Are special interests hijacking small businesses’ advocates?

By owenl | Small Business

Hidden Agenda?

The National Federation of Independent Businesses calls itself “America's leading small business association, promoting and protecting the right of our members to own, operate, and grow their businesses.” It’s the group that took its lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that the law was unconstitutional and that it would stymie growth among small businesses, and even force some to shut down.

Another small business association, the non-partisan Small Business Majority, filed a Friend of the Court brief in defense of Obamacare. It said the Affordable Care Act would save small businesses money and potentially increase their competitiveness. But that group has already been linked more strongly to liberal causes and the Democratic Party than to small business interests.

Still, it seemed curious that NFIB would go to such lengths making the complete opposite argument on behalf of its members, when most of them would not be impacted by the new healthcare regulations: The average NFIB member employs only 10 workers.

In 2012, before the Court heard the NFIB’s case, Yahoo Small Business Advisor laid out the two arguments and asked readers, “Which group speaks for you?”

Now, CNN is reporting that NFIB might actually have been speaking for someone other than small business. Based on an investigation of the organization’s tax records, CNN reports today that NFIB “got more money last year from a group backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch than any other single source.”  The brothers’ business, Koch Industries, is the second largest privately owned company in the U.S. CNN reports:

“NFIB and its affiliated groups received $2.5 million from Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a conservative advocacy group with deep ties to the Koch empire. Of the five men that sit on the group’s board, four are current or former employees of Koch companies and one is a friend of Charles Koch’s.
Freedom Partners gave the NFIB $1.5 million last year, the biggest single contribution the federation received, according to tax records. The Koch-backed group gave three other NFIB-affiliated group another $1 million, making Freedom Partners among the top two biggest contributors to those groups, records show.”

CNN reported that an earlier investigation revealed that NFIB took $850,000 in 2011 from America’s Health Insurance Plans “as part of a campaign…to fight against a tax on health care premiums.”

To be sure, CNN also reports that an NFIB spokesman says the 70-year-old organization’s agenda is strictly set by members, whose dues generate the vast majority of NFIB revenues. Besides, many Freedom Partners members have started small businesses, a spokesman there told CNN.

NFIB might even concede that its claims that Obamacare would kill small business were overblown. In a report it released last month titled “Small Businesses’ Introduction to the Affordable Care Act” the NFIB Research Foundation declared: “To date, small-business owners have not pursued contractions in a significant manner, if at all. Thirteen percent indicate that they used the size reduction strategy within the last 12 months. However, it seems clear that many of those reductions are not tied to the ACA.”

Nevertheless, CNN reports that “the big-money donations are raising questions about whose agenda NFIB is serving, that of mom-and-pop businesses or the captains of big industry.”

Yahoo Small Business Advisor should rephrase the question we posed in 2012: Does any group speak for you?

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