Coming soon to the workplace: Voter registration drives?

Business groups are setting aside their differences to collaborate on a national voter registration drive for the midterm elections.

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Heavyweight groups such as the National Retail Federation, the National Federation of Independent Business, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Associated General Contractors of America and BIPAC are among those seeking to increase engagement in the political process this year.

The business community “has come a long way from the balkanization [it once had] to a shared strategy on a number of issues that impact our members at all different levels,” said Jeff Shoaf, executive director of government affairs at the Associated General Contractors of America.

More than 90 companies and industry groups are taking part in the Employee Voter Registration Week, including the American Forest & Paper Association, Anadarko Petroleum, Caterpillar, eBay and a slew of state-level organizations. 

Ned Monroe, the senior vice president of external relations for the National Association of Manufacturers, said industry groups have come to the conclusion that “voter registration and involvement at the civic level is critical in putting a break to the gridlock.”

After the 2012 election cycle, there were more than 33 million American adults that were not registered to vote in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

Voter turnout is typically lower in midterm election years. In 2012, 61.8 percent of American voters went to the polls, compared to 45.5 percent in the 2010 midterms, Census data shows.

With control of the Senate up for grabs this midterm election year, the business groups said their efforts could tip the scales.

“Any of these races could be decided by a few hundred votes, so a strong turnout from the business community could make the difference between a candidate who understands our concerns and a candidate who’s tuned to other voters’ interests,” said David French, the senior vice president of government relations at the National Retail Federation.

The groups are also encouraging their members to get involved in the registration campaign by “making sure they understand that it’s OK to talk about the issues and to talk about the elections with their employees,” said Lisa Goeas, the vice president of political affairs and grassroots at the National Federation of Independent Business.

Trade groups and corporations will not be instructing their members and employees how to vote or who to vote for, the groups said, but will be providing information about deadlines, how to register and where to vote.

“We need leaders on policy. This is not a Republican or Democrat [thing], this is a 'let’s find leaders of all political persuasions who can make a difference,' ” Monroe said. “We’re hoping to be the catalyst that starts the reaction to break the gridlock.”

While the political views of the groups touting the campaign are diverse, the industry's election spending has typically favored Republicans.

The political action committee (PAC) for the National Association of Manufacturers launched only last year, and Monroe says it has supported both Democratic and Republican candidates. Individuals that listed working for the company, however, have historically given primarily to Republicans, according to records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).

Donations from the National Federation of Independent Business, which have mostly stemmed from its PAC, have been given to Republicans more than 80 percent of the time.

So far during this election cycle, the group and its employees have given nearly $488,000 to congressional contenders — 99 percent of which went to Republicans. It has also dropped another $294,000 in independent expenditures to support Republicans, according to CRP. 

The Associated General Contractors of America gives generously from both its PAC and from its employees. Of the $664,000 it has donated so far this cycle, 95 percent of those contributions has gone to Republicans, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

With one exception, the National Retail Federation has generally given 75 percent or more of its contributions to GOP members.

The groups insisted Wednesday that their top goal is a Congress that solves problems, irrespective of party.

“My sense of what the American people want and what I sense the business community wanting is [Congress] to return to some sort of regular order. Blame is not regular order,” Casey, of BIPAC, said. 

“We’ve had 200-some years of Congress being able to work through some significant issues. The business community is saying, we want you to work through these issues, and we’re going to hold you accountable — not for the politics, but for the policy result,” he said.