Look for the Chamber label -- then vote for someone else

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Rue de Pot du Chambre,

Sign in Chinon, France. Photo by Peter Curb. Used under Creative Commons license.

If you're a conservative, the Chamber of Commerce is not your friend. Not the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, not the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce, not the Tulsa Regional Chamber. If you're a conservative voting in the Republican primary, look to see whom the Chambers are supporting then give your vote some other candidate. If the Chambers are attacking a Republican candidate, she's probably worthy of your enthusiastic backing.

This may seem counter-intuitive. Conservative Republicans know that the free market is the engine of prosperity, and we honor and seek to encourage the entrepreneur who starts and builds a business, creating jobs and providing the products and services we need and want. We oppose taxes and regulations that burden businesses and discourage the creation of jobs. Since Chambers of Commerce claim to be the voice of business, shouldn't conservative Republicans heed their advice?

As with many organizations, the claim to speak for a valued segment of the community doesn't reflect the reality of the situation. Chambers of Commerce came into existence to boost business through business cooperation. But Chambers of Commerce are among the many once-noble American institutions that have been co-opted by self-serving special interests and Leftists who are pursuing social transformation and ever-bigger government. There are plenty of other examples: The American Association of Retired Persons, the National Education Association, the YWCA are just a few that come to mind.

It works like this: An organization offers some valuable service to attract members. The AARP offers discounts and insurance, the NEA's state affiliates offer legal coverage (and require membership in the NEA in order to belong to the state association), the YWCA offers access to swimming pools and exercise classes, the local Chamber offers group insurance coverage for small businesses that might not have enough employees to set up something on their own.

These benefits attract members who will be content as long as the services that induced them to join are provided and who aren't likely to get involved in the governance of the organization. These members get a ballot for board members in the mail, and, after a moment's glance, they toss the ballot in the recycle bin.

The broad-based but uninvolved membership gives the organization a credible claim to be the voice of retirees, of teachers, of women, or of business. The leadership, elected by the much smaller body of involved members, can then use that credibility to push an agenda of which the membership may be completely unaware and which they might reject, were they paying attention.

That agenda may reflect the economic benefit of the most influential members, companies that prefer to profit by means of rent-seeking rather than risk-taking. It may reflect the social agenda of the leftists who pursue careers in the not-for-profit sector. The direct approach to social transformation through elections has had mixed results, but the Left has found considerable success in pushing radical ideas by means of organizations with a history and reputation of being non-ideological, evading the defenses citizens put up against political influence.

The two types of influence can work hand in hand. The non-profit employees at Anycity Metro Chamber, as faithful yacht guests, are happy to push for expensive and useless infrastructure projects that benefit the big construction companies who control Anycity Metro Chamber. The big companies are happy to advance leftist social causes as long as they get their way on economic issues. Sometimes interests coincide: For example, Leftists like illegal immigration because it dilutes the votes of those who support the traditional American approach to society and economics; Big Business likes illegal immigration because it dilutes the cost of labor.

Enough theory. Let's get into some examples of how chambers of commerce from the local to the national level are actively working against the interests of conservatives:

On June 3, 2016, Jeff Dunn, chairman of the board of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, described conservative legislators pursuing legislation on issues like abortion and religious liberty as "nut jobs":

The chairman of the Tulsa Regional Chamber complained Friday that "nut jobs on the periphery" wield too much influence in the Oklahoma Legislature.

"We value our relationship with legislators," Chairman Jeff Dunn said during the chamber's annual recap of the legislative session. "(But) I would submit we need some counseling."

The "nut jobs," Dunn said, are preventing the rest of the lawmakers from being as productive as they might be.

Dunn, president and CEO of Mill Creek Lumber, was upset by what he called a "disappointing" legislative session, particularly in regard to education and long-term reform of the state's finances.

Earlier, in opening remarks, Dunn said legislators are too prone to "go off on tangents" instead of concentrating on state government's core missions.

