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Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - Page updated at 08:55 A.M.
Chamber ads rile state groups
By David Postman
Washington state business groups say the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's ad campaign against attorney-general candidate Deborah Senn was not only a strategic mistake but "presented serious credibility problems" for local business organizations.
"Washingtonians don't like surprises or what they perceive as outside interference," said a letter sent to the national group last week and signed by six business organizations in the state.
The U.S. Chamber paid for a $1.5 million television-ad campaign against Senn, a Democrat and former state insurance commissioner. The Chamber placed the ads anonymously through a group called the Voters Education Committee, later revealing its involvement only under legal pressure from the state Public Disclosure Commission.
The head of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce told members that the letter was written to express "our strong disdain for this type of political activity."
Steve Leahy, president and CEO of the Seattle group, said state business groups wanted to protest both the "likely counterproductive result" of the campaign as well as the "bone-headed practices" of trying to hide the source of the campaign's money.
Other groups that signed the letter were the statewide Association of Washington Business, and chambers of commerce in Spokane, Kelso-Longview, Bellevue and Tacoma-Pierce County.
The money for the campaign came from the U.S. Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform, which focuses on restricting liability lawsuits and is involved in 25 state supreme-court and attorney-general campaigns nationwide.
Senn appears to be the winner in a close race in the Democratic primary over former Seattle City Attorney Mark Sidran. The winner will face Metropolitan King County Councilman Rob McKenna, a Republican.
Sidran campaign officials have said they are convinced the Chamber's ad campaign ended up hurting their cause and may have cost them the election.
Senn said yesterday that she hasn't seen the letter from local chamber groups, but she already has heard from Washington business groups.
But she said she still would like to know who donated the money to the U.S. Chamber that was used to pay for the campaign.
The letter to the national Chamber was sent Friday, but as of yesterday had not yet been received, said Sean McBride, vice president of communications for the Institute for Legal Reform.
He said issues raised in the letter will be addressed to local groups "through private channels, not through the newspaper."
Bruce Boram, the campaign manager for the anti-Senn effort, said yesterday he would not comment on the letter.
The U.S. Chamber does seem to have some regrets. Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business, said he's had two telephone calls with U.S. Chamber officials "and they are apologetic."
"I don't know if they're apologetic for the action," Brunell said. "They certainly are apologetic for the impact it has had on us and our local chambers and the impact it has had on our relationship" with the national group.
Brunell said the local and national business groups have lots of issues in common, and he hopes the relationship can be repaired. He said it was difficult to learn that the U.S. Chamber was operating in Washington state without consulting groups here.
"The shock factor is starting to wear off and that turns into disappointment, and I think that's where we are," he said, "and hoping to hell it doesn't happen again."
In the letter, local business groups requested a meeting with their national counterpart.
"We insist that you include us in the decision-making process when it comes to state and local issues just as we work with you on issues at the federal level which are vital to our state, region and national competitiveness and survival," the letter said.
Washington state business groups say the ad became the news in the final days of the campaign, "completely diverting the public's attention that would otherwise have been focused on the different attributes and records of the two Democratic candidates for Washington state Attorney General."
David Postman: 360-943-9882 or email@example.com
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