But even so, the brazen defense of secret political spending we’ve just witnessed in the U.S. Senate with the filibuster of the DISCLOSE Act still made my jaw drop. It’s hard for me to grasp how anyone who believes in free and fair competition would be against this basic level of transparency.
My wife and I pooled our life savings 27 years ago to take our shot at the American Dream. We started our catering business in 900 square feet with two employees and a handful of our mothers’ recipes. Through hard work and commitment – both our own and that of a dedicated staff – we’ve built a thriving business. Today we have 27 full-time, year-round employees, and over 80 part-time and seasonal workers.
I’m proud of what we’ve done and the role we play as job creators. I believe our country needs public policies that lay the foundation for more small business success stories like ours. Defending secrecy in political spending won’t do that.
The explosion of secret money in our elections leaves small businesses like mine at a severe disadvantage. I don’t have a line item in my budget for “independent expenditure” political ads. When big corporate entities and their CEOs dump millions of dollars into elections, there’s no way for small business owners like me to keep up.
Look, I’m a realist. I know that to be successful I have to deal regularly with big corporate interests. Some are direct competitors. Others are vendors, insurance companies, and big banks.  I welcome the challenges that come with this – that’s why I chose to be a part of entrepreneurial America. But I want to face these challenges on a level playing field.
Dark money organizations and secret political spending make a mockery of that level playing field idea. They drown out the voices of Main Street and they corrupt and warp public policy to the benefit of narrow special interests.
I believe business success should come from hard work, creativity, and delivering solid value, not from buying political influence. Success should hinge on a deep commitment to serving customers – not deep pockets for covert spending in elections.
When I want to advocate for an issue, I put a sign in my storefront window. I wear a pin on my chest. I ask my friends and customers to sign a petition. As a small business owner, I stand by my words and actions. When I want my opinion represented, I put my signature on the bottom line, for everyone to see. Why shouldn’t big corporations and wealthy donors do the same?
Secrecy is not a small business value. Transparency is. All across America, entrepreneurs like me have built our thriving businesses by making and keeping promises – not secrets.
Some defenders of secret political spending – both politicians and groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the NFIB – claim they’re taking a stand to protect small business. Now, I’m in the food business. I inspect fresh meats and produce coming through my kitchen door every day. And let me tell you, that claim just doesn’t pass inspection.
Secret money in politics doesn’t make winners of small businesses. It makes us losers. Our voices aren’t just drowned out, they’re routinely “borrowed” – without permission. A regime of secrecy allows big special interests to channel their political dollars through dark money organizations that then use small business as a political tool to advance their narrow agendas.
Want an example? Just look at the Bush tax cuts debate. Plenty of claims about small business, but scratch the surface and it’s all about using small business as a smokescreen for wealthy special interests. Why else would lobby groups that claim to represent small business be going to the mat to defend special tax cuts for the top 2 percent when we all know this is a complete non-issue for 97 percent of small businesses?
This smokescreen game isn’t right. What it is, pure and simple, is a form of theft. I call it small business identity theft: stealing the good name of small business to advance some special interest agenda.
Robust disclosure rules for political spending are critical to ensure honest competition and a strong economy that rewards innovation and transparency, not pay to play politics. That’s why small business owners like me stand ready to support solutions.
There’s no dearth of options. There’s the DISCLOSE Act. There’s the Shareholder Protection Act. There’s the petition for new disclosure rules at the Securities and Exchange Commission. This is a matter of political will. It’s a matter of whether enough politicians will really stand with small businesses or whether they’ll continue to stand with big special interests.
It’s time to move forward. It’s time to put an end to the small business identity theft that is only aided and abetted by secrecy in political spending. And it is well past time to establish a level, transparent, open and honest playing field so Main Street small businesses like mine can compete, grow and create jobs.
Borris owns Hel’s Kitchen Catering in Northbrook, Illinois and is a leader in the Main Street Alliance small business network. He spoke at a Capitol Hill press conference on July 18 with U.S. Senators about the small business imperative for moving forward with solutions that advance transparency in political spending.