"When we go off on tangents, we look like North Carolina," Dunn said. "And when we look like North Carolina, it's bad for business."

"North Carolina" is an allusion to the swift action taken by that state's legislature to protect the rights of citizens and business owners after the City of Charlotte passed a draconian ordinance that would have, among other effects, required gyms to allow men claiming to be women to use the same changing rooms as actual women. To Dunn, legislation that defends individual liberty and personal conscience, because it runs against the leftist norms enforced by the news media and the entertainment industry, makes a state look backwards and hurts its business prospects.

chamber_of_horrors-1940.jpgEvidently, the leadership and membership of the Tulsa Regional Chamber are just fine with Dunn's insulting and intemperate remarks. He's still listed as Chamber chairman. I find no reports of calls for his resignation or removal, no indication of mass resignations over his remarks. While most Chamber members are likely too busy running their own businesses to pay attention to Chamber politics, Chamber board members share Dunn's culpability if they decline to denounce or distance themselves from his remarks.

Longtime BatesLine readers will recall articles about Tulsa Regional Chamber involvement in wasteful, corporate-welfare-laden sales tax hikes and their attacks on City Councilors (especially conservatives) who sought to subject the Chamber to healthy competition for city contracts, who sought to put the interests of city residents ahead of suburban developers, who sought to ensure that federal community development funds actually went to help Tulsa's neediest neighborhoods. What's new is the Chamber's apparent hostility to conservative concerns about the use of government to impose leftist social views.

In an earlier entry, I mentioned the Tulsa Regional Chamber's diversity initiative, with its surveys that convey the message that sexual orientation and gender identity are inborn, immutable characteristics on par with race and ethnicity, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. These surveys measure a company's commitment to diversity by whether they give domestic partner benefits, sponsor or participate in gay pride parades, and prioritize giving contracts to LGBT-owned businesses. Why would any conservative remain on the board of an organization that funds this kind of propaganda?

Earlier this year, OCPA President Jonathan Small summed up the Tulsa Regional Chamber as a left-wing echo chamber:

Remember the Tulsa Regional Chamber? Its leadership in 2014 participated in a failed attempt to support U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who was trying to prevent Republicans from gaining the majority in the U.S. Senate. Imagine if some of the leadership of the Tulsa Regional Chamber had succeeded. Sen. Harry Reid would still be the Senate majority leader. Majority Leader Reid likely would be using the "nuclear option" to ramrod through an extremely left-of-center Supreme Court justice nomination to replace Justice Antonin Scalia.

Once again the Tulsa Regional Chamber is in lock-step with the Obama administration. Obama's administration tried to stifle a very popular school choice program in Louisiana and Washington, D.C. The Tulsa Regional Chamber lobbied against efforts to implement ESAs and is now an accomplice in the death of two bills that would have helped the most vulnerable in Oklahoma.

In fairness, the Tulsa Regional Chamber is consistent. The chamber parrots the funding requests of state agencies, proffers the Medicaid expansion as one of the best economic deals ever offered the state and tries to kill tax relief for all while working for special interest tax breaks. The chamber even tried to cripple the oil and gas industry with exorbitantly high taxes just before the downturn.

Some who have left the Tulsa Regional Chamber or refuse to join will tell you that's because it has become an echo chamber for policies that benefit the growth of big government, with more and more special interests of government involved in the chamber's processes.

Sadly, thousands of Oklahoma's most vulnerable children will lose in part because of the lack of intellectual diversity in the Tulsa Regional Chamber.

In another article, OCPA looked at the presence on the Tulsa and Oklahoma City chamber membership rolls -- and detected a pattern that could explain their support for higher taxes:

In recent years chambers of commerce in this state have done yeoman's work in fighting for important policies such as Right to Work, workers' compensation reform, and lawsuit reform. However, many of these same chambers also lobby strenuously for bigger government, including increased funding for medical welfare programs and for the state's bottomless-pit education monopoly. These chambers lobby against prudent fiscal measures, such as one (not exactly draconian) proposal which would limit the annual growth of state government spending to 9.5 percent. Why is this?

