In any political election—especially major ones, such as the upcoming midterm elections in the United States—it’s important to know where the money to fund various campaigns is coming from. As citizens, we should also understand how that flow of money (both in and out) affects the business community.
In any political election—especially major ones, such as the upcoming midterm elections in the United States—it’s important to know where the money to fund various campaigns is coming from. As citizens, we should also understand how that flow of money (both in and out) affects the business community.
John McCrea is the National Business Network Manager of American Promise. This organization advocates the 28th Amendment of the Constitution to protect elections from foreign money and special interests, and pursues freedom for all Americans.
As a former small business owner, John felt the need to help his fellow entrepreneurs by working with American Promise. He is leveraging his 30+ years of experience working in IT services for small to midsize business owners to help the country to move forward and create a level playing field where all businesses, regardless of size, thrive and bring value to their market.
In this episode, John talks us through the conditions we have right now with unrestrained money in political spending, the ongoing issues in the political system, and its impact on the business community. John also shares some updates on the various actions that American Promise takes to cultivate a better future for Americans.
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John McCrea 0:00
When new legislators come here who are actually existing, they're spending almost half of their day, from day one, raising money for their next election. Sometimes more than half a day, you know. I've heard as much as somewhere between a third to two thirds of their time spent raising money for their next election, and they just started. That's what the parties are forcing them to think of. So if they're spending time, that kind of time, raising money, do they really have time to listen to you and me and other, you know, small business owners about problems that are important to us, whether it's immigration, health care, climate, whatever it may be? The system is simply just set up wrong, where they're spending too much time raising money, and not legislating.
Cory Ames 0:47
Hey, y'all, it's Cory here with the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast. As always, so grateful to have you listening in. Today, we're talking about how the business community can help to get money out of politics. And to do so I'm joined once again by another guest from the organization, American Promise, John McCrea. John is the National Business Network Manager for American Promise, and he's bringing a 30 plus year career in IT services, both as a business operator and owner to give back to the business community and help move our country forward, creating a level playing field where businesses flourish on the value that they bring to the market.
John and I talk about this business climate and its overlaps with this issue that we have with unrestrained money in political spending. And how this affects the business community of all shapes and sizes, small, midsize businesses and large corporations, too. Extremely important conversation for us. We're approaching a midterm year here in the United States with important elections happening this fall, primaries happening now, at least at the time of this recording, all affected by what we're chatting about here today. So a really interesting conversation. I enjoyed it myself, I'm sure you will, too.
But before we dive in, I want to invite you to sign up for our Better World Weekly newsletter. Newsletter that I write, publish myself, send out every single Monday to our community of changemakers and innovators from all over the globe. Go to growensemble.com backslash newsletter to get the next one in your inbox. That's growensemble.com backslash newsletter. And right now we have over 6100 changemakers getting that email in their inbox every single Monday. Alright, y'all without further ado, here's John McCrea from American Promise.
John McCrea 3:02
Cory, thanks for having me on today. Took a while to get this scheduled, but glad we're finally doing it. I am the National Business Manager at American Promise. Our mission is basically to get big money out of politics. That's the short version, advocates of the 28th amendment. I have been at American Promise for one year. Prior to that I was a small and midsize business owner and operator all in the Washington DC area in the IT services business. So what I tried to bring to American Promise is my background in especially small and midsize businesses and how political spending adversely affects them, and what hopefully we can do about it through American Promise.
Cory Ames 3:55
Excellent. Well, and there'll be a lot there that we'll get into here shortly, I guess. I'm interested to see what particularly about the mission of American Promise, the problem that y'all are solving, spoke to you personally, given your experience? We had the pleasure of hosting Jeff Clements, another member of your organization, I think, maybe a year ago or so at this point. And he had a different origin story into the work, but I'd love to hear what got you connected to maybe Jeff, American Promise and why did this speak to you as something is so important to do?
John McCrea 4:28
Yeah, as a small and midsize business owner for 30 years - it's hard to say that number. What I was struck by over the years is, for one thing, escalating healthcare costs for small businesses and really, you know how that put a lot of businesses in a very difficult place. And what I think might resonate with your viewers is, as a small business person, you don't you don't have a lot of time to dig into medical plans and-- but it's very important, right? I mean, you want to keep your employees happy.
