A Main Street Lobby Group Gets Closer to Big Business

The National Federation of Independent Business has been linked to a right-leaning organization with corporate backers. Again.

The NFIB bills itself as a nonpartisan lobbying group that represents Main Street’s perspective in policy debates, but it has a well-documented history of championing conservative causes. That apparent inconsistency has attracted the attention of liberal groups, which have made a sport of linking the NFIB to right-wing organizations and big-business groups.

Here’s the latest example: Earlier this month, the American Legislative Exchange Council—a nonprofit with a reputation for laundering state-level legislation for corporate interests—named NFIB Vice President Steve Woods to its advisory board. That puts Woods, who runs the NFIB’s state-level operations, at a table with executives from ExxonMobil, Pfizer, and AT&T, among other big companies.

Brendan Fischer, general counsel at the Center for Media and Democracy, a left-leaning nonprofit that operates a Web domain called NFIBexposed.org, says the move showed the NFIB’s true colors, blogging that Woods’s involvement with ALEC proved that the Main Street advocacy group was “abandoning any pretense of being a nonpartisan representative of small business owners.” Eric Reller, a spokesman for the NFIB, did not immediately respond to voice mails on Monday. He told the Washington Post that Woods joined ALEC in a personal capacity.

Here’s why that distinction may matter:

Despite the NFIB’s claim to nonpartisan status, its political orientation has long leaned to the right. The group helped block Bill Clinton’s attempt at health-care reform in the 1990s and led an unsuccessful Supreme Court challenge against Obamacare. It’s taken millions in donations from Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and Freedom Partners, an advocacy group with deep ties to David and Charles Koch, and gives money to Republican candidates: The NFIB has donated $306,864 to 133 Republicans running for Congress this year, and $5,000 to two Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The group’s conservative track record makes for a comfortable fit with ALEC, whose board of directors tends to be made up of Republican lawmakers. ALEC’s big-business ties are less convenient for the NFIB, which derives its moral authority on small business issues from its membership of 350,000 dues-paying small companies. For an organization that wants to speak for Main Street, it doesn’t help to be seen rubbing shoulders with corporate execs.

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