Local Commentary

Editorial: Whose Chamber Of Commerce?

There are tons of interesting things to consider reflecting on the remarkable outcome of the national election last week, not the least of which is the wild panorama of reactions and explanations for why it went the way it did. Among the losers, they’re ranging from fantasy and paranoia to cynicism, finger pointing and sheer denial.

Many have a vested interest in denial, for example. Denial is how operators of the infamous “super PACs” that shoveled billions of unidentified dollars into losing campaigns expect their donors to behave. Denial is being counted on to justify taking all that money not only for decisively failed causes, for now salting away millions in unspent surpluses, tax sheltered, for another day, not to be handed back.

An extreme case of this was the insistence that it was “mission accomplished” by Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who raised and spent $32 million backing Republican candidates in 15 U.S. Senate races, including in Virginia, 13 of which the Republicans lost.

In a press release issued the day after the election, Donohue proclaimed that, in terms of the U.S. Chamber’s “principal goal…to defend the pro-business gains we made in Congress in 2010 and ensure balance in federal government when it comes to policies affecting business,” well, actually, “that goal was achieved.”

As Washington Post columnist Steven Perlstein observed in his column Sunday, “How Business Can Bounce Back from Its 2012 Election Debacle,” in the post-Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court Decision-era, Donohue decided to morph his U.S. Chamber, a long-time advocate of business interests, into just one more pro-Republican “super-PAC.” It was a move that Perlstein called a “stunning miscalculation and misallocation of shareholder funds” that “turned the one-venerable business organization into a political money laundering operation on behalf of the Republican Party.”

As a result, Pearlstein’s intoned, the U.S. Chamber disqualified itself as a voice for the interests of the business community, saying harshly, “the Chamber no longer represents American business.”

We could not agree more. The News-Press has from its founding in 1991 been intimately involved with our local Chamber of Commerce, operating in its early days in a veritable “united front” with it to support local business, our owner serving on its board, two terms as its president, and as recipient of two of its highest honors.

So it was particularly vexing to see the U.S. Chamber bombard our air waves in the last six months here with misleading and highly-negative ads distorting the record of now U.S. Senator-elect Tim Kaine, who will now be our elected representative.

Given how the U.S. Chamber has shifted into a crassly-partisan political organization, we strongly urge our local Chamber to publicly distance itself from it. There, in fact, is no connection between the two, except in the name but, thereby, likely in the minds of many citizens. This misconception should not continue.