Meet The National Federation Of Independent Business, The Corporate Front Group Claiming It's The Voice Of Small Business
Research ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS
Media outlets are adopting the National Federation of Independent Business' (NFIB) claim that it is speaking for the small business community in its opposition to Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination. In reality, NFIB is a front group that has received millions of dollars from the Koch brothers network and other large corporate interests, and its opposition to Garland is part of a campaign against environmental, labor and healthcare policies that most small businesses support.
In Opposition To Garland, NFIB Is Passing Itself Off As The Voice Of Small Business
NFIB Announced Opposition To Garland As Supreme Court Nominee. The National Federation of Independent Business, which describes itself as "America's leading small business association," is opposing President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, who is currently the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed headlined "We Oppose Judge Garland's Confirmation," NFIB president Juanita Duggan described her organization as "the country's largest advocate for small-business owners" and claimed that Garland "would be a strong ally of the regulatory bureaucracy, big labor and trial lawyers." The New York Times reported that NFIB "is expected to have much more to say about Judge Garland as the Senate impasse over his nomination continues." [NFIB.com, accessed 3/30/16; The Wall Street Journal, 3/16/16; The New York Times, 3/25/16]
NFIB Running Op-Ed Campaign Opposing Garland In Newspapers Across The Country. NFIB has launched an op-ed campaign against Garland, with state affiliates of NFIB echoing Duggan's Wall Street Journal op-ed in newspapers across the country. Each of these op-eds has claimed that NFIB is "the country's leading advocate for small-business owners." So far, the op-eds have been published in newspapers in Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Montana. Florida's Sun-Sentinel and Illinois' State Journal-Register adopted NFIB's description of itself as the "largest" or "leading" small business association in their respective states. [Sun-Sentinel, 3/28/16; State Journal-Register, 3/25/16; New Hampshire Union Leader, 3/24/16; The Des Moines Register, 3/29/16; Billings Gazette, 3/27/16; Missoulian, 3/27/16; Montana Standard, 3/28/16]
Right-Wing Judicial Crisis Network Running Ad That Cites NFIB To Claim "Small Business Leaders" Oppose Garland. In a million dollar ad buy attacking Garland, the discredited right-wing group Judicial Crisis Network referenced NFIB to claim: "Small business leaders say he would side with special interests, unleash accountable agencies like the EPA, and hurt jobs." [Politico, 3/24/16; YouTube.com, 3/24/16]
Major Media Outlets Adopt NFIB's Claim That It Is Broadly Speaking For Small Business Owners By Opposing Garland
Media Uncritically Report That NFIB "Lobbies For The Interests Of Small Businesses." Several articles noting NFIB's opposition to Garland have described the organization as the lobbying group for the small business community:
- The Washington Post published an article about NFIB's opposition to Garland that said the group "represents small privately owned U.S. businesses." [The Washington Post, 3/18/16]
- The Post's PowerPost blog published an article headlined "Why the small-business lobby is fighting Merrick Garland's nomination," which stated that the group "lobbies for the interests of small businesses in Washington" and is "the first notable business association to openly oppose the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland." [The Washington Post, 3/25/16]
- The New York Times' First Draft blog published a post headlined "Small-Business Lobbying Group Steps Into Supreme Court Fight," which stated: "Senator Mitch McConnell, in making his case against Judge Merrick B. Garland, has noted that Judge Garland is opposed by the National Federation of Independent Business and that the small-business lobbying group has never before inserted itself in a high-profile court fight." [The New York Times, 3/25/16]
- The Times also published an article in its business section calling NFIB a "small-business federation," though it noted that NFIB "is not exactly an impartial observer" because it "has two challenges to the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency pending before the Supreme Court." [The New York Times, 3/25/16]
- The Washington Business Journal called NFIB "the leading small business organization in Washington, D.C." [Washington Business Journal, 3/16/16]
