Business Organizing for Republicans
JONATHAN D. SALANT
Jan. 19, 2000
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Stealing a playbook mastered by unions, Republican-leaning executives are launching a first-ever campaign to organize phone banks, voter registration drives and absentee ballots aimed at getting their employees to vote for pro-business candidates.
With control of the White House and Congress up for grabs, the efforts by business leaders will focus on states and House districts where pro-business candidates, mainly Republicans, are locked in close races, officials said Wednesday.
Some of the biggest business lobbies in the country _ including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Restaurant Association and National Association of Manufacturers _ are part of the Project 2000 coalition behind the effort run by one of its members, the Business-Industry Political Action Committee.
The coalition is distributing 20,000 kits to business owners and executives, teaching them the how-to's of grassroots politics. It has produced a scorecard of votes, highlighting the candidates considered most friendly to business.
In past elections, these business groups have focused their resources mostly on donations and independent advertising to boost the fortunes of favored candidates.
But after watching organized labor in 1998 stage a massive get-out-the-vote drive that helped Democrats winnow GOP-control of the House to a just a few seats, corporate America decided to fight this year's battle at the grassroots level.
``We are trying to take a page out of organized labor's book,'' said Alan Kranowitz, senior vice president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors. ``They were under the radar screen and regrettably had some success.''
The efforts are expected to buoy Republican candidates, who usually score higher on corporate scorecards than Democrats do. For example, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., had a 100 percent pro-business voting record in 1999. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri, who would become speaker if the Democrats win the majority, had 0 percent.
Federal election records show business outspent labor by an 11 to 1 margin in the 1998 elections _ $667 million to $61 million. But Democrats still gained seats in the House and held the line in the Senate on the strength of a union campaign to get supporters to the polls.
Labor plans to do the same in 2000.
``We're going to be very focused on mobilizing union members and their families to vote,'' said AFL-CIO Political Director Steve Rosenthal. ``The strongest role we can play is to register, educate and try to turn out union members.''
BIPAC is offering a tool kit on its Web site that lets viewers click on individual races, get information on lawmakers' voting records, request absentee ballots and learn how to run voter registration drives.
The kits will help recipients promote voter turnout in their companies, offering employees transportation to the polls. Company executives can even print out a lawmaker's record with the company logo and personalized message for employees.
Coalition organizers will remind executives to begin voter registration drives or set up phone banks at the optimum time. And the individual business groups will coordinate their activities.
``This is not an issue of being competitive by raising more money,'' BIPAC President Greg Casey said. ``It is how we've used and targeted that money.''
The business coalition will select the races to target based on such factors as how much money the challenger has raised and whether pro-Democratic labor and trial lawyer groups are involved in the race, participation that would make the coalition more likely to focus on the race.
The National Federation of Independent Business, the small-business lobby, already has targeted two Senate races and eight House races. Besides giving PAC money and asking members to vote, the group plans to ask supporters to volunteer in the campaigns.
``As a member-based organization, we have more to offer than just writing a PAC contribution,'' said NFIB Senior Vice President Dennis Whitfield. ``We've got all of these folks around the country to work with.''
The AFL-CIO's Rosenthal cautions, however, that a boss' request to help out a campaign doesn't automatically translate into votes.
``You can't jury-rig a relationship,'' Rosenthal said. ``I don't think that just sending something to an employee saying, 'Your boss is for this candidate, therefore you should be for him,' is going to translate into support for that candidate.''
EDITOR'S NOTE _ The Web site for the business coalition is www.politikit.com. The AFL-CIO site is www.aflcio.org.