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 the safety and welfare of 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 an 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 citizens valued the Chamber 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 all that came to a screeching halt 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 changed to serves more as an arm of the local “tea party” and 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 and its residents.
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 summarily ejecting members with different political views from hers, and not soliciting membership from business owners who are 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 board 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 newly-aggressive, politically domineering chamber has crossed far over a line that no chamber should cross.
A: The nightmarish Rick Brainard Debacle of 2013 demonstrated the chamber’s new aggressive political bent. The Brainard political disaster showed Grand Junction citizens why the Chamber created its new “social welfare” group in 2012, the “Western Colorado Business Alliance” (WCBA). The WCBA was created to serve as the Chamber’s lobbying arm. It’s president is Chamber board member Michael Anton, and it effectively serves as a branch of the Chamber that can take in and spend unlimited funds on Chamber-backed candidates without disclosing its donors to the public. Rick Brainard was one of the candidates who benefitted from the chamber’s largesse via this new group. The shocking debacle that ensued after that exposed the “new” chamber, and showed in stark terms the dangers it poses to our City.
What was the Rick Brainard Debacle? Click the link to find out.