As part of National Small Business Week (June 17-21), small business owners from across the Main Street Alliance network are speaking out on the top issues facing the nation.
Each day during Small Business Week, we're releasing a new "Straight Talk on Main Street" issue fact sheet providing unique small business perspective and analysis, on the following schedule:
- Monday - IMMIGRATION REFORM: Immigration reform with a roadmap to citizenship strengthens consumer demand, boosts economy
- Tuesday - TAX FAIRNESS: Ending offshore tax dodging will level playing field for small business
- Wednesday - HEALTH CARE: Small business owners preparing for full implementation of health care reform
- Thursday - ECONOMY-BOOSTING JOBS: Small business engagement critical to growing momentum on Paid Sick Days
- Friday - MONEY IN POLITICS: Small businesses seek greater disclosure of secret political spending by corporations and trade associations
Two years ago on January 21, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling in the controversial Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case. In a divided 5-4 decision, the majority ruled that corporations are free to spend unlimited sums of money in our country’s elections.
There’s been plenty of debate about what this ruling means for our elections and for deep-pocketed special interests. But there’s been virtually no attention paid to what it means for small businesses, or what small business owners think about the Citizens United decision. That is, until now…
On January 18, the Main Street Alliance partnered with allies at the American Sustainable Business Council and Small Business Majority to release results relating to Citizens United from an independent poll of 500 small business owners nationwide. The poll asked small business owners whether they thought the Supreme Court’s decision was good or bad for small businesses.
So, what do small business owners think about Citizens United? Turns out, they’re not big fans. In fact, 66 percent of small business owners believe the Citizens United decision is bad for small businesses, compared to only 9 percent who think it’s good. That’s a margin of 7 to 1. Click here to read the report.
Why such strong condemnation of the Supreme Court’s ruling? In the words of Melanie Collins, owner of Melanie’s Home Childcare in Falmouth, Maine and a leader with the Maine Small Business Coalition and Main Street Alliance, “Small business owners aren’t stupid. We know who wins when corporate heavy hitters can spend all the money they want, as secretively as they want, to influence our country’s elections – and it’s not us.”
Collins added, “The Citizens United decision stacked the deck against small businesses. We’ve got to unstack that deck.”
And that’s what the Main Street Alliance is fighting to do, with an “unstack the deck” sign-on statement for small business owners about money in politics and a campaign against “dark money” – that is, contributions to third party groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that can’t be traced back to the source.
Small business owners are uniting against Citizens United.
Two-thirds of American small business owners believe the controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United v. FEC case handed down two years ago on January 21 hurts small companies, according to an independent national survey of 500 small business owners released on January 18 by the Main Street Alliance, the American Sustainable Business Council, and Small Business Majority.
May 27: VA Court Decision on Corporate Campaign Contributions Tilts Playing Field Against Small Businesses
Small business owners urge reconsideration and reversal of Friday’s ruling wiping out remaining protections against flood of corporate money in elections.
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, a federal district court judge in Virginia overturned a century-old precedent in ruling that corporations should be permitted to make direct political contributions to candidates for office. The Main Street Alliance released the following statements from national spokespeople in response:
Jim Houser, owner of Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Portland, OR and MSA steering committee member:
This decision is not only bad for democracy, it's bad for free and fair competition and especially bad for small businesses. Success in business should be determined by who can offer the best products and services, the best value, the best customer service - not by who can spend more to buy influence with elected officials and then use that influence to game the system.
Overturning a century of precedent to allow corporations to contribute directly to political campaigns is going to take a deck that's already stacked in favor of big corporate players – against small businesses – and stack it even more. If this decision is allowed to stand, our Congress and state legislatures will become wholly-owned subsidiaries of large, multi-national corporations that have no allegiance to this country, or any other, but only to their own short-term financial interests.
Small business owners like me, we know we have to compete against the big corporate players to offer the best value and service to our customers. We welcome that challenge. But give us a level playing field, not a system that's rigged so the big corporate spenders win every time.
