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Turmoil consumes Chamber of Commerce as it backs Democrats

But the group’s donors and members are up in arms, with some threatening to pull funding and others openly venting their frustration. Some are raising the prospect that Chamber board members will quit in the weeks to come.

There is particular concern the Democrats in question do not have the pro-business record an endorsement would convey. State Chamber of Oklahoma President Chad Warmington wrote a letter Tuesday to national Chamber leaders fervently opposing the proposal to back Rep. Kendra Horn, perhaps the most vulnerable House Democrat in the country.

Citing the Oklahoma congresswoman’s voting record on energy issues, Warmington wrote, “I question how the U.S. Chamber could endorse a candidate who consistently voted against the largest industry in Oklahoma, employing over 90,000 workers throughout the state. That is hardly a pro-business record. I am also concerned the U.S. Chamber would endorse a congresswoman that voted in lockstep with Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats who are not pro-business nearly 90 percent of the time.”

Warmington added: “I don’t believe an endorsement of Congresswoman Horn is warranted at this time and certainly not justifiable based on the current record of consequential votes impacting Oklahoma businesses.”

Warmington has gotten backup from U.S. Chamber board member Allen Wright, who serves as an executive at Oklahoma-based Devon Energy, which has long supported Republicans. Wright has pointedly raised concerns with leadership, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

While the plan’s detractors are waging an eleventh-hour effort to prevent the Democratic endorsements from going through, they acknowledge it’s unlikely, given that Chamber higher-ups are aggressively lobbying members. Among the other Democrats on the brink of getting Chamber support are Reps. Elaine Luria of Virginia, Andy Kim of New Jersey, and Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, all of whom hold seats Republicans are targeting.

As national Chamber leaders express a willingness to help reelect House Democrats, rank-and-file members of the organization are arguing the Democrats have taken positions that are anathema to corporations. Several of the Democratic lawmakers the Chamber is planning to endorse support a $15 minimum wage, a policy that many in the business world fiercely oppose.

The internal fight is just the latest headache for the Chamber, which for decades was regarded as a giant in the lobbying world. The group has recently generated headlines for its frosty relationship with the White House and alleged lavish spending on private jets.

The clash also provides a window into a growing rift in the business community over its place in the Donald Trump-dominated Republican Party, which has at times embraced policies the corporate world opposes. While the Chamber has almost exclusively endorsed Republicans over the past decade, it has collided with the president over everything from tariffs to immigration.

Clark told The Washington Post last year that “if anybody here ever thought of themselves as working for a partisan place, they should stop.”

Thomas Wilson, chairman of the Chamber’s executive committee, said in a statement that “the Chamber’s board has actively and successfully supported more bipartisanship in Washington since 2016 so we can create jobs and economic prosperity,” adding that “our priorities cut across party lines.”

“We are excited about the positive impact our enhanced endorsement criteria is having on creating better solutions for America,” Wilson added.

The Chamber’s shift toward Democrats has deeply worried Republican officials, who long regarded the Chamber as a key piece of their campaign infrastructure. And it comes as two other prominent Republican-aligned political organizations, the National Rifle Association and Koch political network, pare back their electoral activity.

The Chamber has typically endorsed a handful of House Democrats each election year, though people familiar with the group say it hasn’t endorsed so many at a single time. It rarely gets behind freshmen members, who are especially vulnerable in their first reelection race.

Your guide to the year-round campaign cycle.

Donors and members have raised concerns loudly about the formula Chamber leadership is using to endorse candidates. The organization scores each member based upon how their voting record aligns with its priorities. To win the Chamber’s endorsement, a lawmaker must receive at least a 70 percent score.

But in recent days, Chamber management has faced questions about whether it is manipulating numbers to get the Democrats past the threshold. Heath Lovell, an executive at Alliance Coal, a company overseen by Republican megadonor Joe Craft, has pressed officials on how the Chamber is making its calculations.

And some local leaders say they are being unfairly left out of the process. Roy Williams, president and chief executive officer of the Oklahoma City Chamber, wrote a letter to Bradley on Tuesday to complain about how the endorsement push has played out.

“It has been brought to my attention that the policy of the U.S. Chamber is to reach out to local chambers before endorsing freshmen members of Congress,” wrote Williams, whose chapter is based in Horn’s district. “It has been communicated to me that an endorsement of one of our members of Congress is in line … but I … have not been contacted by the U.S. Chamber regarding this issue. So either I misunderstood the policy, or the policy is not being implemented. So I would appreciate a clarification.”

Chamber officials deny there has been any effort to alter the scoring and say they have been taking a range of policy issues into account.

Officials recently circulated a memo aimed at clarifying the endorsement process, noting that they updated their scoring method last year to “better reflect Chamber priorities and emphasize support for members who — regardless of party — took concrete actions to demonstrate a commitment to governing.”

Bradley declined to comment on the undertaking, but said: “We are grateful that we have committee members who are active and engaged and take their role seriously in helping us work through issues such as political endorsements.”


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