Illinois Chamber PAC Dinner Speech
March 11, 2002
Thanks, Steve. Thank you all for coming out tonight. It's great to see such a big crowd at an event like this.
I'd like to thank Doug Whitley for inviting me here tonight. Doug is relatively new on the job, but already I'm hearing great things about what a fine job he's doing.
We're confident that under his and Steve's leadership, the Illinois Chamber's political action committee will continue to be a powerful force in Illinois politics.
I think Doug, Steve and I share the same vision—a business community that actively engages in every facet of the political process, from voter education, to fundraising, to endorsing candidates and contributing money, to getting out the vote.
If we do those things and do them well—with commitment, energy and passion—we can effect the outcome in November and have an easier time gathering the votes we need on issues like trade, transportation, energy, legal reform and taxes.
Tonight, I'd like to talk about the U.S. Chamber's political program—where it's been, where it is now, and what we hope it to become for this year's elections and beyond.
But I'd like to frame that discussion within the context of the current economic situation and our agenda for long-term growth.
Because, really, electing pro-business candidates is only the means to an end. The end game is enacting policies that will create an environment for sustained economic growth.
You know, many economists are now saying that we have avoided a recession altogether. The latest figures show that the economy actually grew in the 4th quarter last year, and is expected to grow much faster this quarter than anybody thought possible.
How did the economy turn around so quickly, and with such surprising strength? It was several things:
- 11 interest rate reductions;
- $1.35 trillion in tax relief that the U.S. Chamber, with the support of the entire Chamber Federation, helped push through last year;
- Record transportation funding, emergency relief for the airlines, and $40 billion in reconstruction funds following September 11;
- Low energy prices;
- Steady consumer spending, especially on cars and homes; and,
- A boost in business investment as inventories decline.
Even industries that have been hurting the most and the longest, like manufacturing, are taking part in the resurgence.
But we know the economy can be a fickle thing; any one event or series of events can throw it into a tailspin if we don't take the necessary steps.
That's why the U.S. Chamber is pursing policies that will trigger long-term growth.
First, we need to open foreign markets to American products and services. Only 4% of the world's consumers reside in the United States – 96% live elsewhere.
America leads the world in technology, manufacturing, and productivity – we can compete and win in any market if given the chance.
That's why the Chamber has made passage of trade promotion authority a top priority. It will allow the president to quickly negotiate trade agreements subject to a simple yes-or-no vote in Congress.
It's also why we're fighting to end the failed policy of imposing unilateral economic sanctions on foreign regimes we don't like—they do nothing to alter the political landscape but do everything to hurt American companies. Cuba is a good example.
Infrastruc ture Investment
Second, we've got to make investments in our critical infrastructure and transportation systems, which are outdated, outmoded, and facing new security risks.
I know you're struggling over the issue of expanding O'Hare Airport. Other communities face similar challenges in modernizing the nation's system of roads, airports, railways, seaports and waterways.
As a leader in the Americans for Transportation Mobility coalition, the Chamber is pushing for:
- Full funding of the federal transportation trust funds;
- Making sure those dedicated funds are spent for their intended purpose of infrastructure improvements; and,
- Streamlining the project review and approval process.
- On top of that, the Chamber is working to make the transportation system, other components of our critical infrastructure, and our borders safer and more secure without imposing unnecessary restrictions on the flow of people and commerce.
Another priority that is key to economic and national security is implementing a strategic energy policy.
America's dependence on foreign oil is one of our country's greatest strategic and economic weaknesses.
That's why the Chamber has supported legislation that strikes the right balance between tapping into rich, domestic sources of energy and continuing conservation efforts.
For example, the oil contained in a tiny piece of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is now off limits to drilling, is enough to replace oil imports from the Persian Gulf for 10 years, or from Iraq for 50 years.
And then there's legal reform. Flush with billions of dollars in fees from tobacco and asbestos litigation, a small group of class-action trial lawyers is hellbent on destroying other industries, and nobody is immune.
The Chamber is working hard to reform the legal system and free it from frivolous and excessive lawsuits so that the truly injured can receive speedy and fair justice—and their fair share of any economic damages that may result.
Our approach is simple—implement a multi-front strategy of challenging these unscrupulous trial lawyers every time they poke their head out of the ground.
On the legislative front, we've convinced lawmakers to introduce bipartisan class action reform bills in both houses of Congress.
On the political front, we're going to get involved in key state supreme court and attorney general races as part of our effort to elect pro-legal reform judicial candidates.
So, as you can see, we've got our work cut out for us. How are we going to get it all done? Well, we've got a lot of resources at our disposal, and we're using the organization's talents and strengths to the fullest.
We've got a first-rate lobbying staff. The Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform is leading the movement to restore common sense and reason to the legal system.
