The U.S. Chamber vs. honesty

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

THE U.S. CHAMBER of Commerce has been airing expensive TV ads in Northern Virginia lately involving the race for governor. The ad's first words are "Traffic's worse." Its last words are "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce paid for this ad." Most of the intervening words -- about 70, by our count -- are blatant distortions.

The TV ads, matched by a similar radio spot, rely heavily on an editorial we wrote in July about Virginia's transportation mess. In it, we credited Robert F. McDonnell, the Republican nominee, for the specificity of his road-building plan but noted in the very next sentence: "Unfortunately, the new revenue he identifies is one-time-only, many years distant or paltry."

We went on to skewer Mr. McDonnell's plan, both in that editorial and in a half-dozen others since then, as a sham whose torrent of words tries to mask the fact that it would produce little new money for roads -- this as the state's spending on secondary and urban roads in Northern Virginia is fast approaching zero. The Chamber's ad tries to leave the false and dishonest impression that The Post has backed Mr. McDonnell's ideas on transportation; we haven't.

The Chamber ad also quotes us, from the same editorial, as criticizing state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, the Democratic nominee, for having failed to formulate a policy on transportation. That was true in July. But starting in mid-August, Mr. Deeds has said repeatedly that he will support a bill with bipartisan backing that includes new taxes for transportation.

Like it or not -- and we realize that many don't -- that's the only realistic means of dealing with a transportation funding deficit estimated at $100 billion over the next 20 years. The Post has repeatedly praised Mr. Deeds for having the guts to speak this truth on the campaign trail; again, the Chamber dishonestly portrays our position.

What is most astonishing about the Chamber's ads is not that they twist a newspaper's editorial line for the Chamber's own purposes. It's that they are at odds with the interests of business itself -- supposedly, its own constituents. In a resolution published Oct. 1, a coalition of 17 of the biggest business groups in Northern Virginia explicitly embraced new taxes as the only rational means of getting roads built; in other words, it echoed Mr. Deeds's own stance. The groups also said that ruling out new taxes, as Mr. McDonnell has done, "is not prudent."

So not only is the Chamber of Commerce indifferent to the truth; it's also hostile to the business community in the most populous and economically dynamic part of the state. In positioning itself as an arm for the Republican Party, the Chamber has cast doubt on its own credibility.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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