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New Leadership at NFIB Makes a Return to Roots

Roll Call Staff
by Anna Palmer

“We know who runs Congress. We know who is at the White House, and at the end of the day, regardless of party, what our members really want is solutions,” Danner said.

To that end, Danner has also continued to forge relationships with Democrats with whom the trade group shares a turbulent past. Former NFIB President Jack Faris frequently sparred with liberals and even publicly fought with pro-business senior Blue Dog Coalition members, including Reps. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) and John Tanner (D-Tenn.).

The association is also taking a more pragmatic stance on other issues important to its members, such as the estate tax. The NFIB has long argued that the estate tax should be completely eliminated. However, it has recently voiced support for a permanent 35 percent tax on estates worth more than $10 million.

Nevertheless, under Danner’s leadership, the NFIB will continue to work to swing the political pendulum to the right by contributing more heavily to Republicans than Democrats.

“We base our [political contribution] decisions on positions that legislators take to support small business,” Danner said. “The reality is there will be more Republicans that support those things than there will be Democrats.”

The trade association has spent about $1 million in House and Senate races during the past two election cycles, contributing another $5 million on independent expenditures in high-profile races and get-out-the-vote activities, according to Danner. This cycle, the group’s fundraising has dipped to about $30,000. Danner said that will pick up.

Danner has also turned the top lobbying job over to his former deputy Susan Eckerly, a former Labor Department official for the George H.W. Bush administration.

The NFIB has long been known as part of the farm team for Republican staffers heading downtown.

The association’s tentacles are deep into many of Washington’s venerable lobby shops and corporate offices. Former NFIB lobbyists include John Motley, who runs his own firm, Policy Solutions; Ralph Hellmann, now top lobbyist at the Information Technology Industry Council; Kent Knutson of Home Depot’s Washington operation; Mark Isakowitz, name partner of Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock; and Nelson Litterst, a partner at C2 Group. Other former NFIB lobbyists include Brian Reardon, now at Venn Strategies; and John Emling, senior vice president at the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

Danner attributes the success of lobbyists moving onward and upward from the NFIB to giving junior lobbyists responsibility and reach on Capitol Hill.

The NFIB isn’t only focused on old-fashioned, face-to-face lobbying. It is also modernizing its operations under Danner, who says technology is a top priority.

The NFIB launched a new Web site in April and unveiled a database that will help the association improve its ability to target and mobilize its members.

“I’m a big believer in and an advocate for microtargeting,” Danner said.

He’s also looking to utilize social networking for NFIB members and wants to add social networking companies and other small technology firms to the NFIB’s roster.

That roster apparently has been shrinking. The small-business lobby, which reportedly had a membership of 645,000 in 2001, now counts its membership at about 350,000.

The NFIB’s own operations have not been immune to the struggling economy. While the association hasn’t had layoffs, Danner said the NFIB has cut back on travel, frozen any new hires for open positions and cut down on overhead for things such as the association’s publications.

But he doesn’t expect a large dip in membership.

“We might lose a few, but not a lot,” Danner said.

To view original story http://www.rollcall.com/issues/55_61/lobbying/40954-1.html?page=2

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