Business Roundtable, extract from The Powers That Be

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The most recent and atypical organization to join the policy net-work is the Business Roundtable, founded in early 1973 by the chairpersons of several dozen of the largest corporations in the nation. The Business Roundtable is in many ways the lobbying counterpart of the Business Council, with which it has numerous common members. In 1976, 33 of the 45 leaders of the Business Roundtable also were members of the Business Council. While the Business Council prefers to remain in the background and focus on the Executive branch, the Business Roundtable is unique among general policy groups in that it has an activist profile and personally lobbies members of Congress as readily as it meets privately with the President and cabinet leaders. In 1976 Business Week called it "business' most powerful lobby in Washington."[1]

The Roundtable was created through the merger of three ad hoc business committees - the Construction Users Anti-Inflation Roundtable, which was originally organized to fight inflation in the construction industry; the Labor Law Study Committee, which worked for changes in labor laws; and the March Group, which was created to tell "business' story" via the mass media: The new group was formed because it was felt that corporate executives were relying too heavily on specific trade associations to do their lobbying. It was hoped that direct lobbying contact by the chief executives with legislators would have even more impact.[2]

The 150 member companies pay from $10,000 to $35,000 per year in dues, depending on their size. This provided a budget of $2.4 million in 1976. Membership in the organization is open, but it is not solicited. Decisions on where the Roundtable will direct its money and prestige are ultimately determined by a forty-person policy committee which meets every two months to dis-cuss current public issues, create task forces to study selected issues and review position papers prepared by task forces. In developing its positions and strategies, the policy committee relies on task forces. Each is headed by the chief executive of a major company. Task forces avoid problems within a given industry. They concentrate on issues "that have a broad impact on business."[3]

With a staff of only nine people, including clerical help, the Roundtable does not have much capability for developing its own information. However, this presents no problem because task force members "often draw on the research capabilities of their own companies or the companies of other task force members."[4] In addition, the Business Roundtable, like the Business Council, is the beneficiary of the work of other organizations in the policy network, for most of the members of the policy committee are in one or more of these organizations.

So far the Roundtable has played a defensive role in Washington,. stopping legislation rather than passing its own. It helped kill the proposed Consumer Protection Agency during the Ford administration, and then did the same during the Carter administration, even while working very closely with Carter on other issues.[5] The Roundtable also is credited with watering down federal antitrust legislation, including the deletion of an amend-ment which would have given the attorneys general of all fifty states the authority to sue antitrust violators on behalf of the citizens of their states 'and collect money damages.[6] However, it failed in 1974 in its attempt to make it illegal for striking workers to collect food stamps.

It is too soon to tell if the Business Roundtable} will play a permanent role within the poll network The fact that it focuses on Congress and fights against legislation disliked by big business does give it a somewhat special niche within the larger network. On the other hand, organizations that lobby and become embroiled in conflict often outlive their usefulness after a few years. They get a bad name, and new organizations have to be created. Whatever the long-run fate of the Business Roundtable, it Is useful to be reminded that new organizations are possible within a network that has been stable for many years.


  • ^. "Business' Most Powerful Lobby in Washington," Business Week, December 20, 1976, p. 63.
  • ^. "Business Roundtable: Big Corporation Bastion," Congressional Quar-terly, November 23, 1974; Peter Slavin, "The Business Roundtable: New Lobbying Arm of Big Business," Business and Society Review, Winter, 1975/1976.
  • ^. Business Week, op. cit., p. 63.
  • ^. ibid.
  • ^. "Carter's Campaign to Placate Business," Business Week, November 29,1976, P. 23.
  • ^. Eileen Shanahan, "Antitrust Bill Stopped by a Business Lobby," the New York Times, November 16, 1975, p. 1.