Melanie Collins, a small business leader with the Maine Small Business Coalition, traveled to Washington, DC on October 19 to speak at a press conference outside the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce challenging the Chamber's secret spending in the 2012 elections. Marking the U.S. Chamber's 100th birthday, Collins joined with organizations representing people across the country to deliver a simple message: The U.S. Chamber doesn't represent small business.
"Secrecy is at the heart of the Chamber's sales pitch," said Collins. "When I want to make my voice heard, I stand up and speak. I use my name. I think the Chamber's big donors should, too."
Collins added, "The most offensive part of all this special interest political spending is that they do it under the name of the small business owner. I call that small business identity theft. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn't speak for small businesses, and they don't speak for me."
The U.S. Chamber has already spent more than $1.3 on outside spending funding political advertisements in Maine's Senate race. Although many local chambers of commerce in Maine distanced themselves from the U.S. Chamber's initial ad buys, the Chamber continues to attack candidates for U.S. Senate in Maine under the guise of speaking for Maine small businesses. A week ago, the Chamber bought another $500,000 in ad time.
"When outside groups and big corporations like Anthem spend money to try to buy elections in Maine, small business owners from all across the state lose out," said Collins.
The U.S. Senate is in the midst of a marathon debate on the DISCLOSE Act, a proposal that would increase transparency in political spending. Unfortunately for small businesses, the bill is being blocked from an up or down vote by a filibuster led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
One of the justifications for blocking the bill is a claim that disclosure requirements for political spending will somehow harm businesses, both large and small. For small businesses, this couldn't be further from the truth.
Secrecy is what harms small businesses, not transparency. In fact, small businesses may be among the most shortchanged constituencies under the current system that allows secret spending to go unchecked. That's for two reasons:
First, because small businesses can't come close to matching the money poured into elections by big corporate actors and wealthy individuals. This means our voices can easily get drowned out in the deluge.
And second, to add insult to injury, big political spenders love to hide their secret spending behind a small business facade given the credibility small business carries as a messenger in the political and policy arenas.
Why else would a political group like Crossroads GPS (co-founded by Karl Rove) give $3.7 million to the National Federation of Independent Business in 2010, only to have NFIB turn around and spend $3.1 million on advertising through Crossroads Media, LLC (the primary media firm for Crossroads GPS)? This is a case of Karl Rove in small business clothing.
And why else would the health insurance industry plow $102.4 million into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to fund its attacks on health care reform in the name of small businesses, at the same time that AHIP members were publicly supporting the concept of health care reform?
Let's call these covert activities what they are: small business identity theft. They're stealing the good name of small business to advance the agenda of big special interests. The current regime of secrecy is aiding and abetting this identity theft.
Secrecy is not a small business value. Let's pass the DISCLOSE Act so small businesses can stop worrying about who's going to steal their identity next and get back to doing what they do best: serving customers, creating jobs, and building strong local economies.