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Local business groups seek distance from US Chamber of Commerce

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Local chambers of commerce across the country are seeking to distance themselves from the US Chamber of Commerce, or are even breaking formal links with the national group, in the wake of controversy over its role in the current election cycle.

The Nashua Telegraph in New Hampshire reports that the Greater Hudson Chamber of Commerce has severed its links with the national organization over what it sees as the Chamber’s increasingly partisan tone.

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“We didn’t like the fact that the US Chamber was supporting particular candidates,” Greater Hudson Chamber executive VP Jerry Mayotte said. “We don’t think it’s good business practice to do so. … We take stands on particular issues considering business, but not particular candidates.”

Though the Telegraph doesn’t address the issue specifically, the Hudson Chamber’s decision may have been related to an attack ad against Rep. Paul Hodes (D-NH), who represents the state’s 2nd congressional district, in which Hudson is located.

“Paul Hodes’ motto? Tax, borrow or spend— with your money,” the ad, which aired this summer, asserted.

The Telegraph notes that “Hudson isn’t the first to separate from the US Chamber because of political disagreement. Many local chambers broke off years ago or never joined in the first place.”

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Among those who never joined, there are chambers of commerce that may be wishing in this campaign season that their names weren’t so similar to the national organization. Faiz Shakir at ThinkProgress notes that the chamber in Charlottesville, Virginia, has refused to endorse attack ads the US Chamber is running against Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello.

“I now have a standard e-mail saying we’re not a chapter of the U.S. Chamber that I have to send out a couple of times a week,” the chamber’s president, Timothy Hulbert, told Washington Monthly last summer.

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Aside from its partisan strategy — it has overwhelmingly supported Republican candidates in this year’s elections — the US Chamber is also being criticized for increasingly being a voice for big business, rather than the local Main Street businesses with which chambers of commerce have long been associated.

“They’ve abandoned the interests of smaller chambers like mine for their larger corporate members,” Stan Kosciuszko of the Butler County, Pennsylvania, Chamber told Washington Monthly. The Butler County chamber has also severed its formal links with the US Chamber.

“In 2008, a third of [the US Chamber’s] revenues came from just nineteen companies,” Washington Monthly notes.

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Aside from Greater Hudson, the Nashua Telegraph lists three other New Hampshire chambers that are distancing themselves from the US Chamber: The Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and the Merrimack Area Chamber of Commerce.

“The ad campaign the US Chamber is running in New Hampshire, simply put, we do not do that,” Robin Comstock of the Manchester chamber told the Telegraph. “We just do not support candidates or any particular party. We are simply here to present both sides of the conversation and both arguments.”

“I don’t believe we lose anything” by leaving the national organization, the Greater Hudson Chamber’s Mayotte said. “As far as I’m concerned, I could not find one positive thing to say about being involved in the US Chamber.”

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