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

The message is simple: Raye won the federation’s endorsement and a 100 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 would be a champion for small businesses at a time of economic uncertainty.

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 nationwide.

Whether the federation deserves negative attention is open to debate, said several political science professors.

Mark Brewer, associate professor of political science at the University of Maine, said the group is registered as nonpartisan but overwhelmingly supports Republican candidates.

“There are plenty of right-leaning organizations that identify themselves as nonpartisan,” 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 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 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 levels, 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 group’s official position.

“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.”

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

Mozloom acknowledged the contribution on Friday, 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,” 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 because it gives a challenger legitimacy; however, endorsements rarely determine the outcome of races in Maine.

 

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Ben McCanna can be reached at 861-9239 or at:

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