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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hudson breaking from U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Already under fire for controversial fundraising practices, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is now losing some of its local support.

On Friday, the Greater Hudson Chamber of Commerce released a statement saying its board of directors has voted not to renew its membership with the national chamber because it felt recent political advertisements by the national chamber in support of specific parties and candidates were in “direct conflict” with the foundation of the Hudson chamber.

Jerry Mayotte, executive vice president of the Greater Hudson Chamber of Commerce, said the Hudson group is a nonpartisan organization. He said he can’t remember the last time they chose not to renew their membership.

The decision wasn’t made lightly.

“We didn’t like the fact that the U.S. Chamber was supporting particular candidates,” Mayotte said. “We don’t think it’s good business practice to do so.

“We take stands on particular issues considering business, but not particular candidates.”

Hudson isn’t the first to separate from the U.S. Chamber because of political disagreement. Many local chambers broke off years ago or never joined in the first place.

Chris Williams, president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, said that group hasn’t been a member of the U.S. Chamber for many years.

“We have no formal relationship with them, and we have no plans to change that,” he said.

However, Williams said the lack of membership isn’t because of politics. The decision to stay independent was made years before his time and hasn’t been revisited.

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce does a very good job of aggressively promoting its message,” he said. “It certainly takes advantage of political season, and that can result in (local chambers) becoming a little uncomfortable.”

May Balsama, executive director of the Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce, said it has never been in her chamber’s interest to be a member of the U.S. Chamber.

“We cover a very large area, and in our towns, there is a broad range of political viewpoints,” she said. “While the U.S. Chamber lobbies and does some very good work for our businesses, I know they’re also very active in politics, and we determined it would not be appropriate to be part of the membership.”

It’s still a common misunderstanding that all local chambers are connected to the national group in some way.

Robin Comstock, president and CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, had to clarify that to the audience at a 1st Congressional District debate on Tuesday at Saint Anselm College.

“We are not accredited by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; we are not a member,” she said. “The only similarity is that we share a name.”

Manchester’s lack of relationship is because of politics, Comstock said.

“The ad campaign the U.S. Chamber is running in New Hampshire, simply put, we do not do that,” she said. “We just do not support candidates or any particular party. We are simply here to present both sides of the conversation and both arguments.”

Merrimack Area Chamber of Commerce board member Mary Hendricks said that group isn’t involved with the U.S. Chamber, either, also for political concerns.

“We have always tried to be neutral on political issues,” she said in an e-mail.

Williams said local chambers that choose to be a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sometimes do so because they get small benefits they believe could help their businesses, including access to some federal resources or the ability to participate in certain accreditation programs.

But moving forward, Mayotte doesn’t see the lack of membership affecting the Hudson chamber negatively, or even at all.

“I don’t believe we lose anything,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, I could not find one positive thing to say about being involved in the U.S. Chamber.”

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or Staff writers Jake Berry and Dean Shalhoup contributed to this article.