The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has gotten itself in hot water with Congress and its members around the country over a "hit list" it issued last fall that targeted 51 Democrats for defeat.
The list, prepared for internal use, was leaked to Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He was outraged.
Among other things, the list included a number of Democrats with pro-business voting records and close relations with chambers in their districts. No Republicans were targeted.
Coelho voiced his complaints to chamber President Richard L. Lesher in what has been described as an acrimonious meeting. He then circulated the list to the 51 Democrats named, and called them together for a briefing on his meeting with Lesher.
Many of the Democrats swung into action. Some visited chamber officers in their home states, and urged them to complain to national chamber headquarters. Others called the chamber in bewilderment.
When a delegation from a Louisiana Chamber of Commerce dropped by the office of Rep. Gillis Long (D-La.) to ask for help, his administrative assistant, Carson K. Killen, told them, "We're on your hit list."
"They were really surprised," Killen said. "They've really put local chambers in an embarrassing situation."
Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.) also was surprised to find her name on the list. "She has a very good relationship with the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, and has been very helpful to them because she's on the Appropriations Committee," said press secretary Peggy Hannan.
A chamber official last week told Boggs' office that the congresswoman had been removed from the list. House Majority Leader James C. Wright Jr. (D-Tex.) and several other Democrats with strong business support also have been removed.
The chamber's national political affairs director, Neil S. Newhouse, concedes that he has been deluged with calls from members of Congress and local chambers over the list. "Sure, we're getting pressure," he sighs. "That list is so old. I hope Coelho is having a good time with it."
Newhouse said the list was a "very preliminary" and incomplete one taken from a 10- to 12-page memo he wrote Oct. 16 that reviewed 184 House and Senate races. He said the list has been updated more than a dozen times since then.