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Wichita Chamber’s PAC changing endorsement process

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, at 6:04 p.m.

The Wichita Metro Chamber’s political action committee is changing the way it chooses candidates to endorse, chamber officials said Friday.

The chamber’s PAC task force has recommended that more communication and transparency be built into a more quantifiable process of political endorsement selection, chamber president Gary Plummer said, and those changes are being implemented immediately.

“If there’s anything we hope to accomplish, it’s to give complete clarity and understanding to those holding public office what they should be doing on behalf of our members — improving the environment for our business operations,” said task force chairman Lynn Nichols of Yingling Aviation.

“It’s about transparency and trying to avoid any subjectivity in the process,” Plummer said, “and being able to defend why we make the decisions we do is very important.”

The changes come in the wake of some internal controversy among chamber members after the political action group sided against several incumbent state senators in the August primary, favoring candidates who support Gov. Sam Brownback’s economic agenda.

The chamber PAC withdrew its support from several longtime legislators, including Jean Schodorf, Dick Kelsey and Carolyn McGinn. Only McGinn survived a primary challenge in August.

Sam Williams, managing partner at Sullivan Higdon & Sink in Wichita and chairman of the chamber PAC, said the task force produced a clear plan for how the political action committee should proceed.

“Those things existed before, but there wasn’t a process in place,” Williams said.

Williams downplayed the internal chamber split over the August state endorsements.

“I don’t think there was a division to begin with,” he said. “Just a lack of communication.”

The task force, created in July, recommended:

• A solid “correlation” between the PAC endorsements and the state policy agenda established by the chamber’s board.

“That’s what really came out as the lead from the task force,” Plummer said. “To be able to communicate to our members that there is alignment and although we’re talking two different boards, there’s a high degree of coordination and we need to be able to exhibit that.”

From the state policy agenda, the chamber’s leadership and governmental relations staff will identify key votes and compile a legislative scorecard on all legislators. Those results will be compiled and regularly presented to the chamber’s board, membership and the PAC board.

The chamber also will weigh key votes by local elected officials, compiling a similar local scorecard while tying local endorsements more directly to the chamber’s strategic priorities.

• A transparent, well-communicated endorsement process, targeting the chamber’s members and partners, like the chamber board, Young Professionals of Wichita, Visioneering, the Leadership Council and the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.

“I think that it becomes clear and transparent that our agenda is the Chamber’s legislative agenda,” Williams said.

• The PAC board membership should reflect the Chamber membership, drawing more from its partners as members.

“We spell out some important constituencies we need to communicate with on a regular basis,” Plummer said. “When you have a comprehensive Chamber, with economic development and community partners, you need to make sure everybody understands the direction we’re going and has some input as well. Enhanced communications go a long way toward demonstrating that alignment.”

The changes are important, Williams said, to make clear the Chamber’s thought processes behind its political endorsements.

“When politics is involved, there’s winners and losers,” he said. “The more you put a process in place to allow logic to come out of what’s decided, then everybody wins. Even though some will be disappointed, there’s not a feeling of betrayal.”

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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