Established in 2009 and closely allied with the Democratic Party, Business Forward (BF) seeks to “mak[e] it easier for entrepreneurs, investors, small business owners, and senior executives from across America to get involved in the policy-making process.” Specifically, BF sets up meetings where business leaders and government officials can brief and advise one another on such matters as clean energy, cyber security, immigration reform, and economic policy. Since its inception, BF has organized hundreds of such briefings in dozens of cities across at least 38 states.
A variation on these briefings are the many business-leader fly-ins to the White House that BF organizes, where corporate executives can meet face-to-face with high-level political figures. In 2012 alone, BF arranged for nearly 1,700 executives from more than 1,400 companies and organizations nationwide to travel to the White House to consult with President Barack Obama‘s economic advisors on topics related to their respective industries. During these proceedings, the business leaders were instructed in the art of putting campaign spin on the matters being discussed, so as to cast the Obama Administration and the Democratic Party in a positive light. In addition to the executives, more than 250 Administration officials, Members of Congress, state governors, and city mayors participated in these BF events.
Also in 2012, BF boasted that it had “played a critical role in helping local business leaders engage in a number of Administration business efforts,” including the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s “Green Gov” initiative (which aims to reduce the “greenhouse gas pollution” that allegedly causes global warming); the White House and Small Business Administration’s “Startup America” project (which commits SBA funding for newly formed companies “located in underserved communities”); and First Lady’s Michelle Obama‘s “Let’s Move” campaign (which seeks to reduce the incidence of childhood obesity).
BF’s activities—i.e., setting up an average of three meetings per week between top White House officials and business leaders—are clearly contrary to the spirit of President Obama’s 2009 pledge that he would place strict limits on lobbying and special-interest influence peddling. But BF and the Obama Administration alike justify their inattention to that pledge by labeling their meetings as “dialogues” rather than lobbying sessions in the traditional sense.
According a December 2012 news report in the Washington Free Beacon, BF “received extraordinary access to the White House during the fiscal cliff negotiations” that were ongoing at that time. To help the Administration devise a strategy for selling its position on the “fiscal cliff” to the American public, BF-affiliated corporate executives met seven times with White House officials—including senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, and Office of Management and Budget director Jeffrey Zients—in late 2012. As BF executive director Bert Kaufman explained, “The idea was to invite these [executives] back in town [Washington] and get a sense of what’s at stake with the fiscal cliff. They [then] go back home and talk to their colleagues, their clients and their networks. They write op-eds, talk to reporters and talk about the need” to follow the President’s approach.
In accord with this plan, a number of key individuals associated with BF member corporations published op-eds promoting the Obama plan in their local newspapers. For example, Ron Nelsen, owner of the Nevada-based Pioneer Overhead Door company, wrote in the Las Vegas Sun: “As a small business owner, I could not agree more with the president’s approach.… The millionaires and billionaires in our country could easily afford to pay taxes on their additional income over $250,000 at the same rate as they did in the 1990s.” Similarly, business leader Angela Claypoole wrote in the Virginian-Pilot: “[R]aising taxes is a necessary step for our economic future.”
BF membership currently includes more than 40 of the largest companies from America’s software, telecommunications, media, hospitality, financial services, manufacturing, apparel, defense, and pharmaceutical industries. Members include such giants as Aetna, American Airlines, AllScripts, AT&T, CIT, Citi, Comcast, Dow, Duke Energy, Facebook, Fidelity, Ford, Hilton Hotels, Hewlett-Packard, Intuit, Lockheed Martin, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Nike, Qualcomm, Time Warner, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, Visa, United Health Group, and Walmart. Each of these corporations pays an annual membership fee of $50,000 to BF.
BF’s founder and president, Jim Doyle, is a Harvard Law School graduate who has spent many years advising corporations, financial-service firms, venture capitalists, and non-profits on a range of policy, regulatory and communications issues. He served on the communications team of Bill Clinton and Al Gore‘s 1996 presidential campaign, and was the senior policy advisor and deputy chief of staff to Clinton Administration Commerce Secretary William Daley. Doyle later became a senior vice president at the Democratic consulting firm Penn Schoen Berland. His wife, Patti Solis Doyle, served briefly as campaign manager for Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid, and then was hired by the Obama campaign as chief of staff to vice presidential candidate Joe Biden.
On February 5, 2013, BF announced two new hires: Diana Doukas and Greg Schultz, both of whom had previously worked for Barack Obama’s political campaigns.
For additional information on BF, click here.
 The term “fiscal cliff” referred to a set of Bush-era tax cuts whose scheduled expiration on December 31, 2012 would cause the marginal tax rates in every income bracket to increase. President Obama demanded that for the sake of “fairness,” tax rates should rise only for high earners. But if Republicans refused to accept such an arrangement, Obama said, he would permit the rates to rise for all income brackets, as follows: from 35% to 39.6% in the highest income bracket; from 33% to 36% in the second-highest bracket; from 28% to 31% in the middle bracket; from 15% to 28% in the second-lowest bracket; and from 10% to 15% in the lowest bracket.