The Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce appears to have beat activists with MoveOn.Org to the punch. MoveOn activists were agitating to have the local Chamber withdraw from the National Chamber, which had incurred the wrath of MoveOn because of its vehement opposition to the health insurance reform plans now before the Senate. But before MoveOn could get a head of steam going, its activists discovered that the local Santa Barbara Chamber had already left the national organization.
Now MoveOn is urging its members to call the local chamber to thank it. To what extent the local chamber’s decision to leave the national had anything to do with the politics of health care reform is yet unclear. Chamber President Steve Cushman was not available for comment, and board chief Steve Amerikaner said he did not know.
MoveOn has criticised the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for launching a $100 million campaign against President Obama over health care reform, energy policy, and proposed new banking and lending regulations. Several local chambers have left the national organization in recent weeks, uneasy with the tone and tenor of the national business group’s political direction.
Santa Barbara Chamber leader Steve Cushman, a registered Democrat, is a fiscal conservative and social liberal. Perhaps the Chamber’s disassociation with the national branch should come as no surprise: During his recent bid for mayor, Cushman-who came in third in a field of five-was pilloried as a stalking horse for the Kremlin by the political action committee funded by Texas billionaire, housing developer, and part-time Santa Barbra resident Randall Van Wolfswinkel. Van Wolfswinkel supported Cushman’s rival, councilmember Dale Francisco. Van Wolfswinkel’s ads linking Cushman to the Kremlin were inspired by the $50,000 donation Cushman received from Russian billionaire banker Sergie Grishin, who owns several properties in Santa Barbara.