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Chamber Cancels Candidate Luncheon Over Campaign Concerns

By Jorge Casuso

October 5 -- The Chamber of Commerce cancelled its candidate luncheon Tuesday after concerns arose that it could violate election laws because only members of the business group's slate were invited to participate.

The chamber departed from its tradition of inviting all of the candidates after the its board backed slates for the first time in the upcoming November election.

After discussing the options, Chamber officials decided to play it safe and cancel the luncheon, fearing that the paid event could be construed as an illegal contribution from the non-profit business group to its PAC's slate.

"We can't have money changing hands," said Kathy Dodson, the chamber's executive director. "We would be taking money for the lunch and then paying for the lunch, and that could be viewed as a political contribution.

"We hadn't thought about it because we don't usually make money on the lunches," which ae held monthly at the Four Points Sheraton.

Although individual chamber members can contribute a maximum of $250 to candidates, the total amount collected at the door that would pay for the luncheon would far exceed the individual limit, Dodson said.

"It would have been a problem legally," she said. "It seems that it might be improper, so we didn't want to do it at all."

The decision capped an informal discusion, with some of the camber members who took part seeing no reason why all of the candidates shouldn't be invited.

In the end, those who felt providing a forum for rivals of the chamber's slate would send a confusing signal to the group's members.

"It was just kind of an open discussion back and forth," Dodson said. "It was not like a vote was taken.

"It was a hard call," she added. "We're going to try it. We've never done something like his before."

Instead of holding a paid luncheon, the chamber will hold a free forum for chamber members on the evening of October 13 in the local Lexus auto dealership's showroom.

Mayor Richard Bloom, who, like the other rivals of the chamber slate, was not invited, laments the decision to limit the number of candidates taking part in what has traditionally been an important political event.

"The chamber luncheon was always very even-handed and fair and extremely well received by members of the chamber who used to come in large numbers to hear from the candidates," Bloom said.

"I've heard there's already some discomfort with the chamber's direction," Bloom said, "and this only makes things worse."

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