In the 10 days since Kevin Raye received an endorsement from the National Federation of Independent Business, the Republican challenger for the 2nd Congressional District has taken his message on the road.

The message is simple: Raye received the federation’s endorsement and a 97 percent rating on its most recent scoring card, while Democratic incumbent Mike Michaud received a zero percent rating from the group. Raye says it’s a key illustration of how he’d be a champion for small businesses at a time of economic uncertainty, while Michaud has not.

In response, Michaud’s camp has questioned the reputation of the federation, saying it’s a partisan group that’s funded partly by Republican strategist Karl Rove.

The Tennessee-based small business group, founded in 1943, strives to “promote and protect the right of our members to own, operate and grow their businesses,” according to its website. It has about 350,000 members throughout the country.

Whether the federation deserves negative attention is up for debate, according to several political science professors.

Mark Brewer, associate professor of political science at the University of Maine, said he couldn’t say definitively whether Michaud’s claim of partisanship is correct. The group is registered as nonpartisan, but it overwhelmingly supports Republican candidates, Brewer said.

“There are plenty of right-leaning organizations that identify themselves as nonpartisan, like the (National Rifle Association),” Brewer said. “There are also plenty of left-leaning organizations that identify themselves as nonpartisan.”

Anthony Corrado, professor of government at Colby College in Waterville, said the organization is well-established and well-respected in Washington, D.C. He said the group supports some Democrats, but it’s generally a small percentage.

During the 2010 campaign season, the organization endorsed 328 candidates in gubernatorial, Senate and congressional races — 97 percent of whom were Republican, including now-Gov. Paul LePage and Michaud’s previous challenger, Jason Levesque. A full listing of 2012 federation-endorsed candidates isn’t available yet, according to a group spokesman.

Corrado said the federation will support Democrats “who are aligned with them on their issues,” but that’s rare.

“If you tend to be a strong Democrat, you tend to fare poorly on their ratings,” he said.

Jack Mozloom, a New Jersey-based spokesman for the federation, said he’s accustomed to criticisms like Michaud’s.

“We get it all the time, but it’s terribly unfair and it’s just not true,” he said.

The endorsement process begins with federation staff members who monitor upcoming legislation at the state and federal level, Mozloom said. The staffers identify about 10 key issues every year and present them to the federation’s members in the form of a ballot. The members vote each piece of legislation up or down and the majority outcome becomes the official position of NFIB.

“Then we the track the legislation and track the votes of every member of congress and all the state legislators,” Mozloom said. “According to our rules, legislators who vote consistently with our position 70 percent of the time or more are eligible to be endorsed by us.”

During the 112th Congress, for instance, the federation tracked how representatives voted on 13 of their members’ key issues — including a proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act, decreased regulation for Gulf of Mexico drilling permits, a proposed balanced budget amendment and more.

On Thursday, Michaud questioned the organization’s nonpartisan status, saying a political action committee with ties to Karl Rove contributed $3.7 million to the federation.

Mozloom on Friday acknowledged the contribution, but said it had no bearing on the endorsement process.

“Regardless of who gives us money, for what reason, our rules don’t change. We have a strictly objective system for determining who we endorse. It has nothing to do with who is or who isn’t giving us money. It’s a false point as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Mozloom said an endorsement from the federation is no different from those from labor groups.

“If (Michaud) gets endorsed by the unions — who, I’m sure, receive most of their money from Democrats — you won’t get a call from me claiming that those are partisan groups. They do what’s in their interest; we do what’s in the interest of our members,” he said.

Corrado said it’s understandable that Raye would tout the endorsement — especially early in a campaign — because it gives a challenger legitimacy; however, they rarely determine the outcome of races in Maine.

Instead, Maine voters tend to vote on what they see — often with their own eyes.

“Here in Maine, there are a lot of voters who will have a chance to meet Congressman Michaud or Kevin Raye,” Corrado said.


Ben McCanna — 861-9239

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.