Business Forward, an organization formed after the 2008 election, has received extraordinary access to the White House during the fiscal cliff negotiations.
The group teaches participating businesses how to put campaign spin on economic issues, and is receiving preferential treatment from the Obama administration for advancing its economic arguments.
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White House officials provided a series of seven briefings on the fiscal cliff to Business Forward members, reported the Hill. Among the officials that briefed the group were President Barack Obama’s senior advisor Valerie Jarrett and acting director of the Office of Management and Budget Jeffrey Zients.
According to Business Forward’s Tumblr page, it has organized hundreds of briefings between business leaders and government officials.
"More than 250 senior Obama Administration officials have participated, along with more than 50 current and former governors, mayors and Members of Congress," according to the site.
Executive Director of Business Forward Bert Kaufman said the goal is to have the executives hear Obama’s argument on the fiscal cliff negotiations and then have the executives advance the arguments throughout their networks.
"The idea was to invite these [executives] back in town and get a sense of what’s at stake with the fiscal cliff," Kaufman said. "They go back home and talk to their colleagues, their clients and their networks. They write op-eds, talk to reporters and talk about the need for a balanced approach."
Kaufman has held positions in several Democratic campaigns. He was research director for Rep. Charlie Melancon (D., La.) in 2004, and communications director for Democrat Paul Carmouche’s unsuccessful 2008 congressional campaign.
The president and founder of Business Forward, Jim Doyle, is also a well-connected Democratic consultant. Doyle was deputy chief of staff in President Bill Clinton’s Department of Commerce, worked on his 1996 campaign, and then became a senior vice president at the Democratic consulting firm of Penn Schoen Berland. His wife, Patti Solis Doyle, was campaign manager for Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid until she was fired in February 2008. Solis Doyle was then picked-up by Obama’s campaign as chief of staff to Joe Biden.
Kaufman and Doyle are also president and vice president of Portico Policy Advisors. Portico advertises that it "specializes in presenting economic arguments in comparative (often campaign-like) terms that target audiences can act upon."
Business Forward and Portico have more than Kaufman and Doyle in common. The two groups, both located at the same Washington D.C. address and sharing a single phone number, also share a number of clients, including Microsoft, Ford, and Citigroup.
Their scheme of offering access in exchange for pushing the administration’s talking points seems to be working. Through its Twitter page, Business Forward has been promoting local papers’ op-eds written by its members.
Ron Nelsen, of Pioneer Overhead Door, wrote in the Las Vegas Sun, "As a small business owner, I could not agree more with the president’s approach. … The millionaires and billionaires in our country could easily afford to pay taxes on their additional income over $250,000 at the same rate as they did in the 1990s."
Angela Claypoole, a Virginia business leader in the auto industry, wrote in the Virginian-Pilot, "On Election Day, we agreed that raising taxes is a necessary step for our economic future. We can't just cut anti-poverty programs and hope that balances the additional tax cuts."
For some corporations, membership in Business Forward has transformed their entire relationship with the Democrats. Walmart was portrayed as a villain by Obama’s 2008 campaign. The president pledged that he would not shop there and first lady Michelle Obama was forced to resign from a Walmart affiliate, TreeHouse Foods.
However, since becoming a founding member of Business Forward, Walmart has partnered with the first lady on her signature "Let’s Move" campaign.