If you read the words of our Founding Fathers, you’ll realize that they had a certain wariness about government, shaped, no doubt by the oppression they suffered at the hands of one King George of England. When they declared independence in 1776, they went to extraordinary lengths to be sure that their new government would be free of heavy-handed restraints and dictatorial edicts. They spelled it all out in the document that has become known as the “Miracle in Philadelphia.”
For most of 220 years, it worked. It’s only been in just the last three-quarters of a century that our federal government has become intrusive and burdensome to both individuals and private business. But, it is that choice of government, a republic and not a democracy, that has saved us and now offers us the most hope for getting things back on track. As he emerged from Independence Hall at the end of that long, divisive session that produced our constitution, a citizen asked Ben Franklin, “What have we got, a Republic or a Monarchy? His reply was, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
A big part of “keeping it” is to be part of it. Citizen involvement, whether it is writing letters to elected officials, demonstrating in front of city hall or the state capitol or just voting, is key to keeping representative government functioning. And, almost from the start, lobbying elected officials has been a means of influencing our leaders.
If lobbying was ever a simple task, it’s not anymore. Like everything else, it has become more sophisticated, meaning more research and better means of communicating. To compete effectively requires talented people, modern tools and access to information. In short, it takes funding.
At the Georgia Chamber, we begin with the premise that business deserves the finest representation possible. The contributions made by business to the welfare of all citizens, both financial and otherwise, are enormous. And, while the business community does not seek special favors, it does insist on fair and equitable treatment, which is not always forthcoming from government. The Georgia Chamber is committed to providing this representation for business in the form of advocacy, both under the Gold Dome and with regulators in state agencies.
As the Georgia Chamber of Commerce nears its centennial anniversary, it has launched a major fund drive that will enable the statewide business organization to expand the services it offers to its members and assume a more decisive role in public policy matters.
A major fund drive, known as The Georgia Initiative, is in response both to the needs of our 4,000 members and to increasing demands being made by outside groups for the Georgia Chamber to get more involved in allied projects. It became clear that more and more people and groups were testing our reputation as the “go to” organization in the state. We were being asked to collaborate on some very worthwhile endeavors, but due to a lack of funds and staff, we had to turn most of them down. It was time to step up to the plate and be part of the game.
We are now 60 percent toward our goal of raising $7.5 million and we plan to wrap up the drive before the end of the year. The Georgia business community has embraced this project and given it strong support. We are receiving financial contributions from both large and small businesses in all parts of the state. I am personally gratified at the reception this campaign has received and more committed than ever to make certain these dollars are used in a way that will ensure a significant return on investment.
Finally, I want to stress that when The Georgia Initiative succeeds, there will be 8 million beneficiaries. That’s because a strong and vibrant business community has a positive effect on every current and future citizen of our state. A strong pro-business climate has helped propel Georgia into a top spot among all states and the price we would pay for losing this reputation is simply to great to contemplate.
George M. Israel III is the president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.