Secret Political Spenders Hijacking Small Business Identity?

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July 19, 2012; Source: The Hill

A small business owner who is also a leader of the Main Street Alliance, a business group that isn’t quite the big money of the Chamber of Commerce or the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), has added his interesting perspective to the debate on secret campaign finance. David Borris and his wife created a catering firm with 27 full-time and more than 80 part-time and seasonal employees in Northbrook, Ill. a quarter century ago and he finds the Republicans’ Senate filibuster against the DISCLOSE Act jaw-dropping. He says, “It’s hard for me to grasp how anyone who believes in free and fair competition would be against this basic level of transparency.”

As a true small business owner, Borris notes that he doesn’t budget for independent expenditure political ads. “When big corporate entities and their CEOs dump millions of dollars into elections,” he says, “there’s no way for small business owners like me to keep up…Dark money organizations and secret political spending…drown out the voices of Main Street and they corrupt and warp public policy to the benefit of narrow special interests.”

What really riles Borris, however, is that the “defenders of secret political spending” such as the Chamber and the NFIB claim to be doing so to protect small business. He argues that not only aren’t they advocating for small business, but that these political organizations have “routinely ‘borrowed’—without permission”—the name and identify of small businesses. “A regime of secrecy,” he adds, “allows big special interests to channel their political dollars through dark money organizations that then use small business as a political tool to advance their narrow agendas.”

That’s a great insight on Borris’s part. Who is speaking for you when a secretly funded 501(c)(4) claims to care about your concerns regarding defense spending, sequestration, education, or the environment? Who has appropriated your name and identity? In the political realm, we as voters have to demand transparency not just because it’s good in and of itself, but because we are ceding our voices and identities to moneyed interests who have all but stolen them without our permission.

The same goes for the nonprofit sector itself. It’s always a bit of a belly laugh when the big nonprofit organizations, particularly nonprofit hospitals and universities, wrap themselves in the cloaks of small public charities when they feel threatened. Suddenly they’re concerned about the food pantries and homeless shelters and they expect these small nonprofits to rally for them. In the nonprofit sector, the vast majority of nonprofits have to take back their identities and voices so that we don’t allow the nonprofit behemoths to do our thinking, talking, and policy-making. At the same time, we must recognize that the political contributions that are flowing through the opaque walls of 501(c)(4) “social welfare organizations” not only contributes to the notion that elections are increasingly becoming auctions to be purchased by the highest bidders, but also damages the reputation of 501(c)(3) public charities when they are broadly lumped together with these political (c)(4)s as “nonprofits.” –Rick Cohen