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Key political strategist to leave U.S. Chamber of Commerce

September 28, 2011|By Tom Hamburger
  • A jobs banner hangs from the front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building in Washington last year.
A jobs banner hangs from the front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building… (Karen Bleier / AFP/Getty…)

Bill Miller, the man who helped build the U.S. Chamber of Commerce into one of the country’s most influential political machines, will leave his post as political director to become a partner in the Washington office of the London-based public relations firm the Brunswick Group. His departure means that the Chamber will be without one of its most skilled political hands on the eve of the 2012 election.

Although his move has not been officially announced, Chamber officials said Wednesday afternoon they will continue the aggressive political activism that Miller helped to develop.

When Miller joined the Chamber in 1999, the organization was still considered a frumpy trade association with  a relatively meager political budget. Since then, Miller has overseen more than $100 million in political spending, including $40 million in the last election cycle. He led the organization’s ramp up in political “issue ads,” that permitted the nonprofit Chamber to participate in campaigns so long as the ads were about an issue, not explicitly backing one candidate over another. Miller was hired by Tom Donohue, the Chamber’s aggressive and ambitious president. Through the Donohue and Miller years, the organization has become more associated with backing Republican candidates and, in the last election cycle, coordinated some of its strategy with Republican-oriented independent groups such as American Crossroads.

In addition to ratcheting up political advertising, Miller directed the Chamber toward micro-targeting, using consumer data to pick voters friendly to business candidates and mobilizing them to vote. He launched grass-roots the organization Friends of the Chamber, which encourages business-friendly voters in battleground states to lobby Congress with email and phone calls  on key issues.

Miller said in a brief interview Wednesday afternoon that he had great fondness for  the Chamber but it was “time to learn something new.”

Miller has been learning new things on a regular basis. Before joining the Chamber, he was chief of staff for former GOP Congresswoman Connie Morella. After that, he became a part-owner of bank, and more recently part-owner of one of Washington’s most successful restaurants, Tackle Box.

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