A difference in philosophy has caused the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce to part ways with the sometimes controversial Kansas Chamber of Commerce.
The leader of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce confirmed Wednesday that his board of directors has decided not to renew its membership with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.
“Our board has determined the state chamber’s program of work simply does not align with the Lawrence Chamber’s programs and our economic development mission,” said Greg Williams, the president and CEO of the Lawrence Chamber.
Williams said the chamber board decided not to list specific disagreements in philosophy it may have with the Kansas Chamber, but he said he believes other chambers of commerce have taken similar actions.
“Our research indicates that a little less than half of the local chambers in the state are not dues-paying members of the state chamber,” Williams said. “This is not something we are doing on an island. Lawrence hasn’t set the precedent by any means.”
Kent Beisner, president and CEO of the Kansas Chamber, said he wasn’t aware of Lawrence’s decision. He said the chamber has lost a few local chambers of commerce from its membership in recent years.
“But when I say a few, I mean less than a handful,” Beisner said.
Beisner said sometimes local chambers of commerce do disagree with positions taken by the state chamber, but he said he was confident the Kansas Chamber was in touch with the positions of the state’s business community.
“Our mission is to help businesses,” Beisner said.
The Kansas Chamber’s legislative lobbying activities, though, have rubbed some chambers the wrong way. The Shawnee Chamber of Commerce, just outside of Kansas City, dropped its membership about seven years ago, said Shawnee Chamber President Linda Leeper.
Leeper said the Kansas Chamber had taken positions against education funding and did little to lobby for the state’s economic development programs.
Leeper said she thought several other chambers had become uneasy with the Kansas Chamber’s political action committee and the amount of outside money it is pouring into races.
“We just really don’t believe local campaigns should have lots of dollars pumped in from outside the area, whether it be from Wichita or from out of state,” Leeper said.
The Kansas Chamber’s PAC has drawn attention in political circles for lobbying against moderate Republicans and for advocating that districts in the Kansas Senate be redrawn to boost the chances of conservative challengers. The Kansas Chamber also has faced criticism that Wichita-based Koch Industries and its conservative founders have outsized influence with the Kansas Chamber.
Williams said the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce will review its membership status with the Kansas Chamber on an annual basis.
“If we see some indications that their style of management is becoming a bit different, then I suspect we’ll be right back in,” Williams said.
Williams said he doesn’t expect the Lawrence Chamber’s decision to drop out of state chamber to affect Lawrence’s operations. He said the state chamber’s main role was to provide legislative lobbying. He said the Lawrence Chamber has staff members who provide that legislative advocacy work.
Beisner confirmed the Kansas Chamber of Commerce has about 80 to 85 of the approximately 200 local chambers of commerce as members. He said that number has held fairly steady in recent years and includes most of the large communities in the state.
But the organization does not publicly list its membership, including which chambers belong to the organization. Beisner said his board of directors had decided against publishing a directory of the organization’s membership.