Florida Chamber of Commerce is a Business Heavyweight
The Florida COC is one of the most influential business groups in the state.
» Cast of Thousands: A partnership with about 150 local chambers has pushed the Chamber's membership to 139,000.
» Dues: Annual dues range from $1,000 to $100,000, depending on membership level.
$50,000— Chamber spending on legislative and Cabinet races in 2003
$5.5 million — Chamber spending on legislative and Cabinet races in 2010
» Politics: Many in Tallahassee consider political operative Marian Johnson the Chamber's No. 1 asset. Wilson recruited Johnson to ramp up and run the Chamber's political operation in 2003, shortly after she retired from AIF.
Johnson, a lifelong Republican who learned political campaigning from GOP strategists like Charlie Black, Lee Atwater and Lance Tarrance, has helped transform the Chamber into a statewide political force by carefully monitoring political winds all around the state and aggressively recruiting more conservative, pro-business lawmakers to run for the Legislature. Prospective candidates must fill out a questionnaire based on the Chamber's "Six Pillars" blueprint and successfully complete a 30-minute interview in front of four to five dozen Chamber members if they want to win the Chamber's endorsement.
"He really energized the Florida Chamber."
— Allan Bense, chairman
Marian Johnson is the Chamber's chief political operative.
The Chamber also touts its annual "Legislative Report Cards," which grade the state's lawmakers on their pro-business voting records and provide a blueprint for employers to "know where their legislators stand on job creation," says Wilson.
» Broad Base: The Chamber's local links and extensive membership roster are big assets. Each quarter, the Chamber conducts a survey to find out what issues are impacting small businesses and uses it "to make sure our legislative priorities are aligned," says John Medina, chairman of the Chamber's small-business council. The Chamber spent more than $400,000 lobbying the Legislature and executive branch in 2010.
» Research: The Chamber's research and policy development arm, the Florida Chamber Foundation, led by Dale Brill, backs up its lobbying with in-depth white papers on everything from immigration and trade to affordable living. The foundation also developed an online tool called the Florida Scorecard, which allows users to evaluate and track the performance of the state and local economies by using various indicators such as employment, per capita income, high school graduation rates and home foreclosures.
» Big Win: One of the Chamber's biggest recent victories was its defeat of Lesley Blackner's Hometown Democracy effort, a growth management initiative that was on the 2010 ballot. The Chamber raised and spent $10 million fighting the amendment, counterattacking through a business-backed group with a similar-sounding name, Floridians for Smarter Growth, and another PAC, Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy.
» Relationship with the Governor:?The Chamber looked ham-handed after it backed Bill McCollum in the GOP gubernatorial primary against Rick Scott, then fell all over itself courting him, snubbing Florida CFO Alex Sink, a former Chamber board member in the process. Wilson insists the Chamber's relationship with Scott is solid — the two meet weekly and have each other's cell phone numbers, Wilson says.