Who speaks for small business? Not big corporate interests

Unfortunately, too often a purported focus on small businesses is little more than lip service, verging on a form of identity theft: large corporate interests steal the good name of small business to advance a special interest agenda – at our expense.

We see this pattern again and again. Health insurers give $86 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to lobby against health care reform – in the name of small business. Wall Street bankers spend $1 million a day in their fight to pre-empt reforms intended to prevent a repeat of the financial meltdown that decimated the small business customer base – and they spend that money in the name of Main Street businesses. The list goes on.

Take a quick look at the list of sponsors for this year’s events in Washington, DC. Some names that will jump out at you are Sam’s Club (a subsidiary of Walmart), VISA, AT&T, Raytheon, Google, Microsoft... Last we checked, it’s supposed to be National Small Business Week, not “Multi-National Corporations Week.”

We always hear that politicians are looking out for us small business owners, but at the end of the day, corporate lobbyists muscle out the small business voice to enact policies that benefit their interests over ours. The Main Street Alliance of Oregon has been changing that by giving small business owners a chance to speak for themselves and a powerful voice at the table when it comes to policies that impact them and their businesses.

This National Small Business Week, we’re taking the opportunity to tell corporate lobbyist that they don’t speak for us, and we’re taking a stand to push true pro-small business policies that will benefit small businesses here in Oregon and across the country.

Right now, our state legislature is debating the creation of a Health Insurance Exchange, a competitive marketplace that will help small business owners obtain better and more affordable health insurance. We’re fighting for an exchange that will negotiate on behalf of small businesses, with a governing board free from financial conflicts of interest.

Insurance lobbyists, however, have been working the halls of our capitol every step of the way, and their investment is paying off: the resulting proposal, much watered down from the original, ignores small business needs and would continue to allow insurers to drive up premiums year after year.

Our legislature is also considering ways to alleviate the tightening of credit and the vacuum in small business lending. The Main Street Alliance of Oregon has been involved in the push to create a state partnership bank because we want to end Wall Street’s grip on our state’s economic future. We believe our money should stay in Oregon, helping community banks increase their investments in local small businesses.

The partnership bank idea has widespread support – except, of course, among lobbyists for the Wall Street banks. The very same banks that crashed our economy in 2008 with their reckless risk-taking are now working hard to undermine the partnership bank proposal that would seek to restore lending opportunities to small businesses.

Small businesses have been spoken for and ignored for far too long, and it’s time we change that. We’re asking our state leaders and our congressional delegation to listen to the true economic drivers of Oregon’s economy – small businesses. We do the majority of hiring, and because of that, our voice deserves to be heard louder than any corporate lobbyist’s.

This National Small Business Week, the question must be asked: who stands for small business, and who stands for narrow corporate interests? We hope our elected officials do the right thing for Oregon and America, and stand with small business.

Jim Houser owns Hawthorne Auto Clinic, Inc. in Portland, Oregon. Mark Kellenbeck is managing principal of Cascade Management, Inc. in Grants Pass, Oregon. Houser and Kellenbeck are co-chairs of the Main Street Alliance of Oregon, a statewide network of small business owners.


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