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NFIB, a Mainstream GOP Group, Backs Akin | The Nation

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George Zornick

George Zornick

Action and dysfunction in the Beltway swamp. E-mail tips to george@thenation.com

NFIB, a Mainstream GOP Group, Backs Akin

Major outside GOP money groups foreswore support of Representative Todd Akin in his bid to unseat Senator Claire McCaskill after he made disturbing comments about “legitimate rape,” and so far they’ve stood by their word—until now. One major, mainstream GOP group has started spending on the Missouri race, and it’s entirely possible it is funneling money from other groups who swore they would never back Akin.

The National Federation of Independent Business, a major lobbying group and that purports to represent American small-business owners, recently created a 501(c)(4) spin-off, the NFIB Voice of Free Enterprise Inc.

Yesterday, NFIB Voice of Free Enterprise Inc. notified the FEC that it spent $10,453 in the Missouri Senate race, for mailings that opposed McCaskill. The group did not make any public statements or other indications that it was now backing Akin, but told The Nation the mailer would go to 16,000 small-business owners in the state, and in eight other states where there’s a Senate race.

The mailer, which NFIB shared with The Nation, implores recipients in large block letters to “VOTE AGAINST CLAIRE MCCASKILL” and ticks off her positions on the Affordable Care Act, cap-and-trade laws and the Bush tax breaks for top earners.

NFIB officials said they don’t expect the mailing to be controversial. “What we really care about is our members, and we don’t expect an uproar from them, because from them the issues that are important are the ones that affect their business,” said Jean Card, vice president of media and communications at NFIB. “Akin does have a very good voting record with us. He’s what we call a guardian of small business.”

This giving is significant in itself—NFIB Voice of Free Enterprise Inc. is the first mainstream Republican group to get involved in the race after the “legitimate rape” controversy. Until now, only hard-right conservative groups ponied up for Akin, like Senator Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, and Freedom’s Defense Fund, a wacky group run by conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi.

But NFIB is a different animal. It’s research on the supposed harm done to small businesses by letting the Bush tax rates on top earners has been cited by Mitt Romney, in the recent presidential debate, and repeatedly by Scott Brown in his debates with Elizabeth Warren. The NFIB itself has launched multimillion-dollar efforts to get Republicans—and almost exclusively Republicans—elected to Congress, and this (c)(4) that it has created, now backing Akin, has spent $383,405 (through October 9) exclusively supporting Republicans or opposing Democrats.

When the National Republican Senatorial Committee flirted with supporting Akin last month (something it never followed through on), Democrats immediately began tying every other Republican backed by the NRSC to Akin. Now, you might expect the same thing to happen with Republican candidates also backed by NFIB Voice of Free Enterprise Inc.—they include Senate candidates Connie Mack (FL), Tommy Thompson (WI), George Allen (VA), Josh Mandel (OH), Pete Hoekstra (MI), Linda McMahon (CT), Denny Rehberg (MT), and Rick Berg (ND), along with a wide range of House candidates, like Tea Party star Representative Sean Duffy (WI).

But there’s also a much more interesting possibility here. What if NFIB Voice of Free Enterprise Inc. is serving as a conduit for money from other outside groups and donors who swore they’d never support Akin?

It’s a possibility worth considering, given the NFIB’s history.

Despite the fact that NFIB claimed to be the voice of small business, funded by membership fees from small business owners, it has advocated a strident conservative agenda. A recent poll found that 47 percent of small-business owners plan to vote for Obama, versus 39 percent for Romney. But 98 percent of NFIB's 2012 campaign contributions went to Republicans—and in recent years, it has taken aggressive lobbying stances in the interest of big business. NFIB was the lead plantiff in federal court against the Affordable Care Act, which it spent almost $3 million litigating. It has fought ferociously on tax policy to protect top Bush rates for the wealthy, despite the fact those affect at most three percent of small businesses.

Other small-business groups began criticizing the NFIB for “selling out small business owners to benefit the rich and powerful,” as Mother Jones wrote this summer.

But why would it do this? As always, following the money gave the answer. The Center for Media and Democracy this year revealed that NFIB was taking money from a wide array of corporate-backed, GOP-aligned heavyweights. NFIB accepted a $3.7 million “gift” from Crossroads GPS as it was fighting the Affordable Care Act. It also received $1.15 million from Donors Trust, a major contributor to the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity Foundation, along with substantial funding from the Lynne and Harry Bradley Foundation, a major donor to the American Exchange Legislative Council (ALEC).

This sparked a Congressional inquiry this summer from lawmakers who saw the big donations and said it “call[ed] into question the NFIB's role in speaking for small business interests.”

Interestingly, earlier this year NFIB created NFIB Voice of Free Enterprise Inc., which seems to have the purpose of resolving this conflict. Anybody can donate to NFIB Voice of Free Enterprise Inc.—NFIB officials said in February that the new initiative would allow non–small business owners to support the NFIB agenda, something the group “had a need for it for a long time.” Since, again, it’s a 501(c)(4), we’ll never know who is funding the effort.

“What the (c)(4) gives them is a way to channel donations from CEOs or CEOs of global corporations or CEOs of privately held corporations or others that are not technically members of NFIB, that don’t meet the test for being a small business,” said Lisa Graves, the director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which exposed the past donations to NFIB from big outside groups. “This provides a vehicle for them to receive donations from an unlimited variety of sources that don’t qualify as small businesses.”

Graves would not speculate as to whether NFIB Voice of Free Enterprise Inc. was taking money from Crossroads GPS and others again, but did state the obvious: “There seems to be a lot of money sloshing around between these groups.”

Back in August, in the wake of the “legitimate rape” controversy, Crossroads GPS said that “Neither American Crossroads nor Crossroads GPS will spend in Missouri as long as Todd Akin is the Republican candidate.” That’s a tough statement to retreat from publicly—but is it still backing NFIB’s efforts via Voice of Free Enterprise Inc.? We’ll never know because of the vagaries of campaign finance, but it’s certainly possible. (If Crossroads gave a grant to NFIB Voice of Free Enterprise Inc. that would eventually have to be reported—but not until well after the election. It could also conceal the money by marking the expenditure differently, or simply directing Crossroads donors to give instead to NFIB Voice of Free Enterprise Inc.)

Again, we don't know who is bankrolling NFIB Voice of Free Enterprise Inc.—but if Crossroads GPS and other big GOP donors wanted to back Akin without taking heat for it, this is just how they would do it.

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