Amid a multistate ad blitz by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that targets 20 House and Senate races, state and local chamber affiliates in Montana and Virginia have condemned or distanced themselves from the national trade group's ads.
Montana chamber leaders in Missoula, Butte and Great Falls have objected to an ad alleging that Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) voted to raise taxes to pay for President Barack Obama's health care law. Leaders of the Missoula chamber wrote in a letter to their members that the ad was "counterproductive," according to local news reports. Butte chamber Director Marko Lucich was quoted in the Montana Standard calling the ads "a real waste of money." In a letter to the Great Falls Tribune, Great Falls chamber President Steve Malicott told readers that his group did not sponsor, support or endorse the ads.
The Virginia Chamber of Commerce disavowed a similar ad targeting former Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat running against ex-Sen. George Allen (R). Politifact Virginia gave the anti-Kaine ad, which also blasts Kaine's support for the health care law, a "false" rating. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also ran a separate, pro-Allen spot.
Virginia chamber President and CEO Barry DuVal said in a statement that his group is staying neutral in the race and that "the Virginia Chamber of Commerce is a non-partisan, business advocacy organization." Even as the national chamber's ad attacked Kaine, he was invited to speak at the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce. The state chamber hosted both Kaine and Allen at an event in December, the Washington Post reported.
Such objections are not typical of how state and local chambers have responded to the ad campaign, said Bryan Goettel, senior manager of media relations at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. If anything, Goettel said, state chambers have embraced the national group's ads.
"While there may be the example here and there" of local objections, Goettel said, "overall we're seeing more support than ever before." He pointed to statements of support from chamber leaders in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Billings, Mont.
The recent ads signal an unusually early and aggressive push by the national chamber to weigh in on House and Senate races. Goettel would not say how much the group is spending, but Democratic Party officials estimate that it's well into the millions. In the 2010 elections, the chamber spent $33 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, making it one of the top outside spenders.
"We've engaged earlier than we ever have in the chamber's 100-year history," Goettel said. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's TV ads are running in a dozen House districts and in eight states with hard-fought Senate races, and they are being coupled with grass-roots and online advocacy efforts, the group announced last month.