Some of the small businesses said they had no idea they were listed as part of the group.
As Congress considers legislation that could affect big tech companies, Google and Amazon are reportedly funding a lobbying organization that says it represents small businesses, many of which say they're unaware that they're members.
The Connected Commerce Council, a Washington, DC-based trade group, describes itself on its website as a "non-profit membership organization" representing the interests of small businesses, providing resources and digital tools. Google and Amazon, which are listed as "partners" on 3C's website, are the organization's sole financial sponsors, a 3C spokesman told CNBC, the news outlet said in a report this week.
In a statement to CNET, 3C didn't comment about the list of small businesses it says it represents, but said its efforts help shops that don't have the time or resources to engage in public policy debates. Without 3C, policymakers wouldn't understand the impact legislation might have.
"This is 'digital economy' legislation with far-reaching implications and potentially disastrous unintended consequences," 3C Executive Director Rob Retzlaff said in a statement. Retzlaff said small businesses that use services such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Instagram need to know about potential legislation. "When they understand how these bills will break Amazon Prime and Google Maps/Search, which are so valuable for small businesses, they are rightly unhappy and eager to communicate with Congress."
Multiple small-business owners told CNBC they didn't know their companies had been included as members of 3C. The practice of larger entities using the guise of smaller businesses and groups to curry favor in Washington is known as "Astroturfing."
Google didn't address its relationship to 3C in an email to CNET. The search giant said, however, that it had heard from small businesses that were concerned about bills in Congress and how digital tools used by said businesses could be affected.
"We encourage concerned businesses and the organizations that represent them to ask Congress to consider the unintended consequences of these bills for small businesses across the country," Google spokesperson José Castañeda said in a statement.
Amazon didn't respond to a request for comment.
The reported lobbying effort comes as Big Tech tries to shape public opinion as it faces legislation in Congress. The legislation is designed to increase competition and could affect how Big Tech interacts and competes with smaller businesses.
One proposed law would prevent Amazon from favoring its own products over third-party partners or Google ranking its own apps higher than similar apps made by other companies.
3C says the legislation, if passed, could affect how small businesses work with Google, Amazon and other companies, and could impact free tools these companies provide. Those tools include Gmail accounts and help for companies to become more visible on search.
Though some of the small businesses CNBC spoke with were unaware they had been listed as 3C members, several companies expressed support for the organization's messaging. Some small business owners told CNBC they are appreciative of 3C's work in keeping them informed about the legislation, advocating for a beneficial relationship with Big Tech companies and creating opportunities to socialize online during the pandemic.
CNBC reported that 3C's website had listed payment processor Block, formerly known as Square, as a member. Block told CNBC it wasn't a member and 3C subsequently removed a reference to the company from its site.
Facebook was listed as a partner in 2020 but isn't currently. The company didn't respond to a request for comment.