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Gorge chamber creates PAC

Group gives business leaders more influence over elections -

FILE PHOTO - Matt Wand (left) and Bob McDonald (right) pose for a picture during a meeting of the Columbia Gorge Chamber of Commerce earlier this year.A newly-created political action committee will give the West Columbia Gorge Chamber of Commerce more influence on government affairs, say business leaders associated with the group.

The PAC will only support candidates endorsed by the chamber, though the two groups are distinct legal entities that raise money separately.

“Business owners are entitled to have a voice in politics, just like any other group,” said Matt Wand, a main driver behind the PAC’s formation and lead attorney for the Yoshida Group. “A lot of chambers have influence, have a strong voice, and we want to do the same thing in East County.”

The WCGC Members PAC, as it is officially called, was incorporated on Thursday, Aug. 11, per state records. Former Troutdale City Councilor Eric Anderson, who has served a stint on the chamber’s board of directors as well, filed the papers.

Despite its name, the chamber will have no direct financial relationship with the PAC, which has its own bank account and will fundraise separately, noted interim Chamber Director Bob McDonald.

“We have no receipt or disbursement of money (between the two entities), or any control over what amount is given,” McDonald said. According to state documents, the PAC has conducted zero financial transactions so far.

It’s no secret that chamber leaders have taken a strong interest in certain building projects, including Junki Yoshida’s Eastwinds Development, which is planned for Troutdale’s Urban Renewal Area north of downtown.

The chamber’s foray into local politics has gained the attention of Troutdale City Hall.

Councilors Glenn White and Rich Allen submitted their membership dues and applications just a few hours before a Monday, Aug. 15, meeting of the chamber’s board of directors, which was convened to discuss endorsement procedures.

Allen is running for mayor, while White is running for reelection.

“We just listened,” Allen said when reached by telephone. “We just joined, so we don’t know what all the rules are.”

Lynn Snodgrass, CEO for the Gresham Area Chamber, says chambers of commerce must tread carefully or risk losing their coveted 501(c)(3) status, which makes them tax-exempt nonprofit organizations.

Snodgrass said business groups can have their nonprofit designation revoked if they spend more than $2,000 on political activities.

“You have to be so very, very careful and not make any mistakes,” she said. The Gresham chamber does not operate a political action committee.

Not everyone is excited by the news of another political organization in East Multnomah County.

Claude Cruz, who resigned as the Chamber’s executive director in March, has strong misgivings on the formation of the PAC.

“Chambers, with some trepidation, will form a PAC in order to distance themselves from candidates or issues they want to get behind or suppress,” he said. “It keeps them on the right side of the law, but in terms of spirit, it really impedes their effectiveness as a community vehicle.”

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Claude Cruz was "ousted" from his position with the Gorge Chamber. In reality, he resigned.