NFIB Has Received Millions From Huge Corporate Interests And Conservative Political Groups
NFIB's Biggest Contributor In 2012 Was The Oil Billionaire Koch Brothers' "Secret Bank." According to CNN.com, NFIB "got more money [in 2012] from a group backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch than any other single source." Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce gave NFIB $1.5 million in 2012 and gave an additional $1 million to three NFIB-affiliated groups, according to CNN.com's review of the group's tax records. CNN.com detailed that Freedom Partners has "deep ties" to the oil billionaire Koch brothers, citing the fact that four of its five board members are "current or former employees of Koch companies and one is a friend of Charles Koch's." Politico has described Freedom Partners as "the Koch brothers' secret bank." [CNN.com, 11/21/13; Politico, 9/13/13]
NFIB Has Also Received Millions From Koch-Linked Groups DonorsTrust and Free Enterprise America Over Past Several Years. DonorsTrust, a dark money group that is largely backed by groups affiliated with the oil billionaire Koch brothers, gave over $4 million to NFIB-affiliated groups between 2010 and 2012. Additionally, Free Enterprise America, a group founded by Koch operative Sean Noble and funded by a chain of conservative nonprofits linked to the Koch brothers, contributed $500,000 to NFIB in 2010. [Conservative Transparency, accessed 3/30/16; Media Matters, 2/28/13; Huffington Post, 9/17/13; ProPublica, 2/14/14]
NFIB Has Received Over $5 Million From Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS. NFIB received $3.7 million in 2010 and over $1.4 million in 2012 from Crossroads GPS, the conservative group founded by Karl Rove that funds attacks against Democratic candidates across the country. As Public Campaign has noted, "[w]hile Crossroads GPS keeps its donors secret, its aligned super PAC (American Crossroads) has received millions from some of the country's wealthiest donors and special interests." [Conservative Transparency, accessed 3/30/16; Media Matters, 8/26/14; Public Campaign, 6/26/12]
NFIB Has Received Over $2 Million From Health Insurance Group AHIP. America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a trade association run by top executives from health insurance companies, gave nearly $1.6 million to NFIB's advocacy arm in 2012, according to The New York Times. Additionally, AHIP gave $850,000 to the group in 2011, as the Center for Public Integrity has noted. [The New York Times, 7/26/14; Center for Public Integrity, 5/20/13]
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), a big business-funded group that claims to be the "nation's leading small business association," has joined the corporate board of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or "ALEC." It marks perhaps the final step towards the NFIB abandoning any pretense of being a nonpartisan representative of small business owners.
ALEC has been described as a "corporate bill mill" that allows big business interests to peddle influence with ALEC's legislative members -- who are almost entirely Republican -- and push "model" legislation that tends to benefit the corporate bottom line or advance an ideological agenda. [PR Watch, 8/1/14; Media Matters, 2/3/15]
NFIB Received More Than $10 Million From Just 10 Donors Between 2010 And 2011. An analysis by Public Campaign and Alliance for a Just Society found that NFIB and its Small Business Legal Center received more than $10 million from just 10 contributors between 2010 and 2011. The analysis noted that this money "jumped after 2009, coinciding with its move to challenge the healthcare law in 2010," and asked: "What 'small businesses' are giving six- and seven-figure donations to trade associations?" [Public Campaign, 6/26/12]
NFIB Website No Longer Says Group Is "NOT A Voice For Big Business." As late as February 2015, NFIB had a section on its website called "What is NFIB Not?" It claimed that NFIB is "NOT a voice for Big Business" and is "NOT under the direction of major contributors." That section no longer appears on NFIB's "About NFIB" page. [Archive.org, accessed 3/30/16; NFIB.com, accessed 3/30/16]
Watchdog Group Public Citizen: NFIB Is "Taking The Name Of Small Business In Vain." CNN.com reported in 2013:
The big-money donations are raising questions about whose agenda NFIB is serving, that of mom-and-pop businesses or the captains of big industry.
Lisa Gilbert of the government watchdog group Public Citizen said the NFIB is "taking the name of small business in vain."