So, what I was struck by was the importance of small and mid sized businesses to this country in terms of the number of people they employ, but what I felt was the lack of their voices being heard in politics. And Jeff Clements was gracious enough to hire me, and Dr. Jessica Hare, who was my first boss at American Promise, to hire me with really zero political experience. So I was one of the most senior members, you know, but the least experience in and what American Promise was doing. So I've been very fortunate that Jeff and others at American Promise allowed me with basically a pure business background, to be repurposed and getting involved in policy and in politics. I've been very grateful to be here.
Cory Ames 6:02
How do you think that's affected your lens and your perspective on getting so nitty gritty on this issue? And in some ways, being a liaison, or I guess, advocate specifically, for that small business community? What's unique for you versus maybe other members of the American Promise organization?
John McCrea 6:22
Yeah, so if I can just take a step back, if you'll allow me to, for a couple of minutes here. One of the things as a small business owner in the 90s, starting out, healthcare costs were maybe, 10%, over fair labor, something like that. And it was it was manageable. People were generally happy with their medical plan and what they were paying, right, because they pay a piece, I pay a piece as the owner. But over time, what happened was the cost just, you know, escalated out of control. And what was even worse than that, you know, as a small business owner, you have to pick where you're going to spend money wisely, right, because sometimes your own profit margin isn't that high. But what happened was, we were spending more and more money. And people were getting less and less happy. It was just like, the worst of all worlds.
And I remember, one new employee went through all the interview cycles with us, and we were excited to bring her on board. And, of course, we had pre negotiated salary, but when it came to benefits, she was like, "Well, I'm on this prescription drug, what does that cost into your plan? And my husband's on this and my kids are on those particular drugs." It just got out of hand in terms of administration and trying to try to keep people happy. It was kind of the worst of all worlds. So, you know, to answer your question more directly, thanks for the divergence here, I knew that the pharmaceutical and healthcare lobbyists spent, I don't know, north of $300 million a year, and I just kind of had a gut feeling that the playing field wasn't level.
And small businesses were paying the price for it, especially in terms of what I think to be probably the most pressing issue for small businesses, which is, you know, their health care. Not only their costs, but just you know, if their people are happy with it, right? You don't want your employees to be unhappy. That's kind of what brought me to American Promise, is just a gut feeling. I don't know, maybe it was because I was raised Catholic, and, you know, good and evil, that kind of thing. But to me, money in politics is just evil, and works against everybody.
Cory Ames 8:43
And so if you can, I mean, we're doing it a bit here, but a little more, I think, might not hurt us. John, if you could set the stage a little bit for us more as to what is the extent of this issue that money in politics, from this perspective, uniquely, of the small and mid sized business community? Like, what you mentioned, healthcare here, is a really prevailing point. But why is that the way that it is? Why is it such a uniquely difficult circumstance? And how does that relate to the the unrestrained money in politics?
John McCrea 9:15
For example, in the 2020 election, 90% of all campaign spending came from just, you know, 300 wealthy donors, right? So I think our population now is, what, 330 million people something like that? So, obviously, with that kind of spending by the 300 wealthiest donors dictating 90% of campaign spending, are those people that they're backing, you know, reflecting We the People, instead of the billionaires who are out there - whether they're Republican or democratic, we're not pointing fingers at either party, necessarily. They seem to leapfrog each other in every election. Of course, the price of elections in terms of political spending doubles pretty much every election cycle. It was $14,000,000 in 2020, more than double 2016. The parties basically leapfrog each other in terms of who spends more. So it's kind of a nuclear arms race on spending, and we just feel very strongly as to the detriment of We the People, and my specific role, the business owners.
Cory Ames 10:31
And so, when you're out speaking to this particular community, the business owners, do you feel like it's a very problem-aware community? I mean, perhaps, very keenly attentive to, for example, the health care costs for one. Do you feel like the connection is already made before you're in discussion with - like, that is affected by this adverse effect of an astronomical amount of money in politics? Or is it something that you feel like there is a bit of greater education that you do in these these conversations?