We've got our own public policy law firm, the National Chamber Litigation Center, which sues government when it steps over the line with onerous regulations.
Our think tank, the National Chamber Foundation, is leading and shaping the debate on many cutting edge business issues.
We have a team of international business experts who provide advocacy, services and programs that open new opportunities for U.S. companies overseas.
And of course, none of these resources would be available without the full support of the 3,000 state and local chambers, 3 million businesses, and 830 business associations that make up the Chamber Federation.
Political Program – 2000
But at the end of the day, our success is going to boil down to whether or not the people who make decisions for this country share our views.
The business community needs to fully appreciate that it is much easier to win on key legislation with members of Congress who already share our philosophy.
It is much harder to change the minds of those who oppose it and who owe big political debts to our adversaries.
Our opponents sure seem to have learned this lesson. Labor unions, trial lawyers, and extreme environmentalists are spending more money, running more ads and getting out more voters than ever before.
Big Labor alone spent more than $50 million mobilizing voters in the last election, and it seems to have been money well spent: More than one out of every four voters were from union households, even though unionized workers are less than 10% of the private sector workforce.
And Big Labor is raising the stakes this year. They're not screwing around. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has approved a member mobilization and political involvement program that he calls "the most massive political effort ever," and they're going to increase dues to make it happen.
We're clearly engaged in hand-to-hand combat, and we've got to step it up if we're going to survive.
When I came back to the Chamber in 1997, our PAC was bankrupt, and the extent of our political program was a bunch of endorsements that didn't pack a whole lot of punch.
We knew that wasn't going to cut it, so we immediately began raising money and raising awareness within the business community on the importance of being a player in the political process.
By the time the time the 2000 elections rolled around, we were ready for action. We contributed directly to more than 46 federal candidates, targeting 10 of the most competitive races in the Senate; two dozen of the tightest races in the House.
We raised money for several others as a result of 200 fundraisers and meet-and-greets, and our Get-Out-The-Vote campaign spread a pro-business message through newspapers, television, radio, mail and e-mail.
When all was said and done, the Chamber and its affiliates spent $21 million – and it was the best $21 million we've ever spent.
More than 80% of our endorsed candidates won, and we came out ahead in even the most bitterly contested races.
And, as I mentioned earlier, we rolled out voter education campaigns in 14 state supreme court races and one attorney general race. Twelve out of 15 pro-legal reform candidates won. That's not too shabby.
So, to sum up, we started our political program from ground zero in 2000 and competed admirably against a better funded and organized opposition that has been at this drill for a long time.
In doing so, we sent a very strong statement to our friends and foes alike
Political Program – 2001
But we didn't pat ourselves on the back and rest. Last year, we got involved in five special election races to fill vacant congressional seats—and we won all five.
We also had a perfect record on the legal side, helping to elect a pro-business attorney general in Virginia, as well as supreme court judges in Pennsylvania and Louisiana.
Political Program – 2002
The circumstances surrounding the 2002 elections are unprecedented. Both parties are capable of winning control of both the House and Senate, making this election quite possibly the most bitterly contested of all time.
In this hardball environment, the Chamber will up the ante and launch our most concerted campaign ever to elect pro-business members of Congress through contributions, fundraisers, voter education and grassroots support.
We're going to raise and spend more money than ever before.
And, by the way, we're working like hell on Capitol Hill right now to protect that right from supporters of campaign finance reform who want to strip away our constitutional right to free political speech while allowing labor unions to continue using membership dues for political purposes.
We going to play in the 6 to 8 competitive Senate races this year and in about 20 to 25 tight House races. We're already off to a great start, having won in a key California congressional primary last week.
We're going to host fundraisers—both in home districts and in Washington—for each of the pro-business freshman who won with 55% or less of the popular vote, those going for open seats, and challengers to anti-business incumbents.
We're going to solidify the participation of all 270 state and local chambers that partnered with the U.S. Chamber for Get Out the Vote efforts in 2000.
We've also identified an additional 697 chambers whose involvement will be critical in our targeted races.
And we're going to aggressively recruit member businesses into a company-wide employee voter registration and education programs.
You, your business, and your chamber need to be involved if the business community hopes to offset and even minimize the influence of class-action trial lawyers, radical environmentalists and labor union bosses.
Events like tonight are a very important part of the process. But business leaders have to realize that simply writing a check is not going to cut it.
We need to tear out a page of big labor's playbook and engage in increased political activism
working with each other to coordinate repeated express advocacy mailings and telemarketing contacts, fundraising events for candidates, issue ads, and other grassroots activities.
Ladies and gentlemen, getting more involved in the political process is not just your obligation—it's the best darn business decision you're ever going to make. Thank you very much for being here this evening.