What’s Wrong with the Chamber?

 

Diane Schwenke, Director of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce since 1989

Diane Schwenke, President of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce since 1989, has turned the formerly respected and helpful Chamber into a polarizing political group that seeks to control City policymaking. (Photo credit: YouTube)

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce is bad for business, and its actions are detrimental to Grand Junction citizens.

 

“Indeed, on the state level, the Grand Junction Chamber is viewed as an impediment to business growth and expansion.”

     –Prominent western Colorado newspaper publisher

Why do we say the Grand Junction chamber is bad for business and our area citizens? After all, chambers of commerce are supposed to help communities, not hurt them, right?

Most chambers are helpful for cities and towns, but the Grand Junction Chamber is the exception to this rule.

A little background is in order to really grasp what’s wrong with the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce:

The G.J. Chamber used to be highly regarded. Joining the Chamber was a rite of passage for business owners and a way to show their support for the community. For decades the Chamber was highly valued for its helpful, uncontroversial community activities like recruiting volunteers to tutor kids in reading and promoting events and festivals celebrating local history and culture. Indeed, the Chamber helped start some of our area’s signature events like Dinosaur Days and the well-loved downtown Farmers Market. Like other nonprofit groups in town, the Chamber also used to weigh in on issues that affected businesses, like taxes and fees, but restricted its political activity in accordance with its 501-c-6 IRS designation, which limits the amount of lobbying a chamber can engage in. Because it was helpful and non-partisan, the G.J. Chamber enjoyed widespread support from the community for generations.

But that ended in 2013. That year, a radical change had occurred within the Chamber. The 2013 City election showed citizens are now dealing with a far different Chamber, a hyper-aggressive one that now serves as an arm of the local “tea party” and that is bent on dominating City politics. We are now also dealing with a chamber whose blind political ambition usurps its concern for the well-being of the City. Over the years, Grand Junction Chamber President Diane Schwenke has shaped the chamber’s membership to squelch political dissent from within its ranks. She did this by ejecting members with different political views from hers, and not seeking membership from business owners who would be likely to hold dissenting political views. After decades of shaping the chamber’s membership this way, in 2013 the Chamber debuted in its new role as a politically partisan organization. Unable to convince the Grand Junction City Council to vote her way on every issue, Ms. Schwenke and the chamber have been working to dominate City Council and take over the City’s policymaking process. To this end, the Chamber engaged in highly questionable, even unforgiveable political tactics in the 2013 election.

For many area citizens, this newlyaggressive, politically pushy chamber has crossed well over a line.

MoneyQ: How were these changes in the Grand Junction Area Chamber revealed?

A: The nightmarish Rick Brainard Debacle of 2013 demonstrated the chamber’s new antics. The Brainard political disaster showed Grand Junction citizens why the Chamber created a new group in 2012, the “Western Colorado Business Alliance” (WCBA). The WCBA is the Chamber’s lobbying arm. It’s president is Chamber board member Michael Anton, and it is effectively a branch of the Chamber, like the billionaire Koch Brothers’ front group Americans for Prosperity, that takes in and spends unlimited funds on Chamber-backed candidates without disclosing its donors to the public. Rick Brainard was one of the candidates the chamber picked for city council. The shocking debacle that ensued after that exposed the new chamber, and demonstrated the dangers it poses to our City.

What was the Rick Brainard Debacle? Click the link to find out.