Maine Chambers: Independent and Local

Election season is hotting up in Maine, and with it come the TV and radio ads from outside the state, looking to influence your vote one way or the other using scads of money raised beyond the Piscataqua River.

The ads that always get my phone ringing are those sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce, a national group based in Washington DC. It is a common fallacy that Chambers of Commerce are like the Boy Scouts and so therefore your local Chamber must have either an active or passive hand in the creation of such ads. As a Chamber director I often hear that surely we all belong and pay dues to this national organization in return for a franchise to use the words “Chamber of Commerce”. Actually, along with around 5,000 of the 8,000 chambers of commerce around the United States we are independent of and unafiliated with the US Chamber and pay them no dues. “Chamber of Commerce” is not a branded movement, but rather a category of business akin to “boat yard” or “jeweler”. While we love to hear from everyone, calling your local Chamber to complain about or cheer on the US Chamber is akin to calling a Main Street jeweler to complain about or cheer on Zales.

But in this busy, modern world, the wrong end of the stick is often just begging to be grasped. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to lay out exactly where your local Chamber comes out on matters political, and what “independent and local” means in practice.

The Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce’s job is to promote the interests of business and encourage economic development, while functioning in a manner that is compatible with the environment, protects natural and cultural resources, and sustains the heritage of the communities it serves. Given the fact that members of the Chamber come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and may have differences of opinion in partisan political matters, the Chamber is neutral in matters of politics. The role of the board of the directors is to implement the above mission and, due to their fiduciary responsibility to the organization and the membership. uphold the neutrality of the Chamber.  This does not preclude the board from addressing, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant consequences or that directly affect the interests of a clear majority of the Chamber’s membership.

While permitted to do so under its 501c6 non-profit status, The Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber does not routinely:

  • Endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms.
  • Allow its membership lists or other resources to be used for partisan political purposes.
  • Attempt to direct its members as to which candidate or party they should give their votes to. This policy applies whether or not a candidate for office is a member of Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber does:

  • Encourage its members to play a role as responsible citizens in their communities, including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections.
  • Encourage its members to engage in the political process in an informed and civil manner, respecting the fact that members of the Chamber come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and may have differences of opinion in partisan political matters.
  • Request candidates for office not to imply that their candidacy or platforms are endorsed by the Chamber without the express and previously obtained consent of the Board of Directors.
  • Reserve the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Chamber’s membership or the communities the Chamber serves.

So as we approach a busy election season, make sure you register to vote, inform yourself on the issues and candidates, and make your own mind up about how to cast your ballot in November.