Members of the Maine Small Business Coalition are challenging the political intervention of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce after it announced a $400,000 attack ad in the race for the open Senate seat in Maine left by the retirement of Olympia Snowe at the end of this year. The 3,400-strong MSBC had a clear message for the U.S. Chamber: go back to Washington.
While MSBC moved quickly to highlight the U.S. Chamber’s backing by out-of-state corporate interests (and, in particular, the health insurance industry, which funded the Chamber’s activities to the tune of more than $100 million over 2009-2010) , local chambers of commerce and even the state chamber in Maine worked to distance themselves from the U.S. Chamber’s partisan political activities. These activities drew extensive press coverage, including:
Kennebec Journal: http://www.kjonline.com/news/maine-business-leaders-reject-ad-against-king_2012-07-30.html
Maine Public Broadcasting Network: http://www.mpbn.net/News/MaineNewsArchive/tabid/181/ctl/ViewItem/mid/3475/ItemId/22966/Default.aspx
Portland Press-Herald’s Capitol Ticker blog: http://www.pressherald.com/blogs/capitolticker/163873206.html
Then, when U.S. Chamber staff toured the state as part of their election activities, business owners in the Maine Small Business Coalition didn’t mince words in their response.
Craig Saddlemire, owner of Round Point Movies in Lewiston, was quoted in an August 15 story in the Sun Journal: http://www.sunjournal.com/news/maine/2012/08/16/maine-small-business-group-tells-us-chamber-go-bac/1237203
“The U.S. Chamber doesn’t care about small businesses in Maine,” said Craig Saddlemire, a Lewiston city councilor and local small business owner. “These are the guys who lobbied for BP after the spill in the Gulf. They backed the health insurance industry over small businesses during the health care debate. Their CEO says that outsourcing is a good idea and that people who lose their jobs should ‘stop whining.’”
Suzanne Kelly, owner of Kelly Realty Management in Bangor, was quoted in the same story:
“I was a member of my local chamber and I support the good work that they do, but I don’t support the U.S. Chamber at all,” Kelly said. “It’s basically a conservative Super PAC representing big business and health insurance companies. What they support is often directly opposite of what’s most important to Maine small businesses.”
With the U.S. Chamber promising to spend between $50-$100 million in direct advertising for and against candidates in the 2012 elections, and with the Chamber continuing to refuse to disclose its donors, small business owners and local chambers will need to continue raising their voices to make clear that the Chamber represents big out-of-state corporate interests – not local, independent small businesses.