UPDATED 5/18/2012 7:30 a.m.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce loves Linda Lingle, but does Lingle love the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?

The question arises because the U.S. Chamber plans to spend at least $500,000 this year in support of Linda Lingle’s bid for the U.S. Senate.

About half that amount has already paid for a television advertisement that ran statewide in February. The ad touted what it described as the bipartisan credentials of Lingle, a two-term Republican governor and former Maui mayor, to promote tourism.

On May 10, the U.S. Chamber launched a second TV ad blitz that runs for two weeks. The spot, posted at the end of this article, is similar to the first, stressing bipartisanship and tourism.

The Lingle campaign is not responsible for the ads; they’re part of a national campaign by the U.S. Chamber to elect or re-elect people to the U.S. Congress who share the chamber’s views on supporting businesses, lowering taxes and controlling government growth.

But Lingle is getting the benefit from the ads, which far outnumber the spots run so far this year by Democrats Mazie Hirono and Ed Case — even though Lingle does not have a serious primary challenger.

She has also enthusiastically accepted the U.S. Chamber’s endorsement, saying in a May 9 press release that she is “honored and humbled by their support.”

And, she welcomes the TV ads on her behalf, as she said in the same press release: “I am also pleased the U.S. Chamber has backed up their endorsement with a television schedule that reinforces my bipartisan position on growing our local economy.”

In aligning herself with the U.S. Chamber, however, Lingle is embracing an organization that has been one of President Barack Obama’s harshest critics.

Under president and CEO Tom Donohue, Obama has been castigated over health care, renewable energy and job growth, to name just a few hot-button issues.

And, while Donohue and Obama are reported to have worked to improve relations in recent months, the reality is that the U.S. Chamber is supporting a slate of candidates that would work to oppose many of the president’s policies and goals.

Should she win the primary, Lingle is certain to come under attack from local and national Democrats during the general election.


Civil Beat left messages with the Lingle campaign asking whether she supports the U.S. Chamber’s agenda and policies but did not hear back before this article was published. Late Thursday, a campaign spokeswoman responded by referring us to the May 9 press release.

GOP Candidates Favored

Here’s the transcript for the second pro-Lingle ad paid for by the U.S. Chamber:

Working together to create jobs will bring Hawai’s economy back. That’s the independent record that Linda Lingle has built. Gov. Lingle believes in a bipartisan plan for increasing tourism, working across the aisle with President Obama, finding solutions to boost our local economy for more opportunity. More opportunity. She understands that tourism will create jobs for Hawaii and our economy. Call Linda. Tell her to keep supporting tourism and putting jobs above partisanship.

The ad includes a phone number to the Linda Lingle for Senate Committee.

The Lingle spot is one of 21 TV ads that the U.S. Chamber is launching this month, its third campaign in the 2012 election cycle.

Despite the U.S. Chamber’s praise for Lingle’s bipartisanship, the 21 ads clearly favor one party.

Nine of the spots attack Democrats — including Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Sherrod Brown of Ohio — while 11 support Republicans like Lingle and Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan and Bobby Schilling of Illinois.

Only a single Democrat is supported in the chamber’s latest ad blitz. But Rep. John Barrow of Georgia is described by GovTrack as a centrist Democrat and by Politico as “the last remaining white Democrat in the Deep South.”

The messages in many of the ads, meanwhile, are heavy on GOP themes: opposing “Obamacare,” government growth, regulation, higher taxes and high energy costs. They don’t pull their punches.

By contrast, the pro-Lingle ad is soft and fuzzy, e.g., “working across the aisle with President Obama.”

Obama the Main Target

Under Tom Donohue, who has run the U.S. Chamber of Commerce since 1997, the group has been the opposite of soft and fuzzy.

During the past three years, it has emerged as one of President’s Obama’s most persistent critics.

Consider just a few headlines:

Bloomberg Businessweek: “Tom Donohue: Obama’s Tormentor.” (“If the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has his way, the President’s change agenda is finished.”)

The Washington Times: “Chamber chief critical of Obama’s jobs agenda.”

The Washington Post: “Chamber of Commerce: Don’t waste 2012.” (“Donohue warned President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Senate against letting election-year politics hold back the legislative agenda.”)

The Wall Street Journal: “Chamber’s Donohue Grades Obama on Economy: C+”

The New York Times: “After Months of Feuding, Obama Makes Overture to Business Group.”

The Times article, which ran in November 2010, begins this way:

President Obama is moving to cool down his war with the United States Chamber of Commerce, one of the most bitter political feuds of the last two years. …
By last summer, the chief executive of the chamber, one of the nation’s leading business groups, accused Mr. Obama and the administration of pursuing ‘an ill-advised course of government expansion, major tax increases, massive deficits and job-destroying regulations.'”

Meantime, the U.S. Chamber’s policy positions sound more like Mitt Romney, the GOP’s likely presidential nominee, than Obama.

“The U.S. Chamber has plans to spur economic growth and put Americans back to work — and quickly,” according to the introduction to the chamber’s Jobs and Growth Agenda. “Through these commonsense steps, the private sector can lead the way, and we can create millions of jobs without raising taxes or adding to the deficit.”

Another U.S. Chamber website, Friends of the U.S. Chamber, includes this stance on labor union issues:

We oppose a radical agenda in Congress to rewrite our nation’s employment laws that would restrict flexibility in the workplace, expand liability and damages under federal employment related laws, add new criminal penalties under safety and health laws, eliminate arbitration, and mandate new paid leave requirements.

Local Chamber Keeps Its Distance

The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii — which operates in a pro-union-and-Democrats state that is Obama’s birthplace — takes pains to make clear its distinctions with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Though affiliated with the national chamber, the local chamber does not endorse candidates and is not involved with the national chamber’s policies, including its endorsement of Lingle.

The local leadership also groans when local media run headlines that may confuse the public, as with this one that ran in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last week: “Chamber aids Lingle with $275K in TV ads.”

Asked to comment on Tom Donohue’s statement in his endorsement letter of Lingle that the chamber “will be in direct contact with our members in your state promoting you as our candidate of choice,” the local chamber sent a quote from Jim Tollefson, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii:

“What we do is encourage our members and the business community to vote for candidates with business friendly policies. That being said, our main role during an election year is to urge everyone to register, and get out and vote. No matter who they support, we stress the importance of using your voice.”

The U.S. Chamber, however, aims to sway election results.

As Donohue wrote in his April 18 letter to Lingle announcing the national endorsement, “Historically, a Chamber endorsement has served candidates well. In the 2010 elections, 236 lf the 276 Chamber-endorsed candidates were elected.”

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Television Commercial for Linda Lingle

About the Author