Candidates reject U.S. Chamber interference in 2nd District Democratic Primary

Candidates reject U.S. Chamber interference in 2nd District Democratic Primary

Both announced Democratic candidates seeking to challenge Congressman Bruce Poliquin in next year’s election have issued statements condemning plans by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to interfere in the Democratic primary.

The planned meddling was revealed when the Associated Press came into possession of an internal memo detailing the corporate lobby group’s strategy of attempting to make upcoming Democratic primaries more contentious in order to benefit vulnerable Republican incumbents, including Poliquin.

“It’s another example of the huge disconnect between Washington power brokers and the rest of the country,” said Joe Baldacci, a Bangor city councilor who is seeking the Democratic nomination. “I’m fairly confident that Democratic primary voters in Maine are not going to be influenced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which has opposed every piece of progressive legislation to raise wages or protect workers, just as Bruce Poliquin has.”

“Congressman Poliquin’s special interests backers are clearly worried that he’s vulnerable in 2016,” said Mike Carey, a former State Representative and spokesperson for the campaign of Emily Cain, a former State Senator who is seeking a rematch after losing to Poliquin in the 2014 General Election. “They should be worried. Mainers are fed up with Bruce Poliquin’s repeated failure to fight for the people he was elected to serve. I have faith that Mainers won’t be fooled by this kind of dirty politics.”

This isn’t the first time the U.S. Chamber will have brought its bare-knuckle brand of politics to Maine. In 2014, the group launched a series of attack ads against independent Angus King during his campaign for U.S. Senate. Maine chambers of commerce were quick to distance themselves from the corporate lobby’s actions at the time.

Most local chambers have no association with the national lobby group, which is primarily funded by just a few dozen large corporations, many in the fossil fuel, tobacco and insurance industries. The organization still attempts to maintain the useful fiction that it speaks for small, local businesses. U.S. Chamber CEO Thomas Donohue once wrote in a letter to an executive at Philip Morris that small firms “provide the foot soldiers, and often the political cover, for issues big companies want pursued.”

The interest group has often courted controversy for extreme positions taken on behalf of large corporate benefactors. Earlier this year, for instance, a New York Times investigation detailed how the lobby group is leading a global fight against anti-smoking health initiatives.

The Chamber, which supports Republican candidates almost exclusively, spends more on lobbying than any other interest group in the country. It reports annual revenues of more than $165 million.

According to Maine small business advocates, an out-of-state group, even one with that kind of firepower, may still find it difficult to influence the Second District race.

“Despite the massive amounts of money the U.S. Chamber and the giant corporations that fund it plan to spend in Maine, we’re confident voters in the Second District will listen to homegrown Maine business-owners – not DC lobbyists – when making their decision on Election Day,” said Will Ikard, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition.

Photo: U.S. Chamber CEO Thomas Donohue, via Flickr/US Chamber

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