LEWISTON — A Maine small-business coalition with about 3,400 members says it has a simple message for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: "Go home."
"The U.S. Chamber doesn't care about small businesses in Maine," said Craig Saddlemire, a Lewiston city councilor and local small business owner. "These are the guys who lobbied for BP after the spill in the Gulf. They backed the health insurance industry over small businesses during the health care debate. Their CEO says that outsourcing is a good idea and that people who lose their jobs should 'stop whining.'"
Sadllemire, a filmmaker who owns Round Point Movies, was responding to a three-city campaign sweep Tuesday by Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Summers made campaign stops in Bangor, Lewiston and Biddeford with the U.S. Chamber's national political director Rob Engstrom touting the U.S. Chamber's endorsement of Summers' campaign.
Saddlemire is a member of the Maine Small Business Coalition, which issued a statement Tuesday criticizing Engstrom's appearances in Maine.
"They represent the extreme agenda of multinational corporations and the health insurance industry and the fact that they're trying so hard to influence our elections here in Maine is deeply troubling," Saddlemire said.
On Wednesday, Lance Dutson, Summers' campaign manager, took issue with the Maine Small Business Coalition's political motives, saying the coalition was not a legitimate business group in Maine but a wing of the left-leaning Maine People's Alliance.
"It's a make-believe group," Dutson said.
Suzanne Kelly of Kelly Realty Management in Bangor, another coalition member, also criticized the U.S. Chamber saying it was pushing a "far-right ideological agenda."
"I was a member of my local chamber and I support the good work that they do, but I don't support the U.S. Chamber at all," Kelly said. "It's basically a conservative Super PAC representing big business and health insurance companies. What they support is often directly opposite of what's most important to Maine small businesses."
Asked how many Maine businesses belong to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Engstrom said Tuesday he did not have that figure at hand but would provide it to the Sun Journal.
As of late Wednesday, the U.S. Chamber had not responded to additional requests for that information.
Dutson said he didn't know how many Maine businesses belong to the U.S. Chamber but said, "It has to be in the thousands."
The U.S. Chamber has 300,000 members nationwide, according to Engstrom.