NFIB's Right Wing Ties

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The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) is a lobbying group that calls itself "the voice of small business."[1] However, the group has been shown to lobby on issues that favor large corporate interests and run counter to the interests of small businesses.[2][3] NFIB is best known for its unsuccessful legal attack on the 2010 Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") and for successfully spearheading opposition to President Clinton's health care reform package in 1993.

NFIB has a 14-member board of directors composed primarily of small- and medium-sized business executives,[4] but the heart of NFIB’s political operation is its DC office. NFIB's staff is headed by its president and CEO, Donald A. “Dan” Danner; Susan Eckerly, Senior Vice President for Federal Public Policy; Stephen P. Woods, senior vice president for state operations; and Jean Card, vice president for media and communications.[5]

Click here for the SourceWatch main page on the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

Dan Danner

Dan Danner

A former steel industry lobbyist, Dan Danner is NFIB’s seventh president and its most visible spokesperson in the media. Danner recently trumpeted NFIB’s increasing media exposure, stating that NFIB’s chief economist, Bill Dunkelberg, is frequently on CNBC; that Karen Harned, director of NFIB’s Small Business Legal Center (SBLC), “is almost a regular on Fox News with Greta Van Susteren, which is always a big plug for NFIB”; and that Rush Limbaugh is a big fan of NFIB. NFIB’s internal newsletter, NFIB Inside Out, reported:[6]

"Danner also spoke of Rush Limbaugh’s take on our lawsuit regarding the unconstitutionality of Obamacare. 'Rush said, "It’s one thing when 26 states agree to challenge this piece of legislation, but it’s another when the nation’s largest small business advocacy group, NFIB, gets involved." That’s a great testimony to the recognition and the media attention that NFIB is starting to get. I promise you, there’s a lot more to come,' Danner added."

Danner runs NFIB’s public policy and political operations, in addition to overseeing the NFIB Research Foundation and SBLC. In 2011, he was paid $743,676 by NFIB and its related organizations.[7] Danner assumed the leadership of NFIB in February 2009, taking over from Todd Stottlemyer.[8]

Under former longtime president Jack Faris (1992-2005), NFIB’s executive leadership had experienced high turnover and charges of bureaucracy, lavish overspending, and declining membership.[9] Former Virginia Congressman Tom Davis reportedly turned down the job of heading NFIB in 2005 despite the million dollar plus salary he stood to earn.[10] Then under Todd Stottlemyer's leadership, NFIB’s influence was seen as on the wane because of a high-profile defeat in its attempt to create state health plans exempt from state coverage requirements..[11]

Danner first joined NFIB in 1993 as vice president of the NFIB Education Foundation (now the NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation). Two years later he was appointed NFIB’s chief lobbyist, and quickly gained influence on Capitol Hill under then-NFIB head Jack Faris, who made NFIB a powerful lobbying presence in DC in the 1990s. As top lobbyist at NFIB, Danner attended meetings with Republican leaders at least twice a month for 12 years, according to the Washington Post,[12] and was called “the go-to guy for the House Republican leadership” by a Congressional staffer in 2005.[13]

Before joining NFIB, Danner served as chief of staff to Commerce Secretary William C. Verity during the second Reagan administration. During the first Reagan term, Danner was deputy director in the White House Office of Public Liaison, which coordinated the Reagan administration’s ties with the New Right and Christian evangelical political movements that had grown up during the late 1970s and helped sweep Reagan into power.

