Consistently Conservative Small-Business Lobby Reaches Out to Democrats

Because of new lobbying rules, Hill staffers won't be able to accept free CPR classes or practice mannequins.
Because of new lobbying rules, Hill staffers won't be able to accept free CPR classes or practice mannequins. (By Haraz N. Ghanbari -- Associated Press)
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The National Federation of Independent Business is a bastion of Republicanism. Its staff has for decades been a farm team for GOP operatives and its campaign giving has been notably one-sided. Of all major lobbying organizations last year, NFIB gave the lowest share of its political action committee money to Democrats, a mere 8 percent.

But with Democrats now in charge on Capitol Hill, NFIB says it's changing. Its new president, Todd A. Stottlemyer, 43, wants to rebrand the nation's premier small-business lobby as "nonpartisan," and to prove his resolve he is talking extensively to Democrats and preparing to donate more to their coffers. "We're trying to reach out," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're an R or a D."

With many lobbying shops scooping up Democrats after last November's elections, Stottlemyer's effort may not seem that newsworthy. But for NFIB, it is huge. Stottlemyer's predecessor, Jack Faris, was viewed as a zealous partisan. A former executive director of the Republican National Finance Committee, Faris stopped talking even to pro-business Democrats in the House after he got involved in a shouting match over dinner with a group of Blue Dogs half a dozen years ago. NFIB, under Faris, also boasted of its role in defeating two of Congress's highest-ranking Democrats, House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (Wash.) and Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.).

Now, however, Stottlemyer and his right-hand man, Executive Vice President Dan Danner, are working to rebuild the bridges that Faris burned. Stottlemyer, who declined to talk about Faris, has met with and offered to cooperate with such prominent Blue Dogs as Reps. Allen Boyd (Fla.) and John Tanner (Tenn.). In the Senate, he has visited moderates such as Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Ken Salazar (Colo.), and asked them to join him on several issues, especially health care.

And in a move that the Faris-led NFIB would never have made, the organization did not list as one of its "key votes" of the year the House Democrats' recent push to increase the minimum wage. Small businesses despise few policies more, yet NFIB decided that the measure's success was preordained and that listing its defeat as a top priority would only antagonize the Democrats it now aspires to court.

One of those is Rep. Albert R. Wynn (Md.). Late last year, NFIB dispatched volunteers and a few of its lobbyists to help his campaign. Wynn is exactly the kind of middle-of-the-roader that NFIB now wants as an ally. He's also African American, and NFIB's long-term survival depends on attracting more minority members.

"We don't agree on everything," Wynn said of his new suitors. "But we've been able to find some common ground."

Boyd, like much of official Washington, remains dubious. "For the last 10 years, the NFIB was a difficult organization to deal with; it didn't play it straight," he said. "We'll have to see over a period of time how it conducts itself." But because of Stottlemyer's entreaties, Boyd said, "I'm a little optimistic." From a Democrat, that is huge.

Ethics Gone Wild

As a good deed, the American Heart Association likes to conduct a mini-class in cardiopulmonary resuscitation for House and Senate staffers. It's a very popular course. But this year, new lobbying rules have gotten in the way.

Association lobbyists asked the House ethics committee if they could provide staffers with a box lunch, a CPR kit (consisting of a training DVD and an inflatable mannequin to practice on) and an hour-long lesson. The committee's lawyers said no to the lunch and the kit (as the lobbyists expected) -- and they also nixed the class. Under the new gift ban, it was deemed a thing of value that a lobbying group could no longer provide. The event has been canceled.

Capitol Hill has never been for the faint of heart. Now, even more so.

Republican Hires of the Week

Lobbying is still bipartisan despite the Democratic takeover of Congress, with senior Republicans in big demand.

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