Here in Central Oregon in the early 21st century, the board of directors of the Bend Chamber of Commerce has come up with its own peculiar hybrid animal to confound the analytical efforts of political scientists. It's called the Bend Business PAC.
The bizarreness of the Bend Business PAC resides in the fact that, while it was formed by the Chamber's directors and operates under the auspices of the Bend Chamber, it is a separate and independent animal from the Bend Chamber. Or so the Chamber assures us.
According to a message Chamber Chairman David Rosell recently distributed to members, the Bend Business PAC was formed "for those who are passionate about local politics and want to be more involved. ... The PAC is affiliated with the Bend Chamber and plays an important role for a portion of our membership. This is a group of successful business people in our community who have diverse backgrounds and political ideologies."
In years past the Bend Chamber has taken some flak for supporting certain local political candidates. Critics of the practice pointed out that with more than 1,500 members the Chamber is quite a diverse group, and not all of its members agree on what's good for Bend - or even what's good for business in Bend.
The Bend Business PAC was formed a couple of years ago to skate around those objections. Neither the Chamber itself nor the PAC will publicly endorse candidates, Rosell said, but PAC members will be able to raise money and contribute to candidates.
The PAC also, according to Rosell's message, will play an informational role: "I feel it is our responsibility to educate our members on the current issues which are important to the business community. This includes: city spending and taxes, Juniper Ridge, transportation, and local ballot initiatives."
Although the Chamber directors have taken pains to differentiate the Chamber from the PAC, the demarcation remains kind of fuzzy. As Rosell put it, there's a "dotted line" - not a clear and sharp solid line - between the two entities. Inevitably, given the overlaps in functions and memberships, the PAC is going to be perceived as operating on behalf of the Chamber and its members.
Rosell said politics really is peripheral to the essential mission of the Chamber: "Our main purpose is to enhance the economic vitality of Bend and support the individual business success of our members." If that's so, why have a political action arm at all?
If some passionate local businesspersons want to form a PAC to support candidates, that's fine - but the Chamber shouldn't be involved in any way. It's time for the Chamber to BOOT this peculiar political animal out of the nest.