After serving in the Reagan White House, Dan Danner went on to become George Mason University’s Executive Vice President for University Advancement. While at George Mason, Danner was caught up in a controversy over whether the university was funneling federal grant money to right-wing operative Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Research and Education Foundation by funding one of its publications.[14]

GMU and its associated institutes and centers, such as the Mercatus Center, have reportedly received more funding -– nearly $30 million in all -- from the Koch foundations than from any other organization.[15] The Mercatus Center was founded by Richard H. Fink, the vice president of Koch Industries and a top Koch lobbyist. Fink continues to sit on the Mercatus board. The founder of the Mercatus Center’s Regulatory Studies Program, Wendy Gramm, has served on the advisory board of NFIB’s Small Business Legal Center.[16]

Lobbying and NFIB's PAC

Following NFIB’s successful campaign to defeat President Clinton’s proposed healthcare reform initiative in 1993, a Nashville journalist reported that “NFIB exploded as a lobbying powerhouse,” with its annual lobbying spending going from $295,287 in 1992 to $1,236,986 in 1998.[17]

According to James A. Thurber, director for the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, “The NFIB is among the top five lobbying groups in the capital,” in the same rank with the AARP and the NRA, for example, even though they have far fewer members.”[18]

Over the past two decades NFIB has become a recognized “farm team” for Republican staffers who went to work on K Street:[19]

"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."

In 2010 and 2011, when it engaged in heavy activity over healthcare reform battles in Congress, NFIB spent $9,422,000 on lobbying.[20][21] This included payment of $240,000 for issues including healthcare to Ogilvy Government Relations.[22] Ogilvy’s lobbyists for NFIB included Elena Tompkins, a former labor department congressional liaison in the George W. Bush administration;[23][24][25][26] John O’Neill, a former policy director in the Senate Minority Whip’s Office under Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS); J. Michael Hogan, former chief of staff to Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE); and Steve Tilton, a former vice president for government affairs at PhRMA and former lobbyist for Bayer and the National Retail Federation.

NFIB also recently retained Mark Warren, the former chief counsel of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, as a lobbyist.[27]

Susan Eckerly

Susan Eckerly

NFIB’s in-house lobbying operation is headed by Senior Vice President for Public Policy Susan Eckerly, who succeeded Dan Danner when he was elevated to president and CEO in February 2009 (Danner remains a registered NFIB lobbyist). Prior to that, Eckerly had headed up NFIB’s Senate side lobbying.

Eckerly, who has declared that paid sick days and family medical leave have the potential to become “multiyear fights,”[28] came to NFIB in 1996 from Citizens for a Sound Economy, which was co-founded by oil billionaire David Koch in 1984 and has since morphed into Dick Armey's FreedomWorks and the Koch-backed organization Americans for Prosperity. Americans for Prosperity’s vice president for public affairs, Ed Frank, was press secretary for NFIB from 1999-2003.[29]

Previously Eckerly served in the Labor Department in the George H.W. Bush administration, had been deputy director of economic policy studies at the Heritage Foundation,[30] and also was legislative director in 1995 of Project Relief, a coalition of anti-regulation businesses, PACs and trade organizations that operated out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with strong backing from Speaker Tom DeLay.[31][32]

While at Heritage, Eckerly endorsed the Cato Institute’s call for the repeal of the Community Reinvestment Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act, positions she said “aren’t considered far out at all.”[33] She also opposed the federal summer jobs program, saying “in some of these programs kids just sit around and gab. They have a reputation for being a waste.”[34]

Eckerly also opposed minimum wage legislation in 1994 and again in 1999, describing it as “a very blunt instrument to use to get at child poverty”.[35] She has worked to weaken regulations on reporting lead releases; opposed union card check legislation;[36] supported a balanced budget amendment; and supported the Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act (an industry-backed 2011 bill to head off proposed rulemaking by the National Labor Relations Board to level the playing field in union elections).

Eckerly says NFIB’s members “philosophically oppose mandating what their wage and benefit structure should be.”[37]

Other staff members in NFIB’s lobbying operation include Brad Close (VP for Public Policy, focusing on House-side issues,) a former legislative aide to the late Rep. Henry Hyde; Amanda Austin, a former staffer for Sen. Judd Gregg who has headed NFIB’s healthcare task force; and Chris Walters, a former legislative aide to Sen. Rick Santorum.

