When the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) rolled into Orlando with its "I Built My Business" bus tour, they ran into some unexpected company: a crowd of 70 local business owners, community leaders, and Orlando voters who rejected the group's claims to be a legitimate representative of small business. The protesters, some wearing Karl Rove masks, held signs proclaimed 'NFIB Fibs,' and 'NFIB: Karl Rove Built It,' referring to the $3.7 million support to the group from Rove's Crossroads GPS.
"I'm a small business owner in Orlando, and I can tell you that Karl Rove has never supported a group that represents my values, my interests, or my needs," said Homer Hartage, CEO of Nuchia Foods Corporation, a gluten free manufacturer with 22 employees. "NFIB is using small businesses as a mask to spend Karl Rove's millions on ideological, right-wing campaigns that have nothing to do with what it takes to run a small business in Orlando."
While NFIB enjoys tax-exempt status and claims to be "non-partisan" and "the voice of small business," the group has come under close media scrutiny since the launch of www.NFIBexposed.org, an investigative website by the Center for Media and Democracy, which put a spotlight on the NFIB's partisan agenda and special-interest funding.
As the website discloses, NFIB's endorsements and financial backing overwhelmingly support Republican candidates, even though polling shows small businesses remain firmly divided in their political affiliations. Recent reports show that 98 percent of NFIB's PAC contributions to federal candidates in the 2012 election cycle have gone to Republicans and that the organization is spending millions of dollars this year in political advertising. This includes a $2 million ad campaign supporting eight Republican Congressional candidates in competitive races.
In fact, the majority of those with NFIB at the Orlando event were associated with Rep. Daniel Webster, a Republican in a close election race with Democrat Val Demings. A woman known to the protesters asked the NFIB membership recruiter at the event about help starting her own business. The recruiter, whose card listed him as "Field Sales Representative," told her to call once she got the business started.
The main NFIB speaker was a hedge fund owner from out of town who's "considering expanding" his business, already located in Dallas, New York, Atlanta & New Orleans.
NFIB has also come under fire for acting as a conduit for secret special interest donors. In 2010, the same year Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS made a $3.7 million grant to NFIB, the group reported spending $3.1 million on ads through Crossroads Media, LLC, Crossroads GPS's main media firm. The group's 990s from 2011 also reveal group donations of $850,000 and $1.6 million, but the donor names have been redacted. This year, NFIB established a new entity, called "NFIB, The Voice of Free Enterprise," for the express purpose of taking money from people and groups who are not small business owners.
A search of NFIB's IRS filings also reveals more than $10 million in big-dollar donations from undisclosed sources -- raising serious questions about how NFIB is representing small businesses and the true nature of the group's agenda.
Many of the protesters were active in the fight for earned sick days in Orange County, a common sense measure NFIB strongly opposes.
"NFIB calling itself 'independent' and 'non-partisan' is a joke," said Damien Filer, political director of Progress Florida. "This group doesn't care about local businesses. It's time to start calling NFIB what it is, an integral part of the GOP's election infrastructure."