John McCrea 11:01
Yeah, I think if I can just take a step back on that as well. For small and mid size business owners - and like I said, I've been there for over 30 years - there's just not a lot of time in your day, right. So you're spending four days a week servicing your existing clients, half a day a week on administrative, payroll, insurance, half a day on, hopefully, new business, right? I mean, you really should be spending probably two days a week on new business. So what happens is, you know, they don't have a lot of time to get involved, a lot of these folks, but they realize there's the problem. They know it in their gut.
In fact, according to the Committee on Economic Development, 89% of business leaders want to put limits on individuals, corporations, and labor unions. So to answer your question directly, sorry, for the divergence, it is about education in some ways. But I think, in general, they're aware of the problem. And my job is to kind of connect them with action, and action that not necessarily requires a lot of time, because they don't have a lot of time. So it is an education process, but more than that, as it's trying to fit into their busy schedules and figuring out a way that they can get involved. Many of them with not a lot of time, because that's the problem they have they run out of time.
Cory Ames 12:32
And so, greater beyond, perhaps, just the profit and loss statement, are there other kind of wider spread business, climate, and environment issues that are caused by this culture that we have with the involvement of money in politics? Like, are there other ways perhaps more indirectly, or systemically, that small and midsize business owners are being affected?
John McCrea 12:59
Yes. Probably, for me, I mean, I was in the high tech IT services area. So immigration, right? I think some of the lower skilled industries, you know, hospitality, landscaping companies, whatever, and some of the very skilled labor markets like IT technology, engineering - immigration is another problem that's been sitting out there for, you know, 25 years, and nothing's really been done. And again, we're not blaming necessarily the Democrats or the Republicans, just kind of the way the political game is being played right now.
I don't know if that can be tied directly as much as healthcare to political spending. But what I can say is when legislators get to Washington, DC, and that's where I'm talking to you from today, outside of Washington, DC, so kind of know the environment here, what happens to people. When new legislators come here who are actually existing, they're spending almost half of their day, from day one, raising money for their next election. Sometimes more than half a day, you know. I've heard as much as somewhere between a third to two thirds of their time spent raising money for their next election, and they just started. That's what the parties are forcing them to think of.
So if they're spending time, that kind of time, raising money, do they really have time to listen to you and me and other, you know, small business owners about problems that are important to us, whether it's immigration, health care, climate, whatever it may be? The system is simply just set up wrong, where they're spending too much time raising money, and not legislating. So that's, again, where money in politics is causing a problem for everyone, not just business owners.
Cory Ames 14:58
We touched on this a bit in our conversation with Jeff a while back, but perhaps is a reason to, or an opportunity to to remind folks - why is the the political spending climate as it is right now? And you mentioned, likewise, American Promise's advocacy for an additional constitutional amendment. Why are we here? And why, you know, it has this created this circumstance for small and mid sized businesses that it has?
John McCrea 15:29
Yeah, why are we here. So, the court ruling Citizens United 2010, which is we're advocating for a constitutional amendment, which would give the states the power to regulate money in their own elections, right. So there was 100 years of jurisprudence before 2010 Citizens United, where in a bipartisan manner, Republicans, Democrats, basically agreed that there should be limits on political spending. And it was kind of well understood in the corporate world as well, that this was a benefit. But a Supreme Court ruling overturned that, about 100 years of US history, and it opened up a floodgate of money in politics.
And what we're advocating for, Cory, the constitutional amendment-- I mean, this has been done 27 times before, right? So this isn't anything radical, anything untried, anything untrue. It's been done 27 times before, including the overturning of Supreme Court decisions, I believe, at least six or eight, including woman's suffrage, right? It's hard to believe that at a point in time, women couldn't vote, poll taxes, that kind of thing. All the civil right issues, many of them anyway, were overturned with constitutional amendments. So this isn't radical. This isn't something untested, untrue. It's been done before, usually, in times of great adversity for the country, which we are in now, I believe. Yeah, that's kind of a history of it, where we've been and where we want to go.
