Friend or Foe, U.S. Chamber Plays Both Roles for Democrats

by Nathan L. Gonzales October 12, 2010 · 9:38 AM EDT

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has become a very polarizing group — within the Democratic Party.

While some Democrats this week seized on a study, initiated by the liberal blog Think Progress, that alleged the Chamber of Commerce is using foreign money for its political efforts, others were thrilled to highlight the chamber’s support.

“Bennet Campaign Calls On Buck To Denounce Chamber, Reject Support,” blared the headline on a press release from Sen. Michael Bennet’s (D) campaign in Colorado.

“Shocking allegations surfaced yesterday that the ‘U.S.’ Chamber of Commerce has been collecting contributions from foreign corporations to fund attack ads on behalf of U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck and other candidates they support,” according to the release.

Apparently, not every Democratic candidate got the memo.

In South Dakota, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) isn’t shy about embracing the chamber as she touted the group’s support in her new television ad.

“Hailed as a valuable ally of South Dakota’s small business,” the narrator said as the chamber’s name and logo are featured on the screen along with the words “Valuable Ally.”

The chamber dichotomy is not unique to the Bennet and Herseth Sandlin campaigns.

Democratic Senate nominees and state parties in Wisconsin, Missouri, Washington, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania this week issued press releases blasting Republicans and the chamber — announcements that were collected and redistributed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

But in Virgina, Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Virginia) said in an e-mail to supporters on Thursday: “In the last few days, our campaign has gotten even more exciting news! The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business — cornerstones of our business community — have both endorsed me in the race to represent Virginia’s Second District.”

Nye added, “Both of these organizations have committed to helping our campaign because they believe I am the best choice to represent the business interests of Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore.”

The chamber is going up with ads supporting Nye and Democratic Reps. Frank Kratovil (Md.), Travis Childers (Miss.), Jim Marshall (Ga.) and Bobby Bright (D-Ala.). responded to the chamber’s support of certain Democratic incumbents by e-mailing their members in the districts. MoveOn’s goal is to pressure the Democrats to condemn the ads and ask that they be taken down.

Democrats can't agree as to whether the chamber is a friend or an enemy.

“Once again, Bob Gibbs is selling out Ohio’s working families to defend the corporations that are sending Ohio’s jobs overseas,” Rep. Zack Space’s (D) spokesman Andrew Ricci said in a release on Friday after the chamber announced support for Gibbs, the GOP nominee in Ohio’s 18th district. Gibbs, the release charged, is “expected to rubberstamp their pro-outsourcing agenda.”

Just so things are clear, the Space campaign offered this description of the organization that’s supporting some of his House Democratic colleagues: “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the leading supporters nationally of outsourcing jobs, putting Americans out of work and lowering the salaries of American workers while applauding the lower cost of imported products.”