Housing prices and consumer confidence are up but several business groups that have been in town this week have been delivering a distinctly gloomy view of the economy. While the groups have blue-chip reputations in the business world, what's less apparent is their track record of political giving — one that raises some questions about the forecasts they are presenting six weeks before Election Day.
First out of the blocks: the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Federation of Independent Business. The two groups teamed up at a Tuesday press conference to release a survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a prominent Republican polling firm, based on 800 interviews with business owners and executives from across the country. Both groups are political heavy hitters. Since 1989, Sunlight's Influence Explorer shows, NAM has spent more than $400,000 on political campaigns, 87 percent of which has gone to Republican candidates. NFIB, meanwhile, has contributed almost $4.6 million and channeled 85% of that (more than $3.8 million) to Republicans. Both groups have spent even more lobbying Congress: $88.7 million for NAM and $46 million for NFIB.
In addition, employees of Public Opinion Strategies have contributed more than $230,000 to Republican campaigns — and Bill McInturff, who directed the survey, has single-handedly contributed more than $30,000 to Republican candidates including $1,200 to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney this election cycle.
Unsurprisingly, the survey's results reflect negatively on the Obama administration's economic policies. Below are a few points drawn from the list of conclusions in the executive summary:
- Two-thirds of these respondents say economic uncertainty in the market makes it hard for them to grow and hire more workers, for which they hold the Obama Administration or Congress responsible. These respondents say federal regulations and decisions issued by the Administration or Congress have increased the level of uncertainty facing their companies.
- The theme of government being a barrier rather than a help is clear throughout this data. Two of the three biggest challenges facing small business owners and manufacturers are government spending (which 58% rate as an 8-10 significant challenge on a scale where one means a challenge is not at all significant and ten means it is very significant) and federal, state, and local taxes (which 49% rate as an 8-10).
- Two-thirds of respondents who offer their employees health insurance think the new health care law will cause insurance costs to increase. More than one in five say they will consider dropping health insurance coverage for their employees as a consequence of the new health care law.
These points echo conservative attacks on Obama's policy and lead readers to conclude that Romney's economic policies — which include reducing regulations, lowering taxes, and repealing the health care bill — may be the solution to our current economic condition.
On Wednesday, the Business Roundtable followed up with an equally gloomy third quarter outlook, blaming uncertainty over taxes and the possibility of the government reaching a "fiscal cliff" for lowered projections for economic growth. This year the Roundtable, which describes itself as a powerful association of CEO's from leading U.S. companies, has contributed exclusively to Republicans, including to notables such as Romney ($2,750), Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ($2,000), and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., ($1,000). However, Business Roundtable Chairman Jim McNerney, the CEO of Boeing, has a more bipartisan giving profile. So far in this campaign cycle, his contributions have included $5,000 to the political action committee of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and $2,500 each to Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
Today, Ford chief economist Ellen Hughes-Cromwick gave a noon presentation at NAM headquarters presentation, discussing the economic state of the nation through a lens of the "developments and shifting winds in the global landscape." Focusing on the economies of emerging powerhouses Brazil, Russia, India, and China, as well as the economic climate in Europe, Hughes-Cromwick discussed some of the fundamentals of long-term growth.
In the discussion, Hughes-Cromwick focused primarily on the automobile industry, examining it on both a national and global scale. According to Andrew Davis of Johns Hopkins University who attended the event, the economist pointed out that key European countries have seen trends in the autmobile industry similar to the U.S. Ending on a positive note, Hughes-Cromwick itold her audience that durable goods manufacturing is now rated among the top five job-creating sectors — an unprecedented rating for the industry. Ford is the only one of the Big Three automakers that did not accept the federal bailout that Obama and his backers are now touting as the salvation of the U.S. auto industry.
Hughes-Cromwick tends to present herself as politically neutral as she analyzes economic trends; however the company she represents — Ford Motors — tends to lean slightly to the right, with 65% of its political contributions going to conservative candidates. This year, Ford employees have contributed about $30,000 to Romney and about $22,000 to Obama.