Cory Ames 17:10
And so, you touched very briefly on the actions that you're offering up the business community that perhaps are effective, but don't necessarily require a lot of time, as they're typically short on that. What are some of those actions that you hope to enlist the small midsize business community in?
John McCrea 17:30
Yeah, if they go to our website, which is AmericanPromise.net ,and then from there, "take action", it's a menu pick, they can join the business network. If they also could please follow us on LinkedIn, that's probably the quickest first step, probably 15 seconds, most of these people are already on LinkedIn. Just follow American Promise on LinkedIn, we won't inundate you, we post, at most once a week. But if they want to sign a petition, which is kind of the next step in the ladder of engagement, that takes probably a minute, two minutes, that's the AmericanPromise.net, "take action", join the business network. And then, of course, if what we're doing really resonates with them, and maybe they have more time, they can contact me, John M @ American Promise dot net, and there's all kinds of ways they can get involved and help the cause up the ladder of engagement. But it all starts with following us on on LinkedIn and signing the national petition at AmericanPromise.net, "take action".
Cory Ames 18:42
What's the significance of the petition?
John McCrea 18:45
Yeah, so the significance of the petitions-- I'm really glad you asked that because, when I was a small midsize business owner, I was like "a petition? Like, what does that do?" And, until I came to American Promise, and we released-- we had 130 business owners sign in Maine, and when we released that publicly, along with the number of citizen signers, along with a report about outside money in Maine elections, including foreign money, money coming in from outside their state - a lot of money, which Mainers did not take kindly to.
When we released all this information, and we do that in our key states, it created kind of a media sensation. And the legislators felt it, they heard it in the news, and we delivered the petition to them. And they really do take effect, which I'm glad you asked, because I didn't really realize that when I was running a business myself.
Cory Ames 19:45
Well, yeah, more the reason for folks to take what seems like a small action. Like you mentioned, something that might not require a lot of time. John, if you could paint a little bit of a picture for us. It's perhaps been woven throughout our conversation thus far, but let's say American Promise is able to fulfill on this work, helping us to pass this constitutional amendment. What does the world look like then, perhaps, for the small and mid sized business community? Like, what does that business environment look like in contrast, perhaps, to how things are now?
John McCrea 20:22
Right. And also, if I could take a second to talk about the large businesses as well, if this is the right time and how it impacts them, or maybe that's for later today. But constitutional amendments do take time. There's some intermediate steps that are happening around the country, rank choice voting, top five balloting, independent redistricting commissions. There's some good intermediate steps that are happening. The constitutional amendment is kind of, for lack of a better word, the the Grand Slam, and those don't happen very often. They take a while. So we need two thirds of Congress and three quarters of the states. So it will take a while.
But to give the states the ability to regulate money-- and also, Cory, a lot of people, just real quick, I don't think they're aware of how much foreign money is coming in to American elections now. And it is legal, believe it or not, coming in through the dark money that the 501 C 4s, in the 2020 election $23 million in foreign money came into American elections. I mean, I just can't believe that. And many people can't believe that foreign money's coming into our elections. That can't be good, right. I mean, that can't be good in any way.
So we're getting a lot of tension from the States. We have 22 states that have backed us already, we're looking for Pennsylvania to be the 23rd. And we hope to get this constitutional amendment done by the 250th birthday of the country, which is coming up pretty soon, a couple of years away.
Cory Ames 22:01
Where do you feel like we are on that track? What's our sense of progress?
John McCrea 22:06
Well, we need 38 states, we have around 22. So are we halfway? We could be... we're not, probably, more than that. But, you know, this is just gaining more and more speed. If we can talk about the large businesses for a while. For example, Disney this year. There's reputational risk, there's workforce risk for companies. For example, Google, in Georgia, they denounced the new Georgia legislation that would make it more difficult to vote. And then the open secrets, it was revealed, they actually gave $35,000 to the RSLC, which was for the legislation.
So Disney, same problem, down in Florida, got into a tangle with the state legislator down there. And now it's revenge politics. They're trying to, you know, block Disney's tax advantaged status in their Improvement Zone. Disney lost $63 billion in market cap this year. It's truly sad. And I just think corporations need to take the lead from one of the oldest companies in the United States, IBM, who have never given to politics, never given to a Super PAC. They say they never will.
