Health Care Lobbyists...Partisan?

We’ve been covering the health care reform debate in Washington because small business owners have a huge stake in finding a solution that reduces costs and expands coverage. And following up on our post yesterday about the various advocacy groups that claim to represent small business in the health care discussion, I want to flag this post by Robb Mandelbaum at the NY Times blog on the Small Business Majority.

Mandelbaum uncovers some unsurprising ties between the group and Democratic causes, and argues that it shouldn’t really be considered “nonpartisan:”

Informally, however, it is allied with the Democratic Party. Mr. Arensmeyer serves as a board member of the Bay Area Democrats, which describes itself as “a network of private citizens active in national Democratic Politics.” Since 2002, Mr. Arensmeyer has given generously, and exclusively, to Democratic candidates, according to F.E.C. records. (“I’ve voted for Republicans,” he offers.)

Mandelbaum goes so far as to say “Small Business Majority has all the hallmarks of a shadowy interest group, starting with a name that conceals more than it reveals. Of course, that’s business as usual in Washington.”

Indeed — they’re called lobbyists. It’s worth noting that the National Federation of Independent Business describes itself as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan” group that “represents the consensus views of its members in Washington and all 50 state capitals,” but it still tilts pretty clearly and pretty consistently to the right, with close ties to the Republican party.

The NFIB’s current president, Dan Danner, worked in the Reagan White House as a special assistant to the president in the Office of Public Liaison, and in the Commerce Department. He had previously been a lobbyist for the steel company Armco, now part of AK Steel. (More detail at WhoRunsGov.) Their previous president, Jack Faris, had been head of the Republican National Finance Committee. For useful background, see this 2006 piece in Fortune Small Business.

No one should be surprised that lobbyists have political ties and allegiances. I think most entrepreneurs are more interested in practical solutions than party or ideology. (That alone is a huge difference between business and politics.) And it’s heartening to see some broad agreement from across ideological lines: both NFIB and Small Business Majority broadly support the SHOP Act, which allows for purchasing pools that cross state lines, tax credits for companies that pay for employees’ insurance, and some restrictions on insurers to prevent them from charging unhealthy or older workers more.

I’ll second Mandelbaum’s call for “a world where organizations that purport to advocate for small firms are upfront about their own agendas and whom they represent.” If ever there’s an issue that needs transparent debate, creative thinking, and solutions based on results rather than ideology, it’s how to make the US health care system work for small businesses and their workers.

Update, 7/9/09

Today I found this project from the Center for Responsive Politics tracking the lobbying money from the big interest groups (pharma, hospitals, business, labor, insurers, etc.). Take a look for yourself.

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