Can Small Business Help Get Big Money Out of Politics?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

It’s not just individuals who feel that they are getting left behind in the political process. With money in politics becoming an ever-hotter issue on the political landscape, small business owners are increasingly feeling that they are being left behind as well.

An opinion poll from the Small Business Majority indicates that small business owners are supportive of taking steps to revamp the election system, as big business and corporate power are increasingly using their influence and power to gain a competitive advantage through politics. That’s right — this isn’t some Occupy Wall Street offshoot group — this is from a nationwide small business advocacy organization called Small Business Majority, which encompasses a network of more than 30,000 small businesses.

So, what did the numbers say, exactly?

“Our polling found more than three-fourths (77%) of small employers say big businesses have a significant impact on government decisions and the political process, whereas a mere 24% say small businesses have a significant impact on the process,” the study reads. “It should come as no surprise then that 72% of small business owners say major changes are needed to our campaign finance system, with a mere 4% who say no changes are needed.”

Those findings show that there is significant concern about the political and economic landscape, and the growing influence of corporate power on the parts of small business owners. With nearly three-quarters of small businesses saying they feel that they are at a disadvantage because of corporate influence in politics, it lends extra credence to the notion that our election process — which typically tends to cater heavily to the small business crowd — is in need of some serious reforms.

Small Biz

It’s important to note that this poll was taken before this year’s midterm elections, and thus the results have not been skewed as a result of the fallout. The study itself was published on October 30, and polling was actually conducted in early September.

“In the wake of the midterm elections, its important to remember that small business owners are pragmatic, not ideological. And contrary to a long-held misconception, they are not reflexively anti-government,” said John Arensmeyer, CEO and founder of Small Business Majority. “They want government to understand their needs and respond in a constructive manner — and then act on it, by adopting policies that level the playing field with big business and bring fairness to our campaign finance laws.”

Although the Republicans walked away from the 2014 midterms with a resounding victory, it’s unlikely that anything will actually change in regards to reigning in corporate power and the issues revolving around campaign finance. Although Republicans are consistently championing small business and paying lip service to how essential entrepreneurs are to the economy, the policies and legislation being pushed through never really reflect that ideology. The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) says that this year’s election saw candidates and political parties spend $3.67 billion, with the Republicans outspending the Democrats by a slim margin.

Also of note? CRP’s analysis indicates that the candidate who outspent his or her opponent won a resounding 94.2% of the time in races for House positions, and 81.8% for the Senate. With a lot of that money coming from dark money groups and corporate contributions, it’s clear that those with the most capital — and thus, the most influence — are more likely to see desirable outcomes.

“Our current campaign finance laws benefit deep-pocketed corporations, which means that elected officials hear more from big business than small businesses like mine,” Rebecca Zemans of Rebecca Zemans Jewelry in Chicago, told Small Business Majority. “Common-sense campaign finance reforms would improve our political process so that the voices of everyone, not just big business, can be heard.”

There were some specific solutions offered up as a result of the study as well. 85% of small business owners support changing the way we finance campaigns to only include small amounts from voters, and a limited amount of public funding. 93% want stricter rules concerning transparency in campaign finance, including the outing of special interest groups who bankroll advertising for candidates or ballot measures. There was also a lot of concern surrounding the process for how judges are nominated, with “69% of small business owners support selecting judges for state Supreme Court seats by an independent panel of lawyers and non-lawyers appointed that would identify several of the most qualified applicants, and send a list of finalists to the governor for final selection.”

There were other ideas offered up as well that garnered widespread support, including a stop to gerrymandering, the inclusion of more political parties in the election process, and a switch from primary elections to a ranked-voting system, which would entail voters listing their choices on a ballot — by indicating first, second, etc.

The most interesting and biggest takeaway from the results of this poll is clearly that big business and unchecked corporate power is not just a concern being shared among citizens, but that that concern has permeated into the business world as well. Obviously, when big businesses have enough influence to make changes to the legal, economic and political systems that will benefit them (and usually, only them), they are going to do it.

The inevitable conclusion that we reach is one that is oft-repeated but never taken seriously by our elected officials, and that’s widespread campaign finance reform. But since citizen groups and activists are not being listened to by our leaders when it comes to addressing that concern, maybe calls from the business world will help bring some more attention to the issue?

With the Republicans’ newfound power in controlling Congress, perhaps they can put their money where their mouth is, and actually put some work in to help the little guy? It offers up the ideal opportunity to do just that, but any hopes of actually seeing any change will likely lead to disappointment. After all, how far did “hope and change” get the American people during the last two elections?

More from Business Cheat Sheet: