They banned the press, but we were prepared to infiltrate.
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) was putting on a “Small Business Summit” in Washington, DC on May 14-16. The NFIB calls itself “the voice of small business” (rights reserved). That’s because they’re a lobbying group leveraging the clout of its 350,000 small business members.
Premiere guests included Republican “Architect” Karl Rove, House Speaker John Boehner, and “Meet the Press” host David Gregory. Gregory took heat for being the conference’s keynote speaker, but NBC claims that doing the gig unpaid freed him from any accusations of journalistic impropriety. (Whatever. Do we really expect much from David Gregory?)
The high-profile speakers brought the desired patina of prestige and smattering of media attention, but no media were admitted to the events as far as I can tell, given the subsequent coverage: zero. Our little alternative media group (led gamely by Occupied News Network’s Rob Brune, plus live streamers Carlisle and Chapell, and me the blogger) intended to crash Speaker Boehner’s dinner. Livestreamer Flux was colorfully dressed as Uncle Sam and unlikely to gain entry.
But our plan was foiled when, unannounced to the public, the event was held on Capitol Hill instead of the Grand Hyatt. No unobtrusively slipping through that security. (Do lobbying organizations often get to host events at Congressional office buildings, we wondered?) So we lamely stood outside on the sidewalk.
Boehner, by the way, had a busy day. He earlier threatened to hold the country hostage to another debt limit “crisis” in 2013 if the White House even thought about tax increases.
Conference attendees slowly leaked out of the Cannon Building. NFIB bills itself as nonpartisan, but its leadership and objectives are closely aligned with the Republican Party. ThinkProgress calls NFIB “one of the Republican party’s strongest allies”:
The group spent over $1 million on outside ads in the 2010 campaign — all of it backing Republican House and Senate candidates (and, Bloomberg News reported last month, “another $1.5 million that it kept hidden and said was exempt” from disclosure requirements). The group is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Obamacare law and bankrolled state governments’ challenges to the law. The NFIB has also taken stances against allowing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, opposing regulations on businesses, and supporting curtailing union rights.
In 2010, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS gave NFIB $3.7 million to its PAC, Save America’s Free Enterprise Trust (SAFE), to defeat Obamacare. Key NFIB leaders were staff in various Republican administrations. The incestuous relationships and money flow make NFIB effectively function as a Republican front-group.
On Capitol Hill, these were probably the smallest of the small business owners trickling onto 1st Street. The VIPs would have been escorted to their limos behind barricades. Some of its membership is comprised of large corporations such as Sam’s Club, American Express, Intuit, AGLA (an insurance group), Bloomberg Government, and Solveras–all of them sponsors of the conference. Membership dues cost about $1,500 on the bottom end and a whopping $25,000 for upper-tier. Not surprisingly, NFIB often pursues big business interests over small business interests.
Nearly every exiting conference attendee flinched as they approached our loitering alternative media cabal. Strangely, it didn’t seem to be Flux in the Uncle Sam suit that they were reacting to. Rob and I dressed as natives to blend in in that squeaky clean-cut Republican way, Rob in blue blazer and red power tie, me in job interview clothes, suffering make-up and heels. Yet we still seemed to stick out.
I’d expect the plastic employees of NFIB to give me the “Talk to the Hand” treatment. Still, anyone else I approached to interview was even more wary. The innocent face wasn’t working the usual magic. Was it the camera and notepad setting off the danger signal?
Blowing me off is a non-story to say the least, except that it seemed like a symptom of extreme paranoia. Do even conference attendees have to be prepared to face the liberal media? Were they this paranoid last year? Well, maybe. But in the last 8 months Occupy Wall Street’s message has penetrated the public consciousness. Republican and business leadership have to take note, and they seem to be taking steps to cultivate an even greater paranoia among their flock.
It’s probably not that hard to increase fear when the seeds are already planted: They want to destroy capitalism. Occupy Wall Street is the enemy of small business, the entrepreneur. They are a threat to your success. They want to tax you into oblivion.
The fear-based Right always feels threatened, but they may be feeling the heat more than usual. Wealth inequality is the mainstay of NFIB, and they want it to keep it that way. The public gets it that politicians are bought-and-paid-for, and they’re absorbing the nature of PACs as shills for the Parties. Occupy Wall Street’s bread and butter is exposing organizations like NFIB and their lobbying power. If it can keep beating that drum, the message will strike fear into the heart of Karl Rove.