(The Secret Money blog is a joint project of the Center for Investigative Reporting and National Public Radio.)

The National Federation for Independent Business calls itself “the nation’s leading small business association.” It’s also a lobbying powerhouse with an emphatically pro-Republican political action committee.

The NFIB is spending nearly $1 million on TV advertising pounding Democratic Senate candidates in Minnesota and Maine for supporting legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize. Opponents of the bill say it will take away secret ballots in union elections.

The ads portray Al Franken in Minnesota and Tom Allen of Maine as backing Big Brother-style surveillance of American workers. An undercover agent with a walkie-talkie and a control room with multiple video cameras monitor an ordinary worker entering his workplace. Each ad cites labor contributions to the candidate and concludes, “Give him enough money and American freedoms go right out the window.”

NFIB also placed newspaper advertisements opposing the candidates. And it has helped lead and fund the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which also ran ads against Allen and Franken with the same theme.

Business associations tend to veer conservative, but NFIB has especially strong Republican credentials. …

The association’s executive VP for political affairs, Dan Danner, served in the Reagan Administration. Its head of lobbying, Susan Eckerly, served in the Labor Deptartment under the first President Bush and worked at the conservative organizations Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Heritage Foundation. NFIB’s chief of staff, its VP for political affairs and the director of the association’s legal foundation all worked for Republican senators.

NFIB’s political action committee gives the vast majority of its money to Republicans, according to OpenSecrets.org.

On the other hand, NFIB has also teamed up with organized labor for the Divided We Fail coalition, which is running the TV ad below, bringing attention to health care costs. The coalition advocates an end to partisan gridlock. Go figure.

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