New business group could play role in Ky.'s elections

06/02/2010 07:59 PM

A non-profit organization called the Coalition to Protect Kentucky Jobs launched a website Wednesday night — the first move in what organizers say will be a public effort to weigh in on which Kentucky candidates for U.S. Senate and Congress are on the side of businesses.

The coalition was set up as a 501©6 under IRS code, and while it cannot advocate for particular candidates during an election it can “educate voters about candidates positions” on business issues, said J. Scott Jennings, of Peritus Public Relations who will serve as the coalition’s state director.

“I envision this organization will be very aggressive in educating the public,” Jennings told cn|2 Politics late Wednesday after the website went live. In addition to the site, the group will get its messages out through social media outlets, media interviews and perhaps even commercials, Jennings said.

He said the coalition is sending out a questionnaire this week to each candidate in Kentucky’s six congressional districts and the two U.S. Senate nominees, Republican Rand Paul and Democrat Jack Conway. The survey will be sent via e-mail and U.S. mail with a return deadline of June 15, Jennings said.

The eight-question survey is focused on their positions on the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow for easier formation of unions once a majority of workers at a business sign cards expressing a desire to unionize. Organized labor has argued that the legislation is crucial to help nudge average wages up.

Jennings, a Republican strategist and former special assistant to President George W. Bush, said groups like the coalition have formed in several states to counter that message from “big labor.”

“We’re equally committed to letting voters know why it’s bad and why it would stifle the economic recovery,” Jennings said.

He declined to say which national or state businesses were helping fund the coalition or how much money the group was prepared to spend during this election cycle.

“This organization is funded by and advocated for businesses that have a good working relationship with their workers,” he said. “I’m not going to discuss the budget.”

A press release announcing the formation of the group quoted Janey Moores, president and CEO of BJM and Associates in Lexington, and Billy Parson, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Kentuckiana.

“Private companies and their workforce deserve the right to self determine their operational needs, not by mandates through government interference,” Parson said in the statement.

Increasingly, outside groups have gotten involved in state elections, including in Kentucky. Some have been formed as 527 groups that can target a particular candidate. Others, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and this business organization, can run “educational” ads telling voters which candidates agree with certain issues.

Kentucky isn’t the first state to have a coalition-for-jobs group pop up.

On April 1, the Coalition for Arkansas Jobs unveiled its site April 1 and said it has the backing of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business. That site posted the survey responses of each of the candidates and features a countdown clock on its front page of the site announcing how much time Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bill Halter, and the lieutenant governor, has to return his survey answers. The group  launched a TV ad earlier this week praising Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln for opposing the Employee Free Choice Act. (UPDATED) Here’s that spot:

But here’s another example of the Arkansas coalition’s Web ad that could offer a glimpse into what Kentuckians can expect from the coalition:

The unions, such as the AFL-CIO, also can be expected to play key roles in the elections as they often do. The AFL-CIO, for instance, has branded business opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act as the will of “greedy CEOs and anti-union front groups.”

- Ryan Alessi


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