U.S. Chamber wants day off for elections

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

WASHINGTON -- The nation's largest business lobby is embracing one of organized labor's election tactics: giving workers Election Day off to make it easier for them to cast ballots.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 3 million businesses, said Tuesday it wants to model its 2002 get-out-the-vote campaign after the one used successfully by the AFL-CIO to get hundreds of thousands of union workers to vote.

"Look at what John Sweeney has done in getting labor members out to vote -- let's match what these fellows and others are doing," Chamber President Tom Donahue said, referring to Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO.

With control of Congress at stake in the fall election, Donahue said that he would support business owners giving their workers the day off to cast their ballots.

Unions have long supported providing a day off for workers to vote, and some contracts grant such time off. The latest United Auto Workers' contract with U.S. automakers contains a provision making Election Day a paid holiday.

The chamber has long been a major player in elections, spending millions on political ads, campaign donations and presidential nominating conventions.

Donahue said he anticipated the chamber would again "spend a major amount of money" in 2002, but was not more specific. He said the group would target two dozen House races, six to 10 Senate races and 25 state court and attorneys general races.

He said the lobby would try to direct its money at close contests involving pro-business candidates.

"We'll finance the Mayo Clinic races -- those are the people on life support," Donahue quipped, alluding to the famous medical treatment center in Minnesota.

The chamber, which boasts 124 registered lobbyists, also identified its legislative priorities in Washington.

It wants Congress to approve an energy plan, expand presidential trade authority and bring more immigrants into the work force before it adjourns this fall.

The lobby's top priority this year is winning Senate approval of legislation expanding the president's authority to reach trade pacts with other countries, Donahue said.

The proposal would let President Bush negotiate trade agreements Congress could approve or reject but not change. The Republican-dominated House, lobbied heavily by the chamber, high-tech groups and other business interests, backed the legislation in a close vote last month after fierce lobbying against it by labor and environmental groups.

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