Local Branches Leave Chamber of Commerce as It Lurches Rightward

The group spent $75 million electing Republicans; now local members must deal with the aftermath

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Local chambers are angry with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over its aggressive ad campaign to elect Republicans in the midterms, with some groups taking the radical step of officially ending their affiliation with the national chamber, Politico's Jeanne Cummings reports. The $75 million push for GOP candidates was a sharp contrast to the traditional bipartisan approach of the U.S. Chamber.

Leaders of one Philadelphia member group "reported being inundated with angry--and sometimes profanity-laced--telephone calls from people objecting to the U.S. Chamber-backed ads," Cummings writes. Other examples of backlash abound.

"Looking ahead to the 2012 elections, if more local chambers publicly declare their independence, it could undermine the power and credibility of attacks launched from the Washington office," Cummings writes. Many wonder whether local businesses or national leaders will win the struggle for control of the organization.

  • Conservative Groups Could Turn Elsewhere, Ben Smith notes at Politico.
The U.S. Chamber sometimes deploys the talking point that it's a membership group of local businesses, but that it draws the bulk of its money from larger companies, often with very specific agendas. The local membership may be a kind of strength on the optical margins, but Cummings' story suggests that it's actually a political weakness. If the Chamber finds itself forced to moderate its stands because of fallout from local members, the likes of America's Health Insurance Plans can take its attack ad money to more flexible outside groups.
  • Balancing Act  The Chamber "has been walking a bit of a tightrope," appearing to merely represent "small, practical, non-ideological business," writes The New Republic's Jonathan Chait. "But the Washington organization is primarily run by professional Republicans, and it operates mainly as an arm of the party." There's already been internal trouble over the Chamber's stance on climate change. "How long the Chamber can continue walking the tightrope of using the credibility of local Chambers of Commerce to leverage a hard right agenda is an interesting question."
  • Partisan Campaign Funded By Big Corporations  That's how Lee Fang at liberal Think Progress sees it.
[The Chamber] worked closely with Karl Rove's network of attack groups, while raising $75 million dollars to smear Democrats, including Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA), Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), and others. The Chamber's ads were particularly sleazy; many were patently untrue, while others criticized Democrats for supporting legislation that the Chamber actually asked them to support. Since the 70s, the Chamber has been a far right lobbying group, representing mostly multinational corporations like ExxonMobil and CitiGroup."
  • Attacks on Both Fronts: A Target for Democrats  "The Democratic National Committee launched a campaign ad in October in which they accused the chamber of 'stealing' 2010 elections," John Byrne writes at Raw Story. "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 ... Corporations like ExxonMobil, a major force within the Chamber, often channel their efforts through the group to mask their own identities in political advertising."
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