US Chamber of Commerce loses member groups in key primary states

By John Byrne
Tuesday, December 7, 2010 9:34 EDT
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Local New Hampshire member president refuses to use coffee cup with national logo

The backlash against the freewheeling US Chamber of Commerce has begun.

The mammoth pro-business lobby, which overwhelmingly supported Republicans in the 2010 election cycle, is drawing ire from member organizations who believe the panoply of anti-Democratic ads crossed the line.

The Chamber of Commerce spent $75 million on advertising in the election cycle. And now, some members are beginning to walk.

Forty-plus local chambers have now issued statements trying to place distance between their local emphasis and the actions of the national Chamber, Politico’s Jeanne Cummings reported Tuesday.

Perhaps most interesting are statements issued from local chambers in key primary states: Iowa and New Hampshire.

“Nearly every major local Chamber in Iowa and New Hampshire, key states in the presidential campaign” issued broadsides against the national chamber’s advertising strategy, Cummings noted.

Quoted in the article speaking out against the Chamber’s fierce attack ads on Democratic candidates was the president of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce in New Hampshire. Manchester President Robin Comstock said some of her members quit after the 2008 campaign cycle, and she appealed to the national organization “for changes.”

“Among her requests: that the U.S. Chamber attach a disclaimer to its ads so that voters would be aware that the local Chamber had no role in financing them,” Cummings wrote. “Comstock never got a response.”

“Comstock dropped her group’s national affiliation and used Facebook and newsletters to hammer home in the run-up to this year’s midterms the message that the local Chamber didn’t engage in partisan politics,” Cummings added. “Comstock even refuses to accept a coffee cup with the U.S. Chamber logo for fear she will send mixed messages to her members.”

“I had a lot of members really, really angry this year, but I don’t think I lost any of them. Other chambers did lose members this time,” Comstock was quoted as saying. “They didn’t have the experience I had gained from last cycle.”

New Hampshire’s Greater Hudson Chamber of Commerce also recently voted — unanimously — to abandon their membership in the national organization.

“We got no feedback from the national organization,” Jerry Mayotte, the group’s executive vice president, remarked in the piece.

The Democratic National Committee launched a campaign ad in October in which they accused the chamber of “stealing” 2010 elections.

The Chamber has spent over $600 million to influence politics since 1998. It has dwarfed even the second-place American Medical Association’s $220 million in the same period, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission verdict, Chamber members sought to step up their influence in Washington with anonymous corporate donations. The verdict permitted unlimited outside money in US elections. Corporations like ExxonMobil, a major force within the Chamber, often channel their efforts through the group to mask their own identities in political advertising.

With earlier reporting by Sahil Kapur.

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