Chambers of commerce take bigger role in politics

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Chambers of commerce in Indiana are increasingly making politics their business.

After years of advocating pro-business positions, many chambers are taking the next step and issuing endorsements in hopes of ensuring business-friendly mayors get elected. The political action committee for the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce is backing that up with regular annual donations of $10,000 to mayoral candidates.

"I think you have to have the right people driving the bus, and chambers realize that for the sake of Indiana's economy and the business future you've got to have the right elected officials," said Shelli Williams, president of the Indiana Chamber Executives Association, which offers professional development for chamber executives and staff around the state.

The chambers in Evansville and Terre Haute issued their first mayoral endorsements during general elections four years ago, while the chamber in South Bend gave its first mayoral endorsement in the May primary. One Southern Indiana endorsed candidates for the first time last year in legislative races and in the 9th Congressional District.

Tonya Fischer, the chamber's vice president of investor and government relations, believes it will probably endorse mayoral candidates in November.

"The only way to make a difference is to step out there and endorse candidates and try to change public officeholders to where they are pro-business," she said.

Jeff Rea, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County, said his organization decided that after years of advocating issues such as improving U.S. 31 and school reform, supporting positions wasn't enough.

"We feel like we need solid leadership to implement those key issues," the former Mishawaka mayor said. "So part of our public policy reach has jumped. Not because we want to be involved in politics, but because we do think we need good, solid people in leadership."

Some larger chambers, such as the Greater Indianapolis and Fort Wayne chambers, have been giving mayoral endorsements for more than 10 years. Other chambers are doing so now because members are telling them that is what they want, said Ben Taylor, executive director of the Great Lakes Region of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Taylor said the political involvement usually starts with chambers getting involved in issues and moves forward.

"The natural progression is holding elected officials accountable for how they vote," he said.

Some, though, still don't want to get involved.

"Our board just feels, keep above the fray," said Dave Ryan, executive director of the Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, which serves Hammond, East Chicago and northwest Indiana. "You never know what's going to happen where, and it's better to be apolitical in those situations. That's the way we do it."

The chamber in Terre Haute endorsed a mayoral candidate for the first time four years ago, but president Rod Henry doesn't think it will do so again anytime soon. Henry said some members thought the chamber gained credibility by backing Democratic Mayor Kevin Burke, who lost by 110 votes But others in the close-knit community disagreed.

"Over the last several years we talked about it, and we just basically said let's stay away from that," he said. "We have focused ourselves more so since then on issues and public policy versus endorsements."

The larger a local chamber is, the more likely it is to be involved in advocating issues and endorsements, said Jeff Brantley, vice president of political affairs for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Smaller chambers tend to be more social and focused more on community relations, he said.

"Certainly there is more interest within the business community now of being more involved in politics and being supportive," Brantley said.

The state chamber has been endorsing candidates in legislative races since the 1980s, but it gave its first gubernatorial endorsement four years ago when it backed Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, Brantley said.

Brian Vargus, a professor of political science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, questions the value of the endorsements.

"Chamber endorsements are like newspaper endorsements. A lot of people don't even read it," he said. "There's no data to show they make a big difference."

He said a better way to make a difference is for chambers to support candidates by donations through their political action committees.

Many of the chambers said their endorsements didn't come with any cash donations. The Greater Indianapolis Chamber, though, has been backing its endorsements through its political action committee, the Business Advocacy Committee. The committee gave $10,000 four years ago to incumbent Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson, who lost, then gave $5,000 to the man who beat him, Mayor Greg Ballard, the next year. It gave Ballard $10,000 in 2009 and again in 2010.

The committee also gave Daniels $25,000 in 2007, including $5,000 earmarked for the Governor's Ball. He received another $10,000 in 2008.

The Fort Wayne chamber's PAC, the Greater Fort Wayne Business Political Action, gave $250 to Mayor Tom Henry's campaign in 2007 and gave an additional $1,500 to City Council candidates. Last year it donated $2,200 to legislative and school board candidates.

"It's the money," Vargus said. "That's where some things can really be done because they can coordinate giving a lot more through the chamber."


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Yes sir keep cashing those 300K a year checks direct to IMS, while millions disappear from the teams like Rahal's. Guess there wasn't enough ka- ching going around to keep Sarah Fisher in business without their "merger". LOL._____.Meanwhile back in Realville the series with the "best racing in the world" drew what appeared to be about 5000 live spectators ( and probably 1500 of those Target "freebies", and was beaten in the ratings by a series that reportedly consists of "parades" and aired while most people are still sleeping. That will generate those big ka-chings for sure. :-). But, hey, as long as the Speedway gets the cash who gives a damn about the teams?

  2. Welcome to PETERSON LOAN AGENCY Company (A Personalized Service for All Your Financial Needs) We, Liberal Investment Company Providers offers loan at a very low interest rate of 2%, we offer Personal loans, Debt Consolidation Loan, Venture Capital, Business Loan, Educational Loan, Home Loan, and Loan for any reason and urgent needs!. with a maximum duration of 30 years. Have you been turned down by your bank? Do you have bad credit? Do you have unpaid bills? Are you in debt? Do you need to set up a business? Worry no more as we are here to offer you a low interest loan. Our loan ranges from $5,000-USD (Five Thousand US dollars) to $50, 000,000.00.(Fifty Million US dollars). We also lend in USA DOLLARS EURO and POUNDS ! Fill in this form and forward it to our email: PETERSONLOANAGENCY@GMAIL.COM 1. Your Full names:_______ 2. Contact address:_______ 3. Country Of Residence:______ 4. Loan Amount Required:________ 5. Duration:_____ 6. Gender:_____ 7. Occupation:________ 8. Monthly Income:_______ 9. Date Of Birth:________ 10.Telephone Number:________ 11. Purpose of loan:_________ Yours In Service, MR PERRY, PETERSONLOANAGENCY@GMAIL.COM

  3. If I could actually get the prices...I would do this on my own. We need laws that force provides to publish the costs they will charge. Everyone else gives you the price in advance...except hospitals.

  4. I was under the impression that fencing is not allowed on a front yard and that on a corner, both sides are considered "front" yards, therefore can't be fenced without a variance. Also impedes the visibility for drivers at the intersection. Am I understanding this correctly? Might be why a fence was not included in the plans and a request for a variance will have to be made?.

  5. I was a big fan of Cowards and Carrots, which I got a chance to see at the show. It's currently on Kickstarter, but the designer also put out What's He Building in There last year, which got a fair amount of buzz.