts to block Washington’s voter-approved minimum wage increase in 2010 and to sue for repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Small-business owner Laura Waite strongly disagrees with the NFIB’s ACA opposition. In “Health Care Reform Saved My Auto Body Shop,” she wrote that she faced closure of her Renton shop because her pre-existing medical condition prevented her from getting individual insurance coverage.

I’m outraged that Republican Attorneys General, including my state’s AG, Rob McKenna, are taking a partisan lawsuit that threatens to take my dreams away to the U.S. Supreme Court. They’re joined in this lawsuit by the NFIB, which purports to be the “Voice of Small Business.” Not small businesses like mine. I actually used to be an NFIB member, until I read their literature and realized they’re more interested in playing politics than giving real small businesses a voice.

Fortunately for Waite, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the NFIB/McKenna attempt to toss out the ACA. But her withdrawal from the NFIB over its right-wing ideological advocacy begs the question: just how many actual small businesses does NFIB represent anymore given its new politically conservative funding sources and right-wing ideological bent?

A 2006 report quoted NFIB members who said the group was inflating its membership size of 650,000. The NFIB now claims 350,000 members. The Washington chapter claims 8,000 members.

As an alternative to the NFIB, Waite chose to join the Main Street Alliance of Washington, a fast-growing coalition of more than 2,000 small business owners around the state.

“Too often, small businesses are ‘spoken for’ by corporate lobbyists who claim to represent us but are really pushing a Big Business agenda,” reads the Main Street Alliance’s website. “We’re changing that by creating opportunities for Washington’s small business owners to speak for ourselves — face to face with decision-makers, at public events and through the media.”


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