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Best Friends In D.C.: Power Brokers Activists

Operatives and advocates with serious clout.
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Harry Alford

President and CEO, National Black Chamber of Commerce

Alford's NBCC is the leading voice for African American business in Washington, representing 100,000 members in 188 chapters. Since Alford co-founded it in 1993, the NBCC has asked for and received written commitments from local, state, and federal agencies, including the SBA, to include more minority-owned businesses in their procurement and loan programs.

Though the NBCC is nonpartisan, Alford sits on the Republican National Committee's African American steering committee. He is also on good terms with Democrats; he worked for Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, back when Bayh was governor of Indiana. And Alford's ties to the White House haven't prevented him from going after the likes of Halliburton when it comes to making sure minority-owned entrepreneurs get their share. "The same companies that enjoy bundled contracts and no-bid contracts in the Iraq war are now receiving such gravy in the Katrina recovery," he recently told a congressional committee. "The federal procurement system has been hijacked."

Karen Kerrigan

President and CEO, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council

Kerrigan's 11-year-old group, which now has 70,000 members, has successfully pushed for easing OSHA regulations and reducing capital gains taxes. Lately, the SBEC has been focusing on health care and tax policy. "My goal every day is to make sure government is not hindering entrepreneurial opportunities," she says. "Rather, it needs to encourage and maintain an enabling environment for small-business owners."

A seasoned player in the conservative movement, Kerrigan made a name for herself by playing a key role in derailing the Clintons' health care plan. Today, she shares an office suite with GOP lobbyist Grover Norquist, the main cheerleader for the Bush tax cuts, and she regularly attends his weekly meetings of Washington's conservative leaders.

Terry Neese

Past president and co-founder, Women Impacting Public Policy

Ever since founding a staffing company in Oklahoma City 30 years ago, Neese has been a tireless organizer of women-owned businesses. In 2001, she co-founded Women Impacting Public Policy, a bipartisan group that promotes the interests of women-owned businesses, including gender equity in government contracting and health care reform. "We want to make sure that whoever's in the White House knows what our message is and what our issues are," she says.

Neese is also involved in party politics. She worked on President Bush's "W Stands for Women" outreach effort and was the first woman to become a campaign "Ranger," meaning she raised more than $200,000. Her reward? In 2003 Bush appointed her to the National Women's Business Council (an advisory group to the White House, Congress, and the SBA), and in 2005 he tapped her to head the U.S. Mint (she withdrew, citing family obligations).

Rick Weidman

Director of government relations, Vietnam Veterans of America

Since 1999, federal law has required most agencies to set aside contracts for entrepreneurs who are veterans, with additional set-asides for those who are disabled as a result of their military service. Weidman is there to make sure the agencies comply--and he's shamed them before Congress when they don't. Criticizing the SBA before the House Small Business Committee last July, for example, he cited research conducted by the University of Massachusetts at Boston, which found that the agency had not one disabled-veteran contractor. "How many disabled-veteran business owners do you think are going to trust an agency that even by accident ought to have a few contracts with the service-disabled veterans?" he asked.

Last updated: Feb 1, 2006




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