David Borris, owner of Hel's Kitchen Catering in Northbrook, IL and MSA executive committee member:
This decision tilts the playing field even further in favor of large corporations at the expense of America’s small businesses. Small businesses are already at risk of getting swamped by price-gouging in health insurance. We're already getting soaked as big companies like GE dodge their taxes and leave us to hold the bag. As if all that wasn't bad enough, along comes a judge in Virginia who blows up the last levees protecting us from getting drowned in a flood of corporate money in politics.
Unless this decision is reconsidered and reversed, it's going to be a serious problem, and not only for today's small businesses. It will threaten to choke off new start-up opportunities as large corporations will write the rules of the game and then act as their own umpire. This decision goes against the very idea of America as the 'land of opportunity.'
Commentary: Why Do Small Businesses Support E.O. on Contractor Political Spending? Because "Deniability" is Not a Small Business Value
That’s why it’s encouraging to hear news of a potential executive order from the Obama Administration that would require government contractors to disclose their political spending if they surpass a $5,000 threshold. It’s a small step, to be sure, compared to the big problems of covert political spending and a broken campaign finance system. But it’s a step in the right direction (see this May 4 post from OMB Watch for more background on the potential order).
Not everyone in the business community seems to feel this way, though. In an interview for an April 26 New York Times story, R. Bruce Josten, top lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber “is not going to tolerate” the proposed transparency order.
Transparency is a Main Street value. Small business owners take pride in being straight-shooting, “what you see is what you get” business people. So why is the U.S. Chamber out guns blazing against this proposal?
You don’t have to dig far to find out. It turns out over 50 of the companies represented on the U.S. Chamber’s board of directors are government contractors, and to the tune of a whopping $44 billion in 2010, according to an analysis compiled by U.S. Chamber Watch.
So, that means almost half of the companies represented on the U.S. Chamber's board – including the likes of Lockheed Martin, Pfizer, Verizon, WellPoint, JPMorgan Chase, and even the U.S. Chamber itself – would have to disclose both their direct and indirect political spending. The indirect part is key, because it means contributions given by companies to the U.S. Chamber for political purposes – like the health insurance industry’s $86.2 million bankrolling of the Chamber’s anti-health reform activities in 2009 – would be part of required disclosures.
To understand why this is just so “intolerable” an idea to the Chamber, it helps to understand the organization’s business model. James Verini wrote about this in the Washington Monthly’s July/August 2010 issue, quoting an interview with U.S. Chamber CEO Tom Donohue:
“I asked Donohue what, exactly, the Chamber does. ‘Two fundamental things,’ he replied. ‘We’re advocates. Sure we do studies, sure we do events, sure we do meetings, sure we have all kinds of stuff, but we’re advocates.’ And then he surprised me again with his candor. ‘The second thing we do is really more interesting,’ he said. ‘We’re the reinsurance industry for individual industry associations and state chambers of commerce and people of that nature.’”What did Donohue mean by “reinsurance?” Verini elaborates later in his article:
“In other words, a large part of what the Chamber sells is political cover. For multibillion-dollar insurers, drug makers, and medical device manufacturers who are too smart and image conscious to make public attacks of their own, the Chamber of Commerce is a friend who will do the dirty work. ‘I want to give them all the deniability they need,’ says Donohue.”“All the deniability they need.” That’s why the Chamber is so up in arms about the proposed executive order – because it will take away that “deniability” by laying bare which corporations are laundering their political contributions through third parties, undermining one of the core benefits the Chamber offers to its high-roller members.
Deniability is not a small business value. In fact, it’s the polar opposite of one - the value of doing what you say and saying what you do. Small business owners take responsibility for their actions. Big corporations should, too, including their political spending, and that’s why the Obama Administration should forge ahead with this executive order. It would be a victory for transparency and for a more level playing field for America’s small businesses.