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Upstart small business lobby flexes muscle, captures influence as others abandon conservatives

Recently released government emails show Job Creators Network had direct access to Treasury Secretary during pandemic crisis for small business.

Updated: October 11, 2021 - 11:19pm

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A blue bus with the words "Enough is Enough" rolled into Fort Myers, Fla., with much fanfare on Monday, greeted by small business supporters and the local congressman.

It was the latest in a high-profile tour railing against the Biden administration's economic policies, one that has captured the fancy of talk radio, Fox News and many business entrepreneurs as worries grow that a perfect economic storm may be forming from the combined forces of inflation, tax increases, large federal spending and regulatory overreach.

Two weeks earlier, a lawsuit was announced on behalf of small businesses challenging the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandate, rousing cheers from the mom and pop shops on Main Street America.

And last spring, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred was greeted with a billboard outside his headquarters that declared the professional baseball league was "all strikes, no balls" for moving its All-Star game from Atlanta to Denver and costing black businesses in Georgia as much as $100 million.

The three disparate events that captured headlines had one thing in common: the Job Creators Network (JCN). It's an upstart small business lobby run by a TV-savvy Hispanic-American conservative named Alfredo Ortiz and business executive Elaine Parker and funded into existence by some of America's iconic business titans, like Home Depot cofounder Bernie Marcus, who started as small business owners and grew their companies into iconic brands.

JCN was hardly a household name five years ago when it first seized the spotlight, championing then-President Trump's tax cut legislation, which in late 2017 became the administration's first major policy achievement. Ortiz was rewarded for his stewardship with a front-row seat for the bill signing.

Since then, JCN has grown in profile and stature as a major player on the Washington policy scene. From catchy "Hell No!" billboards that skewer anti-business policies to lawsuits like the one it filed against MLB on behalf of black business owners hurt by the All-Star game move, JCN has seized center stage in the free-market conservative space.

Government emails released earlier this year detail the growing influence JCN had during the pandemic, showing Oritz in direct contact with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and other top Trump administration officials during the pandemic as Washington devised the PPP loan program to rescue small businesses.

The idea Ortiz fashioned -- that PPP loans be be sped up by routing them through private banks rather than the bureaucracy of the U.S. Small Business Administration -- was ultimately embraced and enacted.

"Here is an idea we had we wanted to share with you," Ortiz wrote to Mnuchin during the early chaotic days of the COVID crisis. "The small business loan idea is being finalized and I will send to you later this morning." The Treasury chief then sent it to Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and a key architect of the administration's policies. 

JCN's meteoric rise since 2017 has come as some of the longtime mainstream free-market business groups have seen their influence on the right diminish. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has increasingly found itself on the opposite side of Republicans on key issues, driving a wedge between the longtime allies that culminated in recent reports that House GOP leaders dropped the U.S. Chamber from the party's strategy calls on the Democrats' $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.

Meanwhile, the longtime voice of small business, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) has struggled in recent years with declining membership and a significant shortfall in its pension funding.

"For small business, JCN has become an increasingly essential voice and it is beginning to supplant some of the groups that free market capitalists had relied on for decades who quite frankly aren't viewed as that reliable by conservatives any more," said one small business executive who has worked with JCN and NFIB, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk to the news media. "It recently dawned on me that we are in the midst of a changing of the guard, and JCN is wearing the armor and fighting our battles the way NFIB used to."

JCN has relished jumping into the void. Ortiz and Parker are regulars on Fox News and other conservative outlets, and small business executives join them on rallies, bus tours and op-eds. The group also has a flair for headline-grabbing billboards and commercials, conveying to the market it is relentless in defense of free-market policies in an era when other groups have been more reserved in the face of cancel culture.

"Main Street America is in a life-and-death struggle for survival, and we have to be fearless and we are," Ortiz told Just the News in a recent interview. "The Biden administration's policies have already created a historic labor shortage, inflation and supply chain shortages that are choking small business. We can't afford mandates, more reckless spending and job-killing taxes."