The State Origins of American Business Power

Johnnie Lotesta, Appalachian State University

This paper compares the cases of Michigan and Indiana to illustrate the strategies and organizational innovations that transformed small and private business into a formidable political power in American politics. Based on archival data and oral history interviews, the paper explains how and why leaders of small and private business began adopting new organizational forms and strategies that would increase their clout within Republican state politics in the Industrial Midwest. Beginning in the 1970s and modeling innovations from the fields of public relations and lobbying, these new organizational forms situated representatives of small and private business at the intersection of multiple subfields of state politics, most notably electoral fundraising, law, policy, and political consulting. From this position, small and private business leaders partnered with up-and-coming, conservative political hopefuls to remake the Indiana and Michigan Republican Parties from within. Leveraging the strategic advantages of business’ interstitial position, this coalition unseated labor-friendly, establishment Republicans in favor of new, conservative majorities amenable to the demands of small business. In contrast to other accounts, these findings emphasize the state origins of business power in American politics, illustrating how political strategies and organizational forms commonplace today were first developed and tested in the states. Additionally, the paper encourages scholars to re-conceptualize business power as a relational capacity which depends on organizational position and the ability to develop strategies which effectively leverage this position.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 151. Powers of Class and Business