I actually had their website up and I'll read to you a little bit from the IBM blog. It says, "but this moment in history should be about much more than organizations temporarily withholding political money to take a stand. This is an opportunity for us to pause, think, to look ahead at what policy measures can truly restore trust and confidence in our democracy." That's from ibm.com/policy, and it's entitled policy not PACs. So it is possible for corporations to make it and do very well in this economy and take a courageous stand publicly before there's a problem.
You know, Disney said they were blocking all political problems, but that was after they got into trouble, and that just inflamed the situation even more. And now we're about revenge politics. It's really sad to see this happening. And for the shareholders in Disney, right? It could be you, it could be me, it could be a lot of middle class people out there who have lost a lot of money in Disney this year. So the point is, for the large corporations, the publicly traded ones, and there's more besides IBM - Pirelli Tire North America has taken the same stance. So to echo what IBM said, the company should never function as a political organization in any way. That's from Tom Watson back in the 60s, from IBM.
The time to say no to money in politics is not after you get into trouble with your political giving, the time is when it's calm and you can make that public announcement to your shareholders or your stakeholders that you just, you're not playing this game anymore. It's not working for anyone, the money we used to spend in politics, we can give to our workers and better benefits or more leave or do research and development, whatever it may be. So it is possible to be a large business in this economy, not give politically and do well. I think that's important to note.
Cory Ames 25:40
But is it something that does benefit enough of large corporations to where they they, perhaps, see the the short term payoff for themselves outweighing that?
John McCrea 25:52
We call it political rent giving. As a matter of fact, perfect segue. Yeah, unfortunately, a company in New York City on Wall Street, Strategas, they started an ETF called Strategas Global Policy Opportunities, which invests in companies that do exactly what you just said. These are the worst offenders in political spending. So if anyone thinks that Wall Street isn't queued into the temporary benefits of political spending, there's now an ETF out there that only invests in these type of companies.
But it is very ironic that the symbol for this is SAGP. So to me that represents sagging profits, SAGP, Strategas global policy opportunities, which is investing in companies that are doing the opposite to IBM and Pirelli Tire, investing heavily in political spending.
Cory Ames 26:54
And so I guess, is that the difficulty for the large corporation, then? I mean, one, the large corporation typically being the group that's making the greatest headway in this space of pouring a lot of money into politics. Is it strictly a moral choice that they make? Like is the general sentiment seem to be that it does pay off for them in the short term? I mean, they can, perhaps, do well in this climate. But if they were to pursue it, I mean, is it strictly a voluntary moral choice that IBM has made as an example? Instead of, say IBM changed to not that they would, and they decided to indulge in that sort of political rent seeking, as you mentioned, would that pay off for them? Is that a belief?
John McCrea 27:44
Yeah, it's just great timing for you to be asking that now. This year. It's impeccable timing. I think, in the case of IBM, it was both a moral and business decision. They think way ahead, sometimes. And I think they saw this coming. But if you look at, you know, just this year, the Google example that I gave you, the Disney example, which is in the news. Right here in Virginia, we had our largest power company, utility, Dominion Power, who historically have actually probably given equally to both sides, Republicans and Democrats, they don't know who's going to win. So they feel like they're being extorted. So they give to both sides, because they don't want to not give to one if that's the losing party.
But this particular year, they got into trouble. They gave to a Super PAC called Accountability Virginia. They gave $200,000 to it, and they hadn't vetted it correctly. And they admitted this, they apologized publicly to their employees and to Virginians. And this super PAC that they gave to called Accountability Virginia used some tactics that they found repugnant, and they actually asked for their money back. They asked for their $200,000 back. I don't think they got their money back. But it just goes to show that these large publicly traded companies, Google, Dominion, Disney, I think they're realizing that it's now beyond a moral choice. It's a business decision to make because the political spending is getting them into trouble. They're not good at it.