Part of the answer can be found by examining the chambers' membership rosters. In addition to scads of nonprofit organizations (which may or may not receive taxpayer money), one discovers more than a few blatant "'tax eater' entities," to borrow Stephen Moore's phrase.

gardyloo.pngAs for the State Chamber of Commerce, they joined with the Tulsa, Oklahoma City chambers and the U. S. Chamber in a lawsuit to block implementation of employment-related provisions of HB 1804, provisions that would have required Oklahoma employers to verify the employment eligibility of the people they hired. In other words, the Chambers at all levels worked to take the teeth out of the law, to disarm the provisions that made it an effective deterrent to illegal immigration.

The State Chamber also pushed hard for Obamacare Medicaid expansion (euphemistically called "rebalancing" this year) and Common Core. The State Chamber targeted a strongly pro-business conservative Republican, State Sen. Josh Brecheen, for defeat because he supported Common Core repeal and opposed a special tax cut for energy producers, preferring instead to give general tax relief to the state's taxpayers.

Back in 2007, economist Stephen Moore wrote:

In Oklahoma the state chamber filed a petition with the state Supreme Court to block eminent domain reform, and vowed to fight a taxpayer-led movement to enact a Colorado-style [taxpayer bill of rights].

This transcript of a July 2012 State Chamber meeting in Tahlequah quotes the chamber's lobbyist, Chad Warmington, saying, "the legislature spends a lot of time talking about things that just don't matter - I mean, they want to talk about tax cuts and all that stuff."

Also in 2012, then-State Rep. David Dank bemoaned the role "pro-business" lobbyists played in preserving special interest tax credits at the expense of tax relief for all Oklahomans (hat tip to OCPA's Brandon Dutcher):

Sadly, those same lobbyists who secured sweetheart deals for the beneficiaries of tax credits managed to kill most efforts to reform or repeal them during the 2012 session. We did manage to phase out two of the most abused and wasteful tax credits, but dozens of others are being reinstated in July.

In short, the special interests won and the people lost. A primary reason Oklahoma taxpayers will see no income tax relief next year is that a few favored industries will continue to cash in on the public treasury through a still-broken tax credit system.

My rule of thumb is to look for the Chamber label -- who has endorsements and money from Chamber-connected PACs and dark-money groups -- and to vote for someone else. Like many other institutions that started out with nobler purposes, Chambers of Commerce have become a partnership of Leftists who have co-opted the organizations in support of their agenda of bigger, more intrusive government and social transformation and businesses who use the Chambers to put the "pro-business, pro-growth" stamp on measures that transfer taxpayer dollars to their pockets.


The problem is not limited to Oklahoma. Chambers of Commerce in other states have lobbied against stricter immigration enforcement, for corporate welfare and eminent domain abuse, and against protections for citizens who believe that there are important distinctions to be drawn between a natural, normal marriage and a "same-sex marriage" and between a real woman and a "transwoman." Here's a sampling of news stories and conservative commentary documenting the hostility of Chambers of Commerce to conservative causes:

Stephen Moore, in the above-linked 2007 column, introduces a laundry list of leftist state chamber actions:

The Chamber of Commerce, long a supporter of limited government and low taxes, was part of the coalition backing the Reagan revolution in the 1980s. On the national level, the organization still follows a pro-growth agenda--but thanks to an astonishing political transformation, many chambers of commerce on the state and local level have been abandoning these goals. They're becoming, in effect, lobbyists for big government....

"I used to think that public employee unions like the NEA were the main enemy in the struggle for limited government, competition, and private sector solutions," says Mr. Caldara of the Independence Institute. "I was wrong. Our biggest adversary is the special-interest business cartel that labels itself 'the business community' and its political machine run by chambers and other industry associations."

