New Business Group to Back Obama Agenda

Democratic operatives are working feverishly to persuade companies and trade associations to join a new group, Business Forward, that is trying to mobilize corporate leaders who supported President Barack Obama during the presidential election.

The organization is being billed as the progressives’ answer to the National Federation of Independent Business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Expected to publicly launch as early as this week, Business Forward’s main goal is to gin up support among companies and their CEOs to push White House initiatives, according to lobbyists who have been approached about asking clients to join the organization.

Jim Doyle, a Democratic consultant who worked for Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, is serving as executive director of Business Forward.

Brunswick Group’s David Sutphen and Erik Smith, a former Obama paid media adviser, are also members of the board.

Sutphen and his Brunswick Group colleague Hilary Rosen have been pitching lobbyists for companies and trade associations over the past month on the idea.

Their message: Business leaders need to promote Obama’s agenda in areas such as health care, education and competitiveness.

Organizers are waiting to secure a core contingency of members and funding before publicly rolling out the initiative, according to a source familiar with the group, who did not want to be identified because the organization has not yet officially launched.

Rosen and Sutphen did not return calls or an e-mail. Doyle declined to comment.

Business Forward founders have targeted the tech community in particular, contacting companies like IBM, Google and Microsoft, and building on their existing relationship with the Obama campaign, the source said.

The group, which will solicit membership beyond the Beltway, is expected to incorporate paid media buys as part of its strategy.

While groups such as the chamber and the National Association of Manufacturers had cozied up to the Obama administration on legislative issues like the stimulus earlier this year, the president’s budget proposal has already caused a large contingency in the business community to start mobilizing to try to kill the legislation.

Dirk Van Dongen, head of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors is skeptical that the new group will get traction, especially on the budget. Van Dongen has been leading the charge against Obama’s budget as part of the Tax Relief Coalition, an alliance of more than 1,000 associations.

“I wish them all them all the luck in the world, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be selling what they’re trying to sell,— Van Dongen said.

“The Obama budget stands on its own merits, and business organizations, if they study the budget, will reach conclusions about it, as has the membership of the Tax Relief Coalition, which represents a very broad swath of American businesses,— he added.

Business Forward won’t only focus on the budget.

“They have a much bigger vision built around competitiveness and the long-term interest of both the United States government and the United States economy in making sure U.S. companies will be able to compete globally in the future,— a source said.

Still, not everybody is on board.

Some Democratic lobbyists say they are skeptical of Business Forward given the Obama administration’s anti-lobbyist rhetoric.

“I find the idea a tad bit ironic given the administration has gone out of their way to trash lobbyists and lobbying,— one Democratic lobbyist said.

While the Obama administration has taken a hard line against lobbyists, it has brought in companies and CEOs to help push initiatives like the stimulus package before.

None of the board members are currently lobbyists.

Sutphen, whose sister Mona Sutphen is deputy chief of staff to Obama, was a registered lobbyist at Viacom before joining Brunswick in January.

Rosen, who served as head of the Recording Industry Association of America, has not been a registered lobbyist since 2007.

Supporters say Business Forward will create a forum for companies to promote Democratic initiatives on health care, education and competitiveness.

“There has been a void for business organizations that want to play the Democratic field,— a Democratic lobbyist said.