The Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce and Politics

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The Wikipedia entry for the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce proudly states, “It should also be noted here that the Newport Beach Chamber receives no subsidy from the City (Newport Beach). Total support is through membership dues and special event income.”

OK … let’s get back to that later.

So, back in November 2010, voters in the City of Newport Beach overwhelmingly voted, 61.5 percent to 38.5 percent, for Measure V, which amended the City Charter and eliminated a few outdated City ordinances.  One of these “outdated” ordinances that was repealed was a $2,400 maximum amount of funds (important notation) the City could give the Chamber.

Well, according to Wikipedia, and Newport Beach Chamber President and CEO Richard Luehrs, the Chamber never had to receive actual hard money cash from the City, which might have been true, instead, the Chamber had been getting In-Kind funds in the form of Fee Waivers/City Support to the tune of $50k – $75k a year for its various events (Newport Beach Boat Parade, Taste of Newport, etc).

So if the Chamber proudly boasts that it never had to receive any subsidies from the City, why then was it so important to include that particular repeal in Measure V?

And why would the Chamber now be asking the City of Newport Beach for $75k cash (plus $18k inkind) for the Taste of Newport and $50k cash (plus $8,500 inkind) for the Newport Beach Boat Parade if “Total support is through membership dues and special event income,” once that ordinance was repealed?

But how the Chamber spends its member’s funds for its special events is not the gist of this column.

What concerns me is how the Chamber spends its member’s funds on the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce’s Business and Community Political Action Committee or BACPAC.

You see, the Chamber funds it’s Political Action Committee on an as-needed basis to the tune of $11,724 in 2010, $3,892 in 2008, and $15,530 in 2006 for the sole purpose of supporting their endorsed candidates for Newport Beach City Council.

And while other Political Action Committees – like the Newport Beach Firefighter’s Association’s – ITEMIZE their contributors, the Chamber’s BACPAC doesn’t, instead lumping them into one, or sometimes two, contributions directly from the Chamber.

I mention this because on the Membership form for the Newport Beach Chamber, it gives the applicant the OPTION of a $30 donation to the BACPAC

And the last time I checked, $30 does not go evenly into $11,724, $3,892, or $15,530, which leads me to believe that either the Chamber transfers extra money from its General fund to its Political Action Committee, or not enough.

And, if an individual Chamber member wanted to contribute more money to the BACPAC, then that contribution would, BY LAW, have been listed separately on the BACPAC’s Campaign Contribution reports. There were no such separate listings in the past three election cycles.

So, since the Chamber of Commerce had an extra $11,724 in its bank account in 2010 to financially support its former two-time Chairman of the Board and former Citizen of the Year Rush Hill for City Council, why would they need to break their longstanding, and Wikipedia-boasted tradition, by asking the City for $125,000 in 2011 to pay, and subsidize, two longstanding Newport Beach Chamber Events?

I know the economy is bad and the $425 basic membership fee, plus the $40 processing fee, plus the “optional” $30 BACPAC fee might be a bit steep for a few business, but if the Chamber was able to make it without the $125K cash in prior years, why this year?  Why now?

But here’s what worries me the most:  How much of that $125K cash will find its way to the Chamber’s Political Action Committee?  In the last three election cycles, the Chamber’s Political Action Committee has shown that the Chamber member’s contributions DO NOT make it, Dollar for Dollar, to their intended location, instead being routed through the Chamber’s bank account.  And the beauty of Political Action Committees, like the BACPAC, is that they are NOT subject to Newport Beach’s contribution limits.

So technically, it wouldn’t be too far fetched to claim that if Newport Beach City Council gifts $125K, IN CASH, to the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber would take some of those funds, after expenses, and contribute them to the Chamber’s Political Action Committee, which would then fund their Candidates for Newport Beach City Council…



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