In early 2013, the Chamber funneled historic amounts of money to candidates they selected and groomed to run for City Council. The money came from the Chamber’s then newly-set up 501-c-4 “social welfare” lobbying group, the Western Colorado Business Alliance (WCBA). Chamber director Diane Schwenke created WCBA in 2012 to accept large donations from deep-pocketed supporters, while keeping keeping her donors’ names secret to protect their businesses from backlash. It is thus unknown whether WCBA’s donors are strictly local, or if they have taken money from donors outside our area to influence local elections.
WCBA shares the same mailing address as the chamber, and Diane Schwenke is listed as its principal officer. Because WCBA refuses to disclose its donors, Grand Junction citizens have not way to find out who is really funding the Chamber’s activities to gain control over city politics. A fourth Chamber ally, Sam Susuras, was appointed to fill a vacant seat on City Council in 2011. He already sat on Council and was not up for re-election in 2013.
Once citizens found out about the relationships between the Chamber’s candidates, WCBA and the money pouring into the chamber’s campaigns, they were outraged. Citizens started referring to the Chamber-backed candidates collectively as “chambermades.” In Grand Junction’s 2013 city council election, chambermades Marty Chazen, Phyllis Norris and Rick Brainard collected an average of $11,000 each in campaign donations. The candidates who weren’t backed by the Chamber raised an average of just $2,100 each. To put these amounts in perspective, prior to the 2013 election the most money a city council candidate in Grand Junction ever spent on a local election topped out at about $3,400. The amount the chambermades collected and spent on their campaigns blew everyone out of the water, including the Daily Sentinel, who called the amount “eye-opening.”
In response to local anger over its sudden, intrusive attempts to manipulate local politics, Chamber President Diane Schwenke was completely unrepentant. She told the Daily Sentinel that she would not only to do more of it, but to do it better next time. [See the paragraph 3rd from the end in article at the above link.]