Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Pikcing Sides

When I was young, I had a vague idea of what the Chamber of Commerce did. It mostly involved sponsoring local festivities and occasionally trumpeting some urban renewal project. I had a history prof in college who referred to the "Chamber of Commerce mentality" when discussing folks who wanted gloss over messy history and focus only on moving forward. That always sounded about right.

But over the past decade or so, I got the impression that the national Chamber of Commerce was becoming more and more politically vocal. It's a loud voice on the side of "tort reform," for instance. Turns out I'm not crazy, this has actually happened. An article in today's LA Times discusses a loud threat from the Chamber's leader to the presidential hopefuls:

'We plan to build a grass-roots business organization so strong that when it bites you in the butt, you bleed,' chamber President Tom Donohue said.

The warning from the nation's largest trade association came against a background of mounting popular concern over the condition of the economy. A weak record of job creation, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, declining home values and other problems have all helped make the economy a major campaign issue.

* * *

Reacting to what it sees as a potentially hostile political climate, Donohue said, the chamber will seek to punish candidates who target business interests with their rhetoric or policy proposals, including congressional and state-level candidates.

Although Donohue shied away from precise figures, he indicated that his organization would spend in excess of the approximately $60 million it spent in the last presidential cycle. That approaches the spending levels planned by the largest labor unions.
That level of involvement is not new:
The chamber has become a significant force in state and national politics under Donohue's decade of leadership. Once a notably bipartisan trade association with a limited budget and limited influence, it has hugely increased its political fundraising and developed new ways to spend money on behalf of pro-business candidates.

Under Donohue, the organization has also frequently aligned itself with GOP priorities.
I've got nothing against the Chamber having it's voice in the process - it's got the same First Amendment rights as any group. But folks should be aware that it's not some quasi-governmental body, just a lobbying group pushing an agenda favorable to its members.

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