Here’s a primer to some of the new kids on the block — and some of the old guard who are feeling a bit neglected.
Business Forward has led the way, bringing a range of small-business leaders and corporate executives from across the country to private meetings at the White House. It has ushered in more than 350 executives since the election to discuss fiscal policy with senior staff members.
The group keeps a low profile and describes itself as nonpartisan. Its Web site touts two dozen or so major companies as members, including Google, United Health Care and Wal-Mart. But the group was, in fact, set up after the 2008 election by Democratic operatives to help the White House pursue political goals in battleground states and in the perpetual battleground of Washington.
Top-level White House adviser Valerie Jarrett attended an early organizational meeting for Business Forward at the Hay-Adams hotel in 2009 and has since met with dozens of business leaders flown in by the group.
Some Obama backers hoped that Business Forward would emerge as an alternative to the GOP-leaning business groups that dominate Washington’s world of trade association lobbying and politics. That didn’t happen, but Business Forward did provide a pipeline for sympathetic communications with business leaders and their communities.
Often the visiting business leaders would return home to Ohio, Colorado and other battleground states, where they would write letters to community newspapers and appear on local television stations, supporting the Obama strategy of getting favorable messages to the public unfiltered by Beltway interests.
Business advocates in Washington shrug off the new group.
“I have never seen them,” said Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler Distributors. Van Dongen is active in several business coalitions in Washington, including the Tax Relief Coalition, which opposes tax increases on employers. “They are not an organization of consequence,” he said, “except for providing cosmetic and optic advantages for the White House.”
The executive director of Business Forward, Bert Kaufman, said his organization differs from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other trade groups because it doesn’t lobby or have a major Washington infrastructure.
“What sets us apart from other business groups is that there is no filter between the business leaders and the policymakers,” he said.
Van Dongen, who has backed Republican presidential candidates, said his group and others like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business are the real players in Washington. He criticizes the White House for cutting them out.