In some of its earliest iterations, it was referred to as yellow journalism. Back in the early days of this nation’s history, it manifested itself in so-called Pamphlets, where the writer would use a pseudonym and slander his political opponents with outrageous allegations – some having just a sliver of truth, others lacking even the smallest kernel of accuracy. More recently, it became known as advocacy journalism and when the Internet burst on the scene, the practice of publishing inaccuracies as truth proliferated and with the advent of the 2016 Presidential election; “fake news” was raised to an art form.

Throughout its historical evolution however, “fake news” had a very prominent first cousin that was becoming more and more refined with each campaign. The art of political spin has given birth to some of the most bizarre twists and turns of the truth. As an example, we now not only have to deal with “fake news,” but the oxymoronic “alternative facts” as well.

Ask an elected official if they are for or against any particular proposal and you’ll get a long-winded dissertation on a host of issues, but rarely a direct answer to the question. Recall that the former U.S. Senator, 2004 Democratic Party presidential nominee and Secretary of State John Kerry famously campaigned that he “actually voted for the $87 billion for the Iraq war before [he] voted against it.”

On the other side of the aisle, Condoleeza Rice, who was Secretary of State under former President George W. Bush, advocated a “diplomatic offensive” in dealing with Syria and Iran; while the nation’s 34th President, Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, promised that “We are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it.” So, oxymoronic phrases have always had a home in politics, but the political spin today seems to have reached a point where it is the political equivalent of “fake news.”

A number of years ago, the Coalition of Franchisee Associations spearheaded the development of a document called the Universal Franchisees Bill of Rights (UFBOR). The idea was to identify outstanding issues of fairness in the relationship between franchisees and franchisors that the former believed needed to be addressed in order to preserve and strengthen the franchise business model. Over the years, no fewer than 24 states have adopted at least some of the provisions of the UFBOR. Most recently, the state of California, with the sixth largest economy in the world (just ahead of No. 7 France), unanimously passed legislation adopting several UFBOR provisions – with the concurrence of the International Franchise Association (IFA). A formerly contested piece of legislation passing a legislative branch of government unanimously is a very rare occurrence – passing both branches without a dissenting vote is virtually unheard of.

So now let’s talk about the latest initiative to adopt some provisions of the UFBOR – The Protect Florida Small Business Act
(SB 750). Simply stated, this bill seeks to address inequities in three key areas:

  1. Protection from unjust terminations;
  2. Protection from unjust restrictions on sales and transfers; and
  3. Protection from non-renewal of their agreement.

If it becomes law in Florida, SB 750’s provisions will only apply to new franchise agreements and renewals, so it will not impact any existing agreements. Furthermore, it preserves the franchisor’s right to defend the integrity of their brand – something all franchise owners want them to do as maintaining brand quality greatly inures to the benefit of the franchisee. After all, the franchisee is the one who has spent his own money, time and effort building the business.

Too often, franchisors exercise their unlimited power to restrict the sale or transfer of a franchise so that they can maximize their income – at the expense of the small business owner who built the business. SB750 grants the franchisee the ability to sell his/her franchise to another individual as long as that person is qualified by the franchisor’s standards. The franchisor should not be able to veto qualified individuals from purchasing the business just so they can squeeze additional fees from a franchisee.

Similarly, a franchise owner should not be subjected to the whims of the franchisor who may choose not to renew their franchise agreement without providing the franchisee the opportunity to monetize the equity he/she has built over the years.

We can all remember how, in California, franchisors complained that Fair Franchising legislation would end franchising as a viable business model. Yet, according to the US Chamber of Commerce, there are over 733,000 franchised businesses operating in the Golden State today. What’s more, the franchise model is stronger than ever in each of the 23 other states that have adopted some provisions of the UFBOR. Yet, to hear them tell it, adoption of the Protect Florida Small Business Act will end franchising as we know it. Here they go again, telling us, “The sky is falling.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, since that is the nature of political spin today. Don’t be concerned about even a shred of truth; just stir up the masses and create enough confusion to energize the opposition.

President Harry Truman once said, “There are always a lot of people so afraid of rocking the boat that they stop rowing. We can never get ahead that way.” With apologies to our 33rd President, we can never get ahead if we cower in the face of political spin and “fake news” promulgated by franchisors either.

Ed Shanahan

DDIFO Executive Director