Recent news in the Montana Senate race shows that large, national interest groups’ views don’t always coincide with all of their members in the local community organizations — with some Chamber of Commerce members objecting to ads being run against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.
The municipal Chambers — which often function as community groups as much as political ones — have had to explain to members that their local dues have not gone to pay for the ads. The ads are funded by the U.S. Chamber’s PAC, to which people specifically donate for the purpose of political advocacy.
Tester was narrowly elected in the Democratic wave year of 2006, defeating Republican incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns. National Republicans have recruited Montana’s lone member of the House of Representatives, Denny Rehberg, and recent polling has shown a tight race with Rehberg more often ahead by a very slim margin.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released this ad in mid-November:
And this ad was released later that month:
As the Great Falls Tribune reports, Missoula Chamber of Commerce chairman John Brauer and president Kim Latrielle sent a letter to their members Tuesday.
“We do not condone the tone of these commercials and believe this type of campaigning is counterproductive,” their letter states. “As an independent organization governed by local business and community partners, we do not automatically agree with either the Montana Chamber of Commerce or the U.S. Chamber on their policies or messages. We do not endorse political candidates, and we do not pay for advertisements regarding candidates.”
Meanwhile, the papers reports, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is standing by the ads:
J.P. Fielder, spokesman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, declined to say whether member dues were used in the production of the ads.
Fielder defended the ads, saying there’s a reason why the national organization engages in what he called “voter education” in contests such as Montana’s U.S. Senate race.
“It’s to remind the voters about the issues that are important to businesses and what his voter rating is with the business community in Washington, D.C.,” Fielder said.
Percy Malicott, the president of the local Chamber in Great Falls, wrote a letter to the local paper distancing the area organization from the ads:
I’m sure just about everyone has seen the Sen. Jon Tester hit ads put out by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The main question I have been receiving is, “Does the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce support those ads?” The short answer is, “No, we do not.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce puts such ads out through their political action committee. Dues from any Chamber member do not go to that PAC and, therefore, don’t help pay for those ads. All PAC monies are donated directly to the PAC and are intended to support political activism.
I would also like to briefly comment on political ads in general. We have all seen them, and I have yet to hear anyone say they like them — regardless of political affiliation. Most people want to hear about the issues and how candidates will resolve them. Unfortunately, ads of this nature tend to skirt or stretch the truth and have proven to spark an emotional response. That is exactly what they are designed to do.
Marc Lucich, director of the Butte Chamber, characterized the ads as “a real waste of money,” and further disassociated his local group from the ad in a report by The Montana Standard:
The Butte chamber doesn’t take stands on political issues or endorse candidates, he said. The agency sometimes, but rarely, will release its view on an issues, Lucich said.
“Unless it’s very pertinent and impacts our community, we stand neutral,” he said, adding that the Butte chamber instead focuses on supporting local businesses and attracting new business and tourism.