They should go back to what they're good at, which is running their businesses, right. I mean, Google is an awesome company, Disney awesome company, Dominion Power, they're doing a lot right and climate with their wind generation and everything. We just want these companies to spend time doing what they do well, which is innovating and making products that the country needs. Because it's pretty clear, as of this year, when they get into political giving, they can get into a lot of hot water. And you know, Disney losing $63 billion in market cap this year is, I think, a monstrous wake up call to all the CEOs out there about political giving, the largest of the publicly traded ones.
Cory Ames 30:12
It seems like it's something of a fast and loose lifestyle, to where if it goes well for you can go really well, or as well perhaps, on the inverse, if it starts to turn on you, likewise. So perhaps without it at all, there might be some greater stability into the business culture of all sizes. John, I really appreciate you taking the time here with me. Before we wrap up, do you mind if I ask you a couple rapid fire questions?
John McCrea 30:40
Oh, right. All right, cool. Yes, go ahead, please.
Cory Ames 30:43
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All right, well, first one for you. What's maybe a book film or other resource that you might recommend to our listeners? Can be about the subject that we've chatted about here, or something that's perhaps just impacted you recently or otherwise?
John McCrea 31:56
Yeah, sure. Use the opportunity to give a shout out to my boss, Jeff Clements. He wrote this book, Corporations Are Not People. I don't know if you can see that. But when I read that book after I sold my last company, I was like, "I want to work for Jeff." Just kind of laid out everything you need to know. From a legal point of view - I'm not a obviously a lawyer, I'm a businessman - but everything has underpinnings in the law. You know, business law, too. And the book is, I think, brilliant and an easy read. And I find it interesting read - a lot of American history.
Cory Ames 32:36
Excellent recommendation. Next one for you, what's maybe a morning routine or daily habit? Something that you feel like you have to stick to, if anything at all?
John McCrea 32:44
Oh, okay. Well, I wish I could say I do yoga every morning and I can stand on my head and all that, but I can't and not hurt myself. What do I do? My wife and I have coffee every morning. She's a very business oriented person. So I don't know when I'm going to see her. You know, in the evening hours she's still working. So we try to stick to breakfast together. It's a nice little ritual we have.
Cory Ames 33:07
Those are good rituals. I have something similar with my wife too. Last one for you, what's one piece of advice that you might leave our listeners with? These folks are change makers and innovators from all sectors all over the globe, looking to leave the world a better place than they found it.
John McCrea 33:22
Yeah, just going back, I mean, if this resonates with folks today. We've had a really nice conversation, Cory, thanks for having me. If what I'm saying resonates with you, and your experiences, please go to American Promise.net, take action. That would be great. And yeah, I just want to give a quick shout out to all our volunteers. I'm just amazed by our volunteers. We have some people who I swear are working 20 hours, some of them 30, 40 hours a week, as pure volunteers for American Promise. There's too many of them to mention, but you all know you are and it's amazing to see. The core of this country is good, the people are good, their ethics are good, their morals are good, and they're really putting their time into our effort and I can't thank them enough.
Cory Ames 34:12
Seems like an a critically important mission to get behind. John, thank you so much, again, for taking the time we'll have all things American Promise linked up at our show post at socialentrepreneurship.fm. Thanks again, John.
John McCrea 34:24
Cory Ames 34:26
All right, y'all. That's a wrap on another episode of the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast. As always, so grateful to have you listening in. If you love the show, please leave us a review on Apple podcasts or hit subscribe wherever it is that you get yours. And as well, I want to invite you to sign up for our Better World Weekly newsletter. This is our weekly discussion with our community of social entrepreneurs and changemakers on all things building a better world. This is the newsletter I write and publish, send out myself every single Monday. Go to growensemble.com backslash newsletter to join in on that discussion, all things building a better world. Go to growensemble.com/newsletter to get the next one in your inbox.
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Business Network Manager
John has 20+ years working closely with his clients in the Fortune 500 including LMI, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lockheed, IBM, and many small businesses. His success is attributed to listening to clients for a true understanding of their business and technical needs.
In his role with American Promise as their Business Network Manager, John helps connect members of the business community who are concerned by the corrosive influence of unlimited political spending with the American Promise movement for a 28th Amendment.