It’s the American way: Contribute to a politician’s campaign or political party and see if you can get something in return. Some might consider this buying a politician’s vote, but not Tom Donohue.

“You can’t buy the Congress,” stressed the current president and ceo of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “You can’t buy a vote from an honorable person.”

That’s not to say the Chamber will be refraining from putting its money toward what it believes to be key House and Senate races in the November elections. Donohue just put a softer tone to this practice.

“You can get their attention and rent their time,” he said. “And that’s what we’re working on.”

Of course, the crowd of contractors in attendance at the recent Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s (ACCA’s) 34th annual convention could not help but laugh at the comment. After all, this was the sometimes sarcastic and bombastic Donohue standing on the stage in front of them.

“What are you laughing at?” Donohue immediately snapped back, before a sly smile crossed his face. “It works!”

I’m not sure if Donohue has this same point of view today, now that President Bush and Congress have approved a campaign finance reform bill. In truth, the new bill will take effect after the November Congressional elections. The legislation is supposed to ban corporations, unions, and individuals from making unregulated “soft money” donations to the national parties.

Will it work? Because campaign finance reform was still being kicked around at the time of the ACCA convention in late February, Donohue could not give a direct answer. However, he made his opinion known concerning Washington.

“I am from Washington and I’m here to help you,” he told the ACCA crowd. After more than a few contractors chuckled at that remark, Donohue quickly added, “That’s one of the three biggest lies. The first lie is, ‘The check is in the mail.’ The second one is, ‘I’m from Washington and I’m here to help you.’ The third one is, ‘I’m going to love you in the morning.’”


If you have not guessed by now, Donohue did not mince words during his keynote speech. Yes, Donohue admitted to not having a planned agenda before stepping on stage — “I’ll figure out what I have to say when I hear it,” is how he put it. He was all over the map, touching upon everything from the Enron scandal to estate tax.

Donohue did outline some of the upcoming tasks for the Chamber. On his “wish list” is regulatory reform, legal reform, a better immigration policy, an economic stimulus package, a push for free trade, and a much-needed energy bill.

“We get 57% of our energy from somewhere else. We need an energy bill that encourages new technology, that regulates to the extent that we have to repair the system and we keep the prices reasonable. We need an energy bill. We’re going to get it.”

In regard to legal reform, he voiced his true distaste for lawyers and class action lawsuits.

“The idea here is they want to destroy companies, get all their money, and stick it in their pockets,” said Donohue. “They are suing everybody. These lawsuits are doing nothing but sucking the vitality out of American industry and sticking billions and billions of dollars into the pockets of a small group of class action lawyers.

“They just ran into the wrong people. We’re going to beat them in court. We’re going to do it with class action reform. This is the right thing to do because this country, this economy is not set up for a small group of gold diggers to rob and destroy the very industries that support this country.”

Before leaving the stage, Donohue stressed that ACCA become just as active in the Chamber’s objectives.

“Get your association active,” he stressed. “If you join a lot of people that are doing the same thing on issues that you share a view on, you can be quite strong.

“You can let somebody else do it. You can stay at home,” he said. “But then don’t bitch and don’t moan.”

Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446; 248-362-0317 (fax); (e-mail).

Publication date: 04/08/2002