NFIB lobbyist Kevin Kuhlman spoke at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s 2011 annual meeting in New Orleans on “Health Insurance Exchanges: States in Charge!”[38]


NFIB operates a political action committee called the SAFE Trust (Save America’s Free Enterprise Trust). The SAFE Trust is overseen by NFIB’s development director, Beverly Shea, a veteran Republican fundraiser who was finance director of the Republican National Committee from January 2001-March 2007. The PAC is backed up by NFIB’s development staff, which NFIB says “is charged with raising funds to support our political activities” and acquires donors for the PAC.[39] Its contact point for candidates and committees seeking support is NFIB’s DC-based national political director, Sharon Wolff Sussin, who has been with NFIB since November 1992.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, NFIB’s PAC raised $20,157,250 from 1998-2012 to support candidates in state and federal elections.[40] In 2010 nearly 94 percent of NFIB’s PAC contributions went to Republicans;[41] this election cycle, that number is closer to 98 percent.[42]

Media and Communications

Jean Card

NFIB recently experienced its highest profile media exposure in years because of its role as the principal private litigant suing in the Supreme Court to overturn the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"). As The Hill reported, “the case has attracted wall-to-wall media coverage and raised the potential for a history-making precedent — one that would be linked forever to NFIB.”[43]

NFIB’s National Media Office, based in Washington, DC, is headed by vice president of media and communications Jean Card. Card is a one-time Task Force Director of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), from September 1994 to June 1996, a position she left to work for NFIB for five years.[44]

Card left NFIB in 2001 to become a speechwriter for Bush Labor Secretary Elaine Chao (2001-03) and then for the treasury and justice departments. After that she worked for the Chlopak, Leonard and Willow Creek PR firms. Willow Creek, run by her husband Noel Card, has represented NFIB and the National Restaurant Association.[45]

Jean Card returned to NFIB in September 2010 just as its healthcare reform repeal activities were gaining steam (NFIB filed its legal challenge in May 2010). She outlined her strategic priorities clearly when she returned: “We’ll be looking a lot at talk radio and outlets such as Fox News.”[46][47]

Other staffers in NFIB’s communications shop include senior media manager Jennifer Cooper, who was press secretary to former Sen. John Ensign, where she dealt with “crisis communications and reputation management” for the scandal-plagued Senator until joining NFIB in July 2011.

