The SBA Office of Advocacy . . . Taxpayer Funded Lobbyist for Berkshire Hathaway?

by James Goodwin

July 22, 2015

When it commenced on June 1, OIRA’s review of the EPA’s draft final rule to limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants launched a flurry of lobbying activity among a veritable who’s who of America’s largest fossil fuel polluters.   In just over six weeks, the White House’s antiregulatory shop has presided over no less than 21 Executive Order 12866 meetings, the majority of which involved high-priced corporate lobbyists seeking to dilute, delay, or block the rule outright.

The log for a July 1 meeting requested by Berkshire Hathaway Energy contains an interesting tidbit:  Among the attendees was a representative of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy.  Nominally, of course, the mission of the SBA Office of Advocacy is to ensure that the concerns of America’s small businesses are adequately represented in the federal rulemaking process.  So, it’s a little perplexing that a member of the SBA Office of Advocacy staff would be seated alongside the President and CEO of one of the largest and wealthiest energy concerns in the United States and two of its vice presidents.  Berkshire Hathaway Energy is of course a component of Berkshire Hathaway, the Chairman and CEO of which is Warren Buffet who himself is currently listed as the third wealthiest person on earth.

CPR has long raised concerns that the SBA Office of Advocacy works on behalf of large corporate interests to weaken regulations, rather than fulfilling its congressional mandate of addressing the unique concerns of real small businesses.  In a damning report released last July, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) seemed to confirm these concerns.  Among other things, the GAO report could find no evidence that the SBA Office of Advocacy’s decision to intervene in individual rulemakings was ever prompted by actual small business complaints.  Instead, CPR and others have found copious evidence of the SBA Office of Advocacy often works with large corporate interests, such as the American Chemistry Council (ACC), to block regulations that they find inconvenient to their bottom line.

To be sure, the SBA Office of Advocacy may have had a legitimate reason to attend the Berkshire Hathaway Energy meeting—one that is directly relevant to its statutory mission of serving real small businesses.  Indeed, representatives of the office have attended a few meetings related to the EPA’s power plant rule that were requested by a variety of different groups.   Given the SBA Office of Advocacy’s history of working with large corporate interests, however, its involvement in the meeting did not look great.  More to the point, given its poor track record of actually fulfilling its statutory mission, the SBA Office of Advocacy should probably not be wasting its scarce resources on attending meetings that have such marginal relevance to the concerns of real small businesses.

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James Goodwin, J.D., M.P.P., is a Senior Policy Analyst with the Center for Progressive Reform. He joined CPR in May of 2008.

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