"The idea that Koch brothers money in some way is going to help small businesses is laughable," Gilbert said. "What they're buying is the ability to help set the agenda." [CNN.com, 11/21/13]
NFIB's Opposition To Garland Is Part Of Campaign To Block Protections For The Environment, Workers, And Public Health
NFIB Opposing Garland For Purportedly Catering To "Regulators, Labor Unions, And Trial Lawyers." NFIB's Juanita Duggan wrote in her Wall Street Journal op-ed that Garland "would be a strong ally of the regulatory bureaucracy, big labor and trial lawyers," citing Garland's circuit court rulings concerning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to claim that he would give "the EPA and other regulators ... a freer hand to impose even more costs on small businesses." The Washington Post has noted that NFIB is a plaintiff in three cases that may be decided by the Supreme Court, two of which challenge the EPA. [The Wall Street Journal, 3/16/16; The Washington Post, 3/25/16]
NFIB Is Fighting Against Drinking Water Protections. NFIB has sued the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in order to block the Clean Water rule, which would protect streams and wetlands that feed into sources of drinking water for 117 million Americans. NFIB ran an op-ed campaign last year attacking the plan to protect drinking water. [NFIB.com, 11/4/15; Media Matters, 7/1/14; Missoulian, 7/1/15; The Denver Post, 6/15/15; Lincoln Journal Star, 7/6/15; The Bismarck Tribune, 7/4/15; Kearney Hub, 7/4/15; Las Vegas Review-Journal, 7/6/15]
NFIB Is Fighting Against Action On Climate Change. NFIB is also a plaintiff in a case challenging the EPA's Clean Power Plan, which will place the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants and is what President Obama has called the "single most important step that America has ever made in the fight against global climate change." NFIB claims that the Clean Power Plan "will result in dramatically higher energy costs in many parts of the country," but independent analyses support the EPA projection that the Clean Power Plan will reduce electricity bills once it is fully implemented. [NFIB.com, 12/8/15; Media Matters, 8/4/15]
NFIB Attacked Garland For Ruling That Allowed EPA To Protect People From Lead Poisoning. In their op-eds in The Wall Street Journal and New Hampshire Union Leader, NFIB officials criticized Garland for refusing to consider the costs on businesses of an EPA rule regulating home renovations in order to protect people from lead poisoning. Under the Bush administration in 2008, the EPA had proposed an "opt-out" provision that exempted homes in which the homeowner certified that no pregnant women or young children lived there, but in 2010 the Obama administration's EPA amended the rule to eliminate that opt-out provision and ensure the rule protected everyone. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) challenged the EPA's authority to amend the rule. Garland provided the opinion on behalf of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that the EPA's decision to abandon the opt-out was not arbitrary and capricious, as NAHB alleged, and that the Circuit Court of Appeals lacked the jurisdiction to rule on whether the EPA was required to convene a panel of small business representatives before issuing the rule, as NAHB demanded. NFIB cited this ruling to claim Garland would provide the EPA and other regulatory agencies with "a freer hand to impose even more costs on small businesses." [The Wall Street Journal, 3/16/16; New Hampshire Union Leader, 3/24/16; D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, 6/22/12; Bloomberg BNA, 6/22/12]
NFIB Attacked Affordable Care Act. NFIB was the lead plaintiff in a Supreme Court case challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In a post titled "The Group Trying To Kill Obamacare," Salon's Alex Seitz-Wald reported that NFIB's lawsuit against the ACA cost at least $2.9 million in 2010 alone. When The New York Times uncovered that NFIB's television ad and other anti-ACA efforts were largely bankrolled by the health insurance industry, it quoted Center for Responsive Politics executive director Sheila Krumholz as saying: "If people who see this ad have no idea who is actually bankrolling it, they are in effect being misinformed." [Salon, 6/25/12; The New York Times, 7/25/14]
NFIB Has Fought Against Raising Taxes On The Wealthiest Americans. NFIB has opposed eliminating tax breaks for the wealthy, including President Obama's proposal to raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 per year. Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson observed that "leaders of the NFIB itself have a direct stake in the anti-tax mission," noting that former president Dan Denner was paid more than $700,000 in 2011 and that at least seven other NFIB staff members "also earn salaries in excess of $250,000, the cutoff for paying higher taxes under the Obama plan." Harkinson also noted:
Only 3 percent of small businesses net more than $250,000 a year, the lowest income that would be affected by Obama's tax plan. This is one reason why a variety of rival small business groups now accuse the NFIB of doing exactly what it was founded to prevent: selling out small business owners to benefit the rich and powerful. [NFIB.com, 9/21/10; The Washington Post, 5/6/12; Mother Jones, 7/23/12]
NFIB Has Opposed Minimum Wage Increases And Paid Sick Leave. NFIB has frequently attacked minimum wage increases and paid sick leave on the national, state, and local levels, and recently announced its opposition to a $15 minimum wage in California. [NFIB.com, accessed 3/30/16; 3/30/16; 3/30/16; 12/5/13; 2/26/16; 3/17/16; 3/9/16; Highland News, 3/28/16]
NFIB's Advocacy Contradicts Preferences Of Small Business Owners
ASBC Poll: 80 Percent Of Small Business Owners Support EPA's Clean Water Rule. A poll from the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) found that small business owners nationwide "assign high importance to clean water for their own operations and believe that government regulations are needed to safeguard it." Specifically, the poll found that 80 percent of small business owners support the proposed protections for streams and wetlands in the EPA's Waters of the United States rule. ASBC policy director Richard Eidlin said of the findings: "This makes perfect sense given the vital importance that clean water plays in running a successful business. Small business owners place a high value on clean water because they are concerned about potential damage to the economy from water pollution. They also believe that government regulation is needed to safeguard clean water." The poll, which was conducted by Lake Research Partners, defined small businesses as companies with 2 to 99 employees. [American Sustainable Business Council, 7/23/14]
ASBC Poll: Nearly Twice As Many Small Business Owners Support EPA Carbon Pollution Limits As Oppose Them. ASBC polled small business owners nationwide in June 2014 and found the following:
- Half of small business owners support tighter EPA limits on carbon pollution, and only 28 percent oppose them.