Essential Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles

PRWatch Articles on NFIB

NFIB in the News


  1. NFIB, NFIB, organizational website, accessed September 20, 2012.
  2. Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, A Quiet Revolution in Business Lobbying, The Washington Post, February 5, 2005.
  3. American Sustainable Business Council, Main Street Alliance, and Small Business Majority, Opinion Survey: Small Business Owners’ Opinions on Regulations and Job Creation, February 1, 2012.
  4. NFIB, Board Members, organizational website, March 14, 2012.
  5. NFIB, National Leadership, organizational website, March 14, 2012.
  6. NFIB, Media Exposure Is Ramping Up!, organizational publication, NFIB Inside Out, April 2011.
  7. NFIB, Form 990, organizational IRS filing, 2011
  8. Anna Palmer, Switch at Top of NFIB, Roll Call, January 15, 2009.
  9. Sarah Kelley, Size Matters: Just How Big Is The Nation’s Premier Small-Business Lobby, Really?, Nashville Scene, July 27, 2006.
  10. John McArdle, Davis May Opt for ‘08 Retirement, Roll Call, October 24, 2007.
  11. David Whitford, Is The NFIB Losing Its Voice? The Premier Small-Business Lobbying Group Faces A Tough New Climate, FSB Magazine, September 25 2006.
  12. Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, Democrats’ Victory Is Felt On K Street, Washington Post, November 23, 2006.
  13. Lobby League #37: Small Business, The Hill, May 25, 2005, archived by the Wayback Machine on March 25, 2006.
  14. Peter Baker, GMU Defends Journal against ‘Pork’ Label: Conservative Group Gets Most of U.S. Grant, Washington Post, March 6, 1993. Weyrich co-founded the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heritage Foundation in 1973.
  15. Koch and George Mason University, DeSmogBlog, March 3, 2011.
  16. Wendy Gramm: Executive Profile and Biography, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, March 16, 2012.
  17. Center for Responsive Politics, Heavy Hitters: National Federation of Independent Business: Totals, accessed March 12, 2012.
  18. Elizabeth Olson, Amassing the Troops for Political Battle, New York Times, May 4, 2006.
  19. Anna Palmer, New Leadership at NFIB Makes a Return to Roots, Roll Call, November 30, 2009.
  20. Center for Responsive Politics, NFIB lobbying profile for 2010 organizational website, accessed September 17, 2012.
  21. Center for Responsive Politics, NFIB lobbying profile for 2011 organizational website, accessed September 17, 2012.
  22. Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives and Secretary of the U.S. Senate, Ogilvy Government Relations Lobbying Report, March 1, 2010.
  23. Ogilvy Government Relations Profile Elena Tompkins
  24. Ogilvy Government Relations Profile, John O’Neill
  25. Ogilvy Government Relations Profile, J. Michael Hogan
  26. Ogilvy Government Relations Profile, Steve Tilton
  27. Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives and Secretary of the U.S. Senate, Congressional Lobbying Registration: Mark Warren, congressional record, January 26, 2012.
  28. Tory Newmyer, Labor Bill Battle Is First of Many, Roll Call, April 2, 2007.
  29. Americans for Prosperity, Ed Frank: Vice President, Public Affairs, organizational website, accessed March 20, 2012.
  30. Joyce Price, As Disability-Law Deadlines Loom, So Do Huge Costs Jurisdictions Struggle To Fund Changes Needed To Obey ADA, The Washington Times, October 15, 1993, accessible by subscription via While at the Heritage Foundation, Eckerly said “it was because of ADA [the Americans With Disabilities Act] that today we’re mobilized to fight against unfunded federal mandates.”
  31. Jill Zuckman, Senators Battle Over Proposed Regulatory Changes, Boston Globe, July 12, 1995
  32. Jason DeParle, Rant, Listen, Exploit, Learn, Scare, Help, Manipulate, Lead, New York Times, January 28, 1996.
  33. Cindy Skrzycki, In Regulatory Assault, GOP Has a Lot to Be Tankful For, Washington Post, December 2nd, 1994.
  34. Bennett Roth, Teen Job Program Clouded/Politics May Shut Out Needy Kids, Houston Chronicle, May 30, 1993.
  35. James Dao, Bradley Challenges Nation To Eliminate Child Poverty, New York Times, October 22, 1999.
  36. NFIB and its Colorado and Wyoming chapters are members of the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, the main industry coalition put together by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act. Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, “Member Organizations, organizational website, accessed September 18, 2012.
  37. Leigh Strope, Congress Fails To Join Battle Over Minimum Wage, Associated Press, October 22, 2002.
  38. Center for Media and Democracy, ALEC Trade Groups, ALEC Exposed, accessed March 10, 2012.
  39. NFIB, NFIB’s Development Department and Our Colleagues Who Make Up the Team, NFIB Inside Out, accessed September 18, 2012.
  40. Center for Responsive Politics, National Federation of Independent Business, PAC Reports, total of summary reports of receipts, 1998-2012.
  41. Center for Responsive Politics, National Federation of Independent Business: Contributions to Federal Candidates: 2010, organizational website, accessed September 18, 2012. NFIB’s PAC contributed $46,000 to Democrats and $720,744 to Republicans that year.
  42. Center for Responsive Politics, Heavy Hitters: National Federation of Independent Business, Open online campaign finance database, accessed September 24, 2012.
  43. Kevin Bogardus, Small-Business Lobby Grabs Share of Spotlight at the Supreme Court, The Hill, March 28, 2012.
  44. NFIB, Jean Card, NFIB Inside Out, accessed March 11, 2012.
  45. Willow Creek Communications, Clients, About Us, organizational website, accessed March 19, 2012. Jean Card left Willow Creek in September 2010.
  46. American Legislative Exchange Council, Sourcebook, annual organizational publication, 1995 (on file with CMD).
  47. Jean Hudson Card, LinkedIn, online career profile, accessed September 2012.