On August 22, the Missoula, Montana City Council voted 9-1 to place a measure on the city's November 2011 ballot challenging the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling that allows corporations to spend unlimited funds to influence elections. The resolution urges state and federal lawmakers to amend the Constitution to "clearly state that corporations are not human beings and do not have the same rights as citizens."
What's at stake for small businesses? The flood of corporate money into elections since Citizens United threatens to drown out small business voices on important issues. Overturning Citizens United would help level the playing field for small businesses.
Read more about the Missoula City Council resolution in this article in the Missoulian.
MSA leaders say decision striking trigger provisions allows corporate players to buy political influence uncontested, at expense of small businesses
WASHINGTON, DC – On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in McComish v. Bennett, a case testing some state public financing laws. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled narrowly that trigger-based matching funds provisions of some states' public financing laws are unconstitutional, while leaving the foundation of public financing systems intact.
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 bad for small businesses. We don't have the kind of money it takes to buy influence through heavy election spending the way big corporate players can. The Court's decision basically says to big corporations and their trade groups, 'Go ahead, spend all you want to buy elections, and if anyone tries to limit the corrupting influence of your activities, we'll run interference for you.
The silver lining is that the decision leaves the basic structure of public financing systems intact, reaffirming that small dollar public financing laws are a legitimate way to combat corruption and promote free speech. Establishing small dollar fair elections laws is a critical way to take corporate corruption out of elections and restore integrity to our political system.
David Borris, owner of Hel’s Kitchen Catering in Northbrook, IL and MSA executive committee member:
This decision goes against the very idea of America as the 'land of opportunity.' It means big spenders, many of which are big businesses, will be able spend massive sums of money to flood election debates and drown out the interests of small businesses like mine. It means corporate heavy hitters will continue to be able to buy influence by tipping the scales of elections with their campaign spending, then rewrite the laws of the land to favor their narrow special interests at the expense of small businesses - and everyone else.
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.'
The country observed National Small Business Week in May (see the Presidential Proclamation). The Main Street Alliance marked the occasion by releasing its “State of the Small Business Nation – 2011.” This white paper includes a “Small Business Top Ten List” of concrete policy opportunities to level the playing field for small businesses and help them create jobs.
While pundits and politicians like to label policies “pro-business” or “anti-business,” as if there were one unified business interest, the reality is that policies that make winners out of some businesses make losers out of others. As Bruce Josten, the chief lobbyist of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, put it, “You’re never going to have one hundred percent unanimity. Never. There is inherent tension… I laugh every day when someone calls and asks what does the business community think.” (1)
While Mr. Josten pointed to tensions between oil and gas companies, wholesalers and retailers, investment banks and retail banks – all big corporate players – his point applies even more so to the dynamics between big business and small business. While pundits and politicians like to lump all business interests together, the truth is that policies that benefit large corporate players very often tilt the playing field against small businesses.
In a cover letter to President Obama, senior administration officials, and congressional leaders on May 18, Main Street Alliance business leaders wrote:
Our members come from states across the country and a wide range of sectors, but we are united by a common set of values – small business values. We believe in what we do, we stand by our products and services, and we want people in government and corporate leadership who do the same. We stand for fair play and a level playing field. We stand for having each other’s backs. We believe America’s future prosperity depends on everyone contributing their fair share.
These small business values are what guide our business decisions and our commitment to advancing policies that fulfill the promise of an economy that works for all of us – small businesses, our employees, and the communities that sustain us.
(1) James Verini, “Show Him the Money,” Washington Monthly, July/August 2010, http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2010/1007.verini.html
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.