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Business Federation Has its Detractors

The Los Angeles County Business Federation is attempting to accomplish what arguably no such collective has done before: bring area business groups together to obtain political clout. The federation’s formation was announced at a Jan. 29 press conference at the Los Angeles Hall of Administration. It includes 44 organizations representing more than 70,000 businesses. Valley resident David Fleming, outgoing chairman of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, is serving as chair, while Tracy Rafter, former Daily News publisher, is serving as chief executive. “It’s truly a grassroots alliance. This is not run by any single organization,” Rafter said. “It’s not just an offshoot of one organization. This effort’s been more equipped and broad-based.” By mobilizing trade groups, chambers of commerce, businesses and business organizations, the federation hopes to exert influence on policy makers in the same way that labor organizations have. “I think anybody that’s familiar with the inner workings of government in Sacramento and Los Angeles knows that labor has done a fantastic job in getting their message across and their ability to get what they want in most instances,” Fleming said. “Business on the other hand has been AWOL for a long time.” The reason? Business hasn’t been organized, Fleming feels. “Businesses by their very nature tend to be more insular. They’re concerned about making payroll next week. They’re fighting to stay alive, and so, consequently, the political considerations are not the first order of business for them,” he said. While Fleming is concerned about the political sway labor organizations have in the state, he said his federation will not function as an opponent to labor. “Considering the fact that our goals are to expand jobs and bring in new business opportunities and more wealth, we have more in common with labor than we have in opposition,” he said. “I see us working hand-in-hand with labor to solve a lot of problems.” Online Tools The federation’s Web site, bizfed.org, will play a key role in mobilizing members of the business community, as it will give businesspeople access to the contact information of legislators, allowing them to air their concerns and have them swiftly addressed, Fleming and Rafter said. “What we have done is to provide them through the Internet the opportunity to become involved in the political process and to play a role,” Fleming said. The Web site has maps of Los Angeles County, including those of congressional districts, state senate districts, the state assembly, the Board of Supervisors, the Los Angeles City Council and more. “We will have the opportunity to allow those 70-plus thousand businesses through this Web site to contact their elected representatives at all levels of government,” Rafter said. “And we’re going to encourage them to do that. This is what’s been missing.” The Web site will also feature action alerts in which members receive information about pertinent issues and the contact information of the policymakers best fit to address the issues at hand. All the member organizations will be able to use an online calendar of special events. There will also be information posted about the organizations in the federation. Rafter said that a company she owns will be responsible for aggregating the information for the Web site, so, in essence, bizfed.org will be her enterprise. Business Group Leaders Weigh In While Rafter and Fleming have high hopes about the federation, not everyone in the business community shares their enthusiasm. The Valley Industry & Commerce Association is a member, but President Brendan Huffman has reservations about how much the group will be able to accomplish. “There have been several attempts to organize the business community in this decade alone,” Huffman said. He did add, however, that “the Business Federation is far and away more organized and better funded.” Still, Huffman isn’t sure how effective the federation will be in gaining more political clout. “I think until more candidates get elected that are friendlier to business, it will be very hard to change the mind of a sitting lawmaker.” Huffman said that, while VICA needs all the help it get can get in advocating for business, he’s uncertain as to how the federation will get the dozens of business groups in Los Angeles County on the same page. “The federation hasn’t identified the issues they’re going to address,” he said. “All the federation has done is set up a governing body to get a domain name.” Huffman also bristles over the comparisons Fleming has made between business and labor. He’s not sure the two should be juxtaposed. “Labor operates differently,” Huffman said. “Are we going to expect that business will behave as labor does? Are we going to go out and walk precincts? Are we going to have rallies? Are we going to give money to pro-business candidates the way labor does for their candidates?” Carol Schatz, president and CEO of the Central City Association, a business membership organization representing more than 450 county businesses, trade associations and nonprofits, has decided not to participate in the group. She prepared a statement as to why. “We commend their efforts to raise the voice of the business community. We don’t, however, buy into the notion that the business community lacks a voice,” she said. “Our views and concerns are communicated and heard by decision makers at every level of government.” Schatz cited the business world’s previous success in building coalitions to address a wide range of issues. “We believe that targeted responses to specific issues are the most effective way for the business community to have an influence and, hopefully, success on an issue,” she said.

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