Columns Opinion — 18 November 2011

Its time to clear up some myths about the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and its relationship to local politics.

Myth No. 1: The Alexandria Chamber endorses candidates and they are usually republican.

This is completely wrong. With Election Day being last Tuesday, we typically get a number of inquiries around this time of year regarding endorsements. Who do we endorse? The short answer is: nobody.

The Chamber is not a partisan organization. We do not endorse or support political candidates; we weigh in and align ourselves with politicians who agree with us on issues. This means we sometimes end up on the left or the right, depending on how businesses are affected. It also means we might work with a politician on one issue and battle with them on another.

We host programs and events to introduce candidates and issues to our members as well as provide forums for debate among the candidates. We also regularly meet with our state and local representatives, who happen to be primarily Democrats.

We worked with republican City Councilman Frank Fannon, at the local level, to defeat the commercial add-on tax. And we were able to convince others on the city council Democrats to vote against it as well.

At the state level, we worked with Del. David Englin (D-45) and supported him in his efforts to repeal the accelerated sales tax that burdened small businesses by requiring them to remit sales taxes to the state before collecting them from customers.  He was able to raise the gross revenue cap to relieve the smallest businesses from having to prepay their sales taxes at the end of the commonwealths fiscal year.

Frankly, the chamber does not care what party represents us. We only care that they are looking out for businesses, and in particular small businesses, while they do their work.

Myth No. 2: The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce is under the control of the United States Chamber of Commerce.

This is also completely wrong. Tom Donohue is not our boss. Thats what I tell people when they ask about our relationship with the U.S. Chamber. Just because our organizations have the same last name, doesnt mean we are related. In fact, founded in 1906, the Alexandria Chamber pre-dates the U.S. Chamber by 6 years. Our bosses are the members of the Alexandria Chamber and we report to them.

As a local Chamber, we have the option to be members of the U.S. Chamber.  Being a member of the U.S. Chamber does not mean we do what they ask us to do all the time. We chose to be members of the U.S. Chamber because of the wealth of information we gain from it. With a staff of only four full time people, the Alexandria Chamber needs help tracking the issues that affect our members.

How do national level issues affect Alexandria businesses? A great example is the requirement under the health care act that every business had to file 1099s for every vendor they spent $600 or more with during the year. Imagine a small business owner having to send a 1099 to Walmart? The time, money and paperwork spent on this additional work would have been hugely burdensome to small businesses. The U.S. Chamber alerted us to this problem. We then lobbied our United States senators and congressmen to eliminate this requirement.

Finally, we do not need the U.S. Chamber to fight for us, we dont need direction from them and we are quite capable of advocating for ourselves. Defeating the commercial add-on tax this year and saving Alexandria businesses nearly $120 million proves how effective a local Chamber can be all by itself.

The writer is president and CEO of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce.

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