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EDITORIAL: Chamber-sponsored trips to D.C. need to cease

by Matt Marquardt –

Many of you may be aware that local elected and appointed officials took a trip last week to Washington D.C. to lobby the Federal Government (see photo).

The trip was sponsored and organized by the Chamber of Commerce, said to be the largest lobbying organization in the country.  The group is known to fight against labor rights, wall street reform, the environment, health care reform, and leans Republican.  The Chamber flips the bill and then sends an invoice to the cities of Mason City and Clear Lake, as well as Cerro Gordo County and The Mason City Airport, all of whom sent representatives.

Are you aware that your tax dollars were spent to support this trip that seems to have a built-in Chamber of Commerce agenda?  Exactly what was accomplished?  Furthermore, are you aware of the cost?

Let’s try to answer these points.

Is there anything wrong with a mayor or county supervisor having a discussion with a Senator and asking for financial help for his community?  No, not to me.  However, I find it distasteful that our local officials, some who take no party stance, are traveling with a group that has a pre-determined set of goals and values, set at a national level, not locally.  The Chamber has influenced our representatives; I mean, look at the ridiculous red scarves the Chamber made them all wear.  I will say I am disturbed and troubled by this group exerting this kind of influence locally.  From what I have read, and from my own experience as a former Chamber member, they do not have the best interests of the average Joe in North Iowa in mind; they want to promote their organizational goals and agendas.  I find it offensive that our local officials took time and expense to travel with this group to lobby for ideals that myself and my neighbors may not find important or that may outright be against our best interests.  Furthermore… when this group walks into a Senator’s office, all wearing the scarves, that is telling the Senator that the whole group backs the Chamber of Commerce.  That is sending him a message.  That’s not what we voted for locally.

Exactly what was accomplished on this (and former) trips to D.C.?  The group left on Wednesday and was back Friday.  That is two travel days and one full day on the ground.   The group met with Senator Charles Grassley, Senator Tom Harkin, Representative Tom Latham and Representative Steve King and their staffers.  My guess is very little or nothing more than handshakes and small talk was accomplished; we know group photos were taken.  It is just too short of a trip.  I would also venture to assume that a list of concerns, goals and needs was passed along at each office.  Exactly whose goals and needs were on the list is anyone’s guess; again, they were all wearing red scarves and under the thumb of the Chamber of Commerce.  In fact, the invoices the Chamber submitted all charge a fee for “administrative.”  To me, that says “We are running the show.”  Not what I want to see from our local officials.

That leads to the final point, cost.  I discovered that you and I have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on these trips over the last few years.  I asked Mayor Eric Bookmeyer, City Administrator Brent Trout and Chamber Director Robin Anderson last week for detailed receipts and spending reports on this trip and the last few.  As of today, Friday, those three people completely ignored me.   All I got were the general invoices the Chamber submitted to Mason City, Cerro Gordo County and the Mason City Airport (sent to me by public employees).  I feel they must have something to hide, and that is sad for all of us.  I am sure they enjoy their trip to Washington, and I’m sure they feel important walking into a Senator’s office.  However, the trip is a total and complete waste of time and tax dollars and the public should be alarmed that this group is parading around our nation’s capitol partaking in pork barrel spending under the influence of the Chamber of Commerce.

I will lay out the cost in just a moment.  Before I do that, let me inform those of you still reading that I made calls to Senator Tom Harkin’s office and Senator Charles Grassley’s office this week.  I asked a staffer at Senator Grassley’s Waterloo office how much trouble it would be to set up a meeting with the Senator. “Not hard to do at all,” the woman said.  “That request just goes through a scheduler for whoever wants to meet with him and they set up a time and location.”  In fact, she said, the Senator was in North Iowa on Wednesday (Allison, IA.)  A little research shows Grassley was in Mason City just this past January 12.  He answered questions for students and teachers at Newman Catholic High School in Mason City.  I was told when I called Senator Harkin’s office that the process is the same for him.  Harkin was in Mason City last August the 26th.  Representative Latham has an office in Clear lake and a local phone number.  Steve King has an office in Spencer.  In other words, all four of these folks can be reached with much less hassle and expense than flying out to D.C. and spending taxpayer money on airplane tickets, restaurants, hotels, “administrative” costs, etc.  I am willing to bet that all four of them would gladly come to Mason City and spend whatever time is needed to hear our concerns and needs.  Probably wouldn’t even need the Chamber of Commerce in the room, either.

Total cost to Mason City and Cerro Gordo County taxpayers for Chamber of Commerce Washington D.C. trip, 2008-2011:

Mason City and airport total cost: $17,238.33 (Not including wages for Brent Trout and Pam Osgood)

Cerro Gordo County total cost: $5,362.79 (Only 2008, 2009 and 2010; no county rep on 2011 trip)

Grand total to taxpayers: $22,601.12 (See invoices here.)

Who went?

2012: City Administrator Brent Trout, Mayor Eric Bookmeyer, Pam Osgood (MC Airport), Brett Schoneman (MC Airport)

2011: Brent Trout, Eric Bookmeyer, Pam Osgood (MC Airport)
TOTALS: $4,720.77

2010:  Brent Trout, Eric Bookmeyer, Pam Osgood (MC Airport), Bob Amosson (County Supervisor)
TOTALS: $6,514.04

2009: Brent Trout, Mayor Roger Bang, City Councilman Steve Tynan (says he paid his share back, $600.34), Pam Osgood, Phil Dougherty (County Supervisor)
TOTALS: $6,736.42

2008: Brent Trout, Roger Bang, Bob Amosson
TOTALS: $4,629.89

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