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That’s the question before the Anaheim City Council at its August 25 meeting. The council will vote on whether to continue the city $200,000 contract with the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.

I’ve called it a taxpayer subsidy in the past, but it’s more accurately an example of the city contracting out certain services to the Chamber. That said, I still think it is a bad idea.

I’m all for contracting out municipal functions wherever possible, establishing that sort of symbiotic relationship between a city and a chamber of commerce is dangerous. In addition to generally promoting business within a city and serving as a networking forum for local businesses, chambers are – or at least, ought to be — advocates for pro-free enterprise policies, and opponents of city actions that distort and constrain the free market.

If the city is a client and major source of income for a chamber of commerce, that role is compromised. The Anaheim Chamber of Commerce is a significant actor in city politics. For example, it was public face of the SOAR campaign to freeze Resort Area zoning and place it under a ballot-box zoning regime. And the funding the chamber received from the campaign became entwined in that fight, given you had a city vendor leading a political fight to overturn policy enacted by a council majority.

While it makes sense for cities and chambers of commerce to work together for the prosperity of their communities, it works best if their sphere do not overlap and chambers are able to maintain a true independence from the city. When the city is a client of the chamber, it cannot be truly independent and will be perceived as beholden to some or other power center in city hall.

I don’t know the specifics duties spelled out in the contract the Anaheim Council will vote upon on Tuesday (the Aug. 25 agenda hasn’t been posted yet), but my assumption is they haven’t changed much since 2007. Any of them – promoting events like “Taste of Anaheim” or the “State of the City Address” — can be contracted out to non-political private entities like a marketing or PR firm, or else performed by city staff — and thereby allowing the Chamber to serve as a truly independent voice in Anaheim public affairs. Generally speaking, local chambers aren’t the profiles in free enterprise courage they used to be, and be on the receiving end of city dollars tends to dampen independent impulses, or at least think twice before questioning anti-business policies.

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