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City Council Cuts Ties With Chamber of Commerce and Council of Industries

At last night’s City Council meeting, the City Council 6-1-1 with Griffin dissenting and Viramontes abstaining, for the City of Richmond to drop its memberships in the Richmond Chamber of Commerce and the Council of Industries to avoid potential civil or criminal penalties for using public resources to pay for memberships in organizations that participate in local political activities.

This past year, the City of Richmond paid $10,000 for a Chamber of Commerce membership and $800 for a Council of Industries membership.

The attached letter from Meyers Nave  provides the legal opinion on which the Council’s decision was based. In the past election, both the Council of Industries and the Chamber of Commerce advocated for and against candidates and against Measure T. The Council of Industries is also a registered lobbyist with the City of Richmond.

Many years ago, the City of Richmond virtually funded the Chamber of Commerce, but the level of funding began to drop in the 1980s. I served on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors at a time when the Chamber made a major decision to become independent of the City of Richmond so that it would not have to depend on the whim of a City Council to determine the level of annual support and so that it could participate in political activities. Indeed, the mission statement of the Chamber now includes “supporting business-friendly candidates.”

However, the Chamber now wants it all. It wants the credibility of the City’s membership and participation, the City’s money and the opportunity to be a player in local politics. All that is totally legal for the Chamber, but it is a criminal offense for the City. The Chamber has become more and more brazen about this in recent years. Although members of the Chamber set up a political action committee, Richpac, to solicit and make political contributions, it reminds the public that “Richpac is sponsored by the Richmond Chamber of Commerce.” In addition, the Chamber featured political advocacy in its newsletter, such as the example shown below.

Argument of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce in Opposition to Richmond’s Measure T

 Measure T is the wrong approach to solving Richmond’s problems.  Measure T is just a money grab.  Measure T revenues are not designated to go anywhere except the general fund. There is no well thought-out plan to spend this money.  Read the letter.

I have been a member of the Chamber of Commerce for over 30 years, and I have the utmost respect for its president, Judy Morgan, and the work the Chamber does in support of Richmond. But that is not the issue. The issue is that what the City has been doing is illegal. The Chamber has become both more strident and more brazen lately in its political advocacy – and, I might add, (in my opinion) totally wrong. The Chamber has to decide what it wants to do, be a political player or concentrate on helping its members – local businesses. Last night, Judy Morgan, recited a dozen or more important programs and projects undertaken by the Chamber. None of them involved political advocacy, and all of them can effectively continue without political advocacy.

I cannot support the City of Richmond having any involvement whatsoever with the Chamber until the Chamber modifies its mission statement and its activities to totally disconnect from political advocacy. Even without providing funds to the Chamber, I cannot support the City being a member of an organization that practices political advocacy. It confuses the public and makes the City and the City Council look bad. I also intend to ask the Chamber to return the City’s recent $10,000 contribution, and I am requesting that the city attorney investigate whether the Chamber of Commerce is in violation of Richmond’s lobbyist ordinance by not being a registered lobbyist.

Regarding the Council of Industries, I’m not sure that it would ever be appropriate for the City to hold a membership of any kind in the organization, even without paying for it. The Council of Industries (COI) is a narrowly focused advocacy organization that takes positions that are generally contrary to the best interests of most people in Richmond. Like the Chamber, the COI “sponsors’ a separate political action committee that solicits and spends funds on local campaigns, but it also engages in direct political advocacy. Even without providing funds to the COI, I cannot support the City being a member of an organization that practices political advocacy. Like the Chamber, it confuses the public and makes the City and the City Council look bad.

Worse yet, both of these organizations are, in my opinion, simply mouthpieces for Chevron in their political advocacy. I am a member of the Chamber of Commerce, and no one asked me what political position the Chamber should take (although I suspect they had that conversation with Chevron), and I’ll be darned if I am going to pay $800 dues to an organization that supports positions and candidates that are, in my, opinion not in my interest as a business owner or a resident.

For more information, see the following:

·         Council of Industries Pimps for Chevron Anti-Measure T Fight, October 19, 2006

·         Chevron Opposes Richmond Measure T While Raking in Highest Profits in History, October 28, 2006

·         Two Richmonds? October 27, 2006

·         City Politics and Candidates Divided by Chevron Support, October 29, 2006

·         Waning Campaign Thoughts, November 1, 2006

·         Mailbox Breaks Off, November 3, 2006