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Buying Public Policy: Why do politicians that claim to represent progressive politics take money from the GR Chamber of Commerce?

June 7, 2021

A few weeks ago we posted an article that challenged the claim made by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce that they want everyone in this community to thrive. Anyone who uses their brain will know that the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce opposes an increase in the minimum wage, works to undermine labor unions, opposes a tax increase for the rich, and a long list of other policies that do economic harm to people who are not business owners.

The Chambers of Commerce that exist all across the country have a very long history of opposing progressive/left policies that people have fought for over the past century. As we noted in May, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce lobbies states legislators, but they also make contributions to candidates running for office in West Michigan.

The Political Action Committee (PAC) of the GR Chamber is called the Friends of West Michigan Business GR, based on the Michigan Secretary of State campaign finance records. We looked at the campaign finances of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce over the past decade, just to see which candidates were receiving funding from the group that is part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure.

Not surprising, the bulk of the candidates that the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce has contributed to, are part of the Republican Party. This is consistent with the US Chamber of Commerce, which contributed about 80% of their money to the GOP, according to OpenSecrets.

However, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, like the national Chamber, also contributes to candidates running as Democrats or candidates running in non-partisan races that claim to represent progressive politics. Below is a list of Democratic candidates or those claiming to represent progressive policies, which have taken money from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce since 2010. However, before looking at these names, it is important for all of us to think about why the below listed below would take funds from an entity that fundamentally fights for and defends Neo-Liberal Capitalism?

  • The GR Chamber is strategic about who they make political contributions to, thus they want to, at a minimum, have greater access to those who get elected.
  • The GR Chamber, like any major political donor, wants to influence the candidates/politicians they contributed to
  • This access and influence that the GR Chamber is buying makes a mockery of the very notion of what the democratic process is supposed to be about.
  • Many of the people on the list below have received campaign contributions from labor unions or other groups that identify as progressive or left groups, so why take money from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce as well?
  • Just because the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce makes a contribution to a candidate, doesn’t mean that those candidates have to accept the money. 
  • We should seriously question and challenge candidates who take money from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.
  • The list includes people who have sat on the Grand Rapids School Board, the Grand Rapids City Commission, the Kent County Commission and state legislators from this area.
  • All of this money from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is fundamentally about getting public policy that benefits the interests of the Capitalist Class. 

This list is in chronological order from the most recent to 2010, which includes the amount the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce PAC contributed, and the date:

Winnie Brinks $250 3/24/2021

David LaGrand $500 8/20/2020

Rachel Hood $100 10/13/2020

Mindy Ysasi $1,000 6/28/2019

Jon O’Connor $500 6/28/2019

Rosalynn Bliss $500 6/28/2019

Tony Baker $250 9/17/2018

Kimberly Williams $250 9/17/2018

John Matias $250 9/17/2018

Monica Sparks $350 9/17/2018

Jim Talen $250 9/17/2018

Dave Bulkoski $250 9/17/2018

Carol Hennessy $250 9/17/2018

Kurt Reppart $1,000 6/22/2017

Joe Jones $1,000 6/22/2017

Senita Lenear $250 6/22/2017

Kristian Grant $1,000 9/30/2016

Raynard Ross $1,000 9/30/2016

Jen Schottke $1,000 9/30/2016

Winnie Brinks $500 6/22/2016

David LaGrand $500 6/22/2016

Carol Hennessy $150 6/22/2016

Jim Talen $150 6/22/2016

Dave Bulkowski $150 6/22/2016

Rosalynn Bliss $500 5/14/2015

David Allen $250 5/14/2015

Ruth Kelly $250 5/14/2015

Jon O’Connor $250 5/14/2015

Mindy Ysasi $250 9/26/2014

John Matias $250 9/26/2014

Wendy Falb $250 9/26/2014

Tony Baker $250 9/26/2014

Carol Hennessy $250 5/23/2014

Jim Talen $250 5/23/2014

Dave Bulkowski $250 5/23/2014

Senita Lenear $500 7/17/2013

Rosalynn Bliss $250 7/17/2013

Carol Hennessy $100 7/6/2012

Rosalynn Bliss $100 7/6/2012

Dave Bulkowski $100 7/6/2012

George Heartwell $250 9/1/2011

Ruth Kelly $100 9/1/2011

Jim Talen $100 6/22/2010

Dick Bulkowski $100 6/22/2010

Carol Hennessy $100 6/22/2010

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