In December 2013, Mark Levin spoke about the U. S. Chamber on his radio program:

"We need to shake up that place like it's never been shaken before. And the problem with groups like the United States Chamber of Commerce is they're not conservative, they're about business. They're not about capitalism, they're about cronyism. The reason there is a United States Chamber of Commerce is so they can get Congress to cut deals for them, or the White House to cut deals for them, or the bureaucracy to cut deals for them. That's what they're there for."

"They're part of the problem. The idea that big companies are necessarily conservative is absurd. Who do you think funds the left? Who do you think funds the Democrat Party? Or, all their little organizations? Big businesses do. Corporatists do. They're trying to buy favors. That's what they do. So, you have to be discerning. There are some good businesses and there's some bad businesses. Just like there's some good people and some bad people. Some good politicians and some bad politicians."

In 2014, Leon Wolf of Redstate, provided a more recent list of Chamber horrors. Reminder: The Chamber Of Commerce Is An Ideological And Political Enemy To Conservatives. Wolf sums up as follows:

So remember, if you're a conservative business owner and you're considering membership in your local Chamber of Commerce, your money will likely not just be used to lobby for pro-business policies, it will also be spent directly in support of big government Republicans, open borders policies, and Common Core propaganda. The Chamber of Commerce is is not an ally to any conservative, but rather is both a political and ideological enemy.

John Hawkins at Right Wing News writes that "the Chamber of Commerce Is Bad for Republicans, Conservatism, and America." He cites the U. S. Chamber's support for the TARP bailout, Common Core, renewal of the Export-Import Bank, the trillion-dollar Obama "stimulus," and amnesty for illegal immigrants.

We are talking about an organization that has adopted the same philosophy as a bad guy in an Ayn Rand novel. The Chamber of Commerce may portray itself as the voice of small business in America, but in actuality it's all about using the power of government to benefit big corporations. In fact, many of the stupidest things the Republican Party has done over the last few years have been driven by the Chamber of Commerce....

Yes, the Chamber may use its considerable bankroll to support SOME conservative candidates, but its agenda is dominated by cronyism and corporate welfare to such an extent that you essentially have to sell your soul to make it happy. In fact, being a Republican who's opposed by the Chamber of Commerce has become a badge of honor. There are many conservatives who are hated by the organization because they put the interests of their constituents, conservatism and the country ahead of the interests of the Chamber. The Chamber spent millions backing establishment candidates like Thad Cochran in 2014 and it's gearing up to spend 100 million dollars defeating conservative members of Congress in 2016. You may like conservatives who think we should have a secure border, fight harder against Obama and repeal Obamacare, but the Chamber of Commerce doesn't.

Under Tom Donohue's leadership, the Chamber of Commerce has become a 5thColumn inside the conservative movement. It's not the only group that fits that definition, but unlike, let's say the Main Street Partnership, the Chamber is a deep-pocketed influential group that has sway with many Republicans in Congress.

Unfortunately, a Republican Party that continues to make the corrupt agenda of the Chamber of Commerce its own is destined to be pummeled once Obama leaves office and can no longer be used to drive conservative turnout. A Republican Party that rips off the taxpayers, ignores its own constituents and leaves the border open to please an organization that is okay with decimating the entire country as long as it makes a few bucks in the process is a Republican Party that deserves to be defeated.

Maggie Gallagher at National Review, writes that the Chamber -- once part of the broader center-right coalition -- is now attacking its former coalition partners:

And in addition to destroying Reagan's populist conservative economics, the Chamber of Commerce has declared war on the part of the old Reagan coalition that includes social conservatives. The Chamber of Commerce is now the face of opposition to laws protecting women's privacy in public-school showers and to laws offering modest conscience protections so Christian small-business owners can keep their livelihoods, government can't fire dissenters from gay marriage, and religious schools can retain their integrity and identity, all of which the Human Right Campaign describes as vile hate.

It is one thing to privately urge caution and restraint. But when one member of a coalition adopts the Left's framing and attacks another part of the coalition, there is no coalition any more. That's not my decision, and I say this not out of anger or frustration. It's just reality.

