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Business Against Dark Money

Portland, Maine — Small business owners in the Maine Small Business Coalition launched the“Business Against Dark Money” campaign in Maine today, sending a letter to Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maine calling on Anthem and its parent company, WellPoint, to fully disclose their “dark money” spending – dues and contributions paid to trade associations and other third parties that can then be used for political purposes, often to advance big business interests at the expense of small businesses, without disclosure of the original source.

“Small business owners deserve to know how our health insurance premium dollars are being spent,” said Melanie Collins, owner of Melanie’s Home Childcare in Falmouth and steering committee member of the Maine Small Business Coalition.  “Businesses spend buckets of money on premiums every year. We deserve to know if our money is being used to water down the rules that are supposed to hold insurers accountable. It’s maddening to pay these skyrocketing premiums, knowing that part of the money is used to lobby against my best interests. It’s like buying a shovel so someone can hit you over the head with it.”

As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other trade groups prepare to file their latest IRS 990 forms (which include line item listings of major donations, but without sources) on November 15, small business groups affiliated with the national Main Street Alliance network in 10 states (including Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington in addition to Maine) are submitting letters to major health insurers and banks urging them to disclose all third party spending before next week’s 990 deadline.

Nationally, Main Street Alliance small business leaders sent letters urging disclosure to the country’s biggest banks, health insurers, energy companies, and their trade associations. The companies and trade groups include: Bank of AmericaCitigroupJP Morgan Chase,Goldman SachsWells FargoWellPointUnitedHealth GroupHumanaAetnaCIGNABP,ExxonMobil, the American Bankers AssociationAmerica’s Health Insurance Plans, and theAmerican Petroleum Institute (copies available online).

The letters to companies and trade groups read, in part: “At the national level, we are seeing efforts to turn back the clock on new rules of the road… advanced on the pretext of helping small businesses. In reality, these rollbacks would shift risk and shift costs from big corporate interests onto the shoulders of small businesses like ours. Small businesses and the general public should have access to complete information about the funding behind these efforts.”

A Bloomberg News analysis of the U.S. Chamber’s 990 filing last November uncovered that America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the insurance industry’s leading trade group, contributed $86 million to the U.S. Chamber in 2009 while the Chamber was mounting a campaign against health care reform in the name of small business.

“Pushing to roll back health care reform, financial reform, and environmental rules in the name of small businesses is basically identity theft. It’s stealing our good name to advance a special interest agenda,” said John Costin, owner of Veneer Services Unlimited in Kennebunk and steering committee member of the Maine Small Business Coalition. “And it’s only gotten easier to do that since the Citizens United decision opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending in elections. We’re blowing the whistle on this. We’re demanding that the big companies we do business with – like Anthem – and their trade groups come clean about whether they’re putting dark money behind these efforts, and if so how much.”

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