- Sixty-four percent of small business owners said government regulation to reduce carbon pollution from power plants is needed.
- Eighty-seven percent of small business owners named one or more consequences of climate change as potentially harmful to their businesses.
The poll, which was conducted by Lake Research Partners, defined small businesses as companies with 2 to 99 employees. [American Sustainable Business Council, June 2014]
SBM Poll: Most Small Business Owners Say Their Companies Are Vulnerable To Impacts Of Climate Change. A poll from Small Business Majority (SBM) found that 57 percent of small businesses owners consider climate change to be a problem that disrupts the economy and harms small businesses.
[Small Business Majority, 6/25/13]
SBM Poll: Significantly More Small Business Owners Disagreed With NFIB's Lawsuit Against The Affordable Care Act Than Agreed With It. A poll conducted by Small Business Majority in 2012 about the NFIB lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act found that 50 percent of small business owners wanted the ACA to be upheld by the Supreme Court with little or no changes, and only 34 percent of small business owners wanted the Supreme Court to overturn it. After learning more about the healthcare law, 56 percent of small business owners supported keeping it intact or with only minor changes, twice the number that wanted it overturned. Small Business Majority founder and CEO John Arensmeyer said that small business owners "see this law as helping everyone have coverage and bringing down healthcare costs--something that has been one of their top concerns for years." [Small Business Majority, 6/14/12; 6/14/12]
SBM Poll: Majority Of Small Business Owners Support Raising Taxes On High-Income Earners. A 2012 poll from Small Business Majority found that 52% of small business owners "agree that while no one likes to raise taxes, we should raise taxes on the wealthiest 2%, given the budget situation, and 4 in 10 strongly agree." By contrast, only 39 percent of small business owners opposed raising taxes on the top two percent of earners, and only a quarter of small business owners strongly opposed doing so. Furthermore, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found in 2009 that only 1.9 percent of small businesses would be affected by raising the tax rates of the top two income brackets:
SBM Poll: Most Small Business Owners Support Federal Minimum Wage Increase. A poll commissioned by Small Business Majority in 2014 found that 57 percent of small business owners supported gradually raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and then indexing it to rise annually with the cost of living. The poll also found that 52 percent of small business owners "agree increasing the minimum wage would be good for small businesses, and that people will have a higher percentage of their income to spend on goods and services because low-wage earners tend to spend money at local businesses--which will be able to grow and hire new workers."
[Small Business Majority, 3/6/14]
Vast Majority Of NFIB's Own Members Do Not Consider Minimum Wage Increases Or Paid Sick Leave To Be A Major Problem. A 2012 survey of NFIB's own members found that only 8.6 percent considered demands to raise the minimum wage to be a "critical problem," and as ThinkProgress noted, the issue ranked "number 52 out of 75 issues -- well in the last third." Nearly 30 percent of NFIB members said increasing the minimum wage is "not a problem" at all. Paid sick leave ranked "even lower among [NFIB's] members," as ThinkProgress explained, "with 7.8 percent deeming it critical and 35.1 percent saying it's not a problem." [NFIB.com, accessed 3/30/16; ThinkProgress, 3/21/14]