A lengthy 2014 CNN feature story by Peter Hamby documents the U. S. Chamber's increasing involvement in political races -- not merely working with whomever is elected, but working actively and spending heavily to determine who that will be. Hamby quotes conservative commentator Mark Levin's indictment of the U. S. Chamber:

"They like laws that benefit them, they like regulations that harm their competition," Levin went on. "That's not capitalism. Call it what you will, that is not capitalism. Mr. Donohue gives capitalism a bad name. ... This is the guy that has bought and paid for the Republican leadership. This is the guy who is pouring millions of dollars into these primary campaigns to buy the Republican Party and buy the candidates."

Some headlines dealing specifically with Chamber opposition to religious liberty protections:

March 2016: Missouri Chamber of Commerce Comes Out Against SJR39 Missouri Alliance for Freedom Responds:

"Taking a position against religious liberty, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce has sacrificed small business people on the altar of political correctness. SJR39 is a responsible resolution allowing Missourians a vote to protect the First Amendment rights of small business wedding vendors and pastors concerning their religious views about marriage. That's it. That's all." said Ryan Johnson, President of the Missouri Alliance for Freedom.... The Chamber of Commerce is clearly out of step with the 78% of Missourians who believe protecting pastors is the right thing to do."

Kansas City Chamber opposes protections for small business owners:

The KC Chamber Board has joined with organizations and businesses across the state in strong opposition to Senate Joint Resolution 39, now being considered by the Missouri House.

SJR 39 would amend the Missouri Constitution to allow Missourians to refuse, on religious grounds, to provide goods or services for same sex marriage ceremonies or celebrations. (Some refer to this as the bakery bill, because it would protect a cake business that refused to supply a wedding cake for a same sex wedding. One member of the Chamber's Missouri State Affairs Committee suggested a better name might be 'Missouri's Commerce Elimination' bill.)

The KC Chamber leadership unanimously opposes Missouri SJR 39 and, on March 28, the full Board of Directors approved this letter to be sent to House leadership.

The Chamber believes SJR 39 is discriminatory and bad for Missouri businesses, their employees, and the state's economy.

The Board of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City has also sent House leadership its letter of opposition.

February 2016: Indiana's Chamber of Commerce head says gay-rights failure hurts state

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce president is warning that the state could be hurt by the Legislature's failure to advance a bill extending anti-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation....

State Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar says he is frustrated the Indiana Senate wasn't able to move forward on what he called a "critical issue."...

Brinegar says the Legislature's inaction on the issue leaves Indiana at a disadvantage in the recruitment, attraction and retention of talented people following last spring's national backlash over the state's religious objection law.

He says state leaders must work together to reach a solution.

February 2016: This State's Chamber of Commerce Just Took a Shocking Stand Against Religious Liberty:

The Georgia Chamber maintains that it's OK to discriminate against a person's religious beliefs, but it't not OK for a person to reject the promotion of a particular sex act or the bizarre claim that transgenders are a new sexual identity....

Sad to say, Georgia's Chamber of Commerce is more interested in protecting what people do in bed than people's freedom to run their businesses as they see fit.

January 2015: Religious Freedom Bill Faces Stiff Opposition in GOP-Led GA Legislature

In Georgia, the Chamber of Commerce has prominently joined opponents of the legislation. "Practices that open the door to discrimination or create the perception that Georgia supports a discriminatory business environment would threaten our competitiveness," said Chamber spokeswoman Joselyn Baker.

"This discussion about denial of services, the so-called 'right to discriminate,' and other things just frankly were not in any way representative of what the legislation would do," [State Sen. Josh] McKoon [R-Columbus] previously said. "[My bill] sends the opposite message that Georgia is welcoming and a great place to be."

This is not the first time the legislation has been proposed in Georgia. Sen. McKoon and Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) introduced the bill during the 2014 legislative session as well. At the time, Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola, and Home Depot were all Chamber members who individually expressed opposition to its passage. The bill died before coming out of the Rules Committee.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 28, 2016 1:38 AM.

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