Updated: Chamber denies press access to gubernatorial forum

Many of the Republicans and Democrats who want to be the next governor of Georgia are at this moment discussing the state’s future at a candidates’ forum sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

But what is said there is apparently a secret as the Chamber has denied requests from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other outlets to cover the panel discussion at the Ritz-Carlton along Lake Oconee.

The closing of the forum to the media has prompted protests from the AJC and other publications that are part of the Georgia Newspaper Partnership. Thirteen daily newspapers from around the state have joined together to cover this year’s elections.

Chamber spokeswoman Joselyn Baker said Wednesday that it is the Chamber’s “standard policy” to close board meetings to the media. Yet, at a forum Wednesday before the Chamber board for candidates for attorney general, a reporter for the Fulton County Daily Report was allowed to cover to discussion. When asked why that forum was seemingly open and the governor’s forum is closed, Baker responded that Ed Bean, the editor for the Report, was the moderator at the attorney general forum so his reporter was allowed to cover it.

In an e-mail to Baker and to the gubernatorial campaigns on Thursday, Bert Roughton, managing editor of the AJC, called the move to close today’s forum “outrageous.”

“Have Georgia politicians not heard the powerful desire voters have to be included in deliberations that can set the course of their government? Apparently not,” Roughton said in the message.

Several campaigns, when contacted Wednesday, said they were unaware the forum was closed. None, however, said that would keep them from attending.

Other editors joined Roughton in slamming the Chamber’s decision.

In a message to the gubernatorial candidates, Statesboro Herald executive editor Jim Healy asked, “How many times today will you utter the phrase ‘The people of Georgia …’ as a preface to whatever issue you address at the Lake Oconee debate sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce? That will ring a little hollow, don’t you think, since only a select few Georgians actually will hear your remarks?”

In a similar message, Savannah Morning News executive editor Susan Catron asked the candidates to remember the need for transparency in government.

“If all of you truly are running to serve the citizens of Georgia, it would seem you’d want to do that by ensuring each of them had access to your views on issues pertaining to them,” Catron wrote. “Closing this event and others like it sends the signal you will neither value nor trust the opinions of the citizens you wish to serve.”

Update 3:17 p.m. : Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick), one of the Republican candidates for governor, told Terry Dickson of the Georgia Times-Union, one of the papers in the new partnership, that he was dismayed the press was excluded from the forum.

“I got there and I was thinking, ‘Good grief. A political forum can’t even get the press here.’ Apparently they weren’t invited,” Chapman said.

Update 4:23 p.m.: Chris Carpenter, campaign manager for former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat seeking another term, responded to Roughton by agreeing.

Barnes, Carpenter said, “has always had a policy of openess. So, it was a lapse in  judgment for Governor Barnes to attend a public forum that shut out the people.”

25 comments Add your comment

Radio News Guy

May 27th, 2010
12:40 pm

I guess there is an easy decision to be made the next time the Georgia Chamber of Commerce sends out a press release or wants something covered. Oh and first.

Aaron Gould Sheinin

May 27th, 2010
12:41 pm

Very nice, RNG.

Bob Johnson

May 27th, 2010
12:43 pm

Well, I was just looking in my mailbox for my invitation to attend the AJC Editorial Board’s interview with the gubernatorial candidate. Cant find one. Perhaps the newspaper likes to keep its meetings with candidates closed to the public!

Lois Reitzes Stole My Breeze Card

May 27th, 2010
12:45 pm

I love it when Roughton gets outraged. Gives him something to do.

Stir It

May 27th, 2010
12:56 pm

Something is rotten on the lake of Oconee.

Aaron Gould Sheinin

May 27th, 2010
12:59 pm

Bob, as we no longer endorse candidates, I’m not sure there will be one. But at least when we did have candidates in for those types of events, we always wrote about what was said. That’s all we were hoping for here.


May 27th, 2010
1:18 pm

“Baker responded that Ed Bean, the editor for the Report, was the moderator at the attorney general forum so his reporter was allowed to cover it.” BS!

It never ends with these CLOWNS!


May 27th, 2010
1:54 pm

Gotta keep the lib’ral media at bay.

irate Cobb taxpayer

May 27th, 2010
3:05 pm

If you want a look at the future role of the Chamber of Commerce in local government, check out the feature story in the Marietta paper today. Back door dealings by former Chairman to outsource the county Dept of Economic Development to Chamber operation. Taxpayer funded, but without that aggravating requirement for transparency and accountability.

Bob Johnson

May 27th, 2010
3:30 pm

Thanks, Aaron. I am sure you would accept a report from Jocelyn as well. I think you guys do a fair job, I wanted to make the simple point that, sometimes, a forum can contain public figures and remain a private event.


May 27th, 2010
3:31 pm

And I suppose that everyone gets invited to every forum around the state I don’t think so. Chill out press, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to bash the candidates you don’t like or suck up to the ones you do like.

Aaron Gould Sheinin

May 27th, 2010
3:49 pm

Bob, no worries. Blake Aued at the Athens paper made a good point today on his blog. In the attorney general’s forum yesterday, one of the Democrats expressed doubts as to whether the Voting Rights Act is still necessary. That’s something, of course, that’s been discussed and reasonable people can agree or disagree with it. But’s most definitely news in a Democratic primary. If something like that had happened today, voters would have no way of knowing.

[...] at Georgia Elections Central, my AJC colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin posted the following this afternoon: Many of the Republicans [...]

ryan v

May 27th, 2010
7:01 pm

You think this is about the press??? It’s about hearing from these candidates their positions on creating some sort of economic growth in Georgia that doesn’t rely on Federal subsidies or their positions on getting funding back into our schools. You’re an idiot CC.


May 27th, 2010
9:16 pm

GA……..the best government chamber money can buy!!

Kenneth Odom

May 27th, 2010
9:51 pm

To all the candidates that attend this forum, none of you will receive my vote. Guess that means I will not be voting in this election. Chamber of Commerce is leading the way in capitalist politics. Our founding fathers never envisioned how capitalism would influence the political process.


May 28th, 2010
7:33 am

Curiously, in a supposed anti-incumbent year, most of the departing are not retiring but seeking higher office. We may recycle more than we replace. The bad news is that a frustrating 114 seats still have but one contestant. Two of them aren’t even incumbents, meaning they will affect state policy without being vetted by voters. And I have to think that we’d be better off if many had run instead for the Legislature — and cut down on the number running unopposed. Georgia’s problems are numerous. They aren’t going away. There’s too much stale thinking at the Capitol, on both sides of the aisle. New voices would be welcome.

Un Clear

May 28th, 2010
8:42 am

Were there any candidates that did not appear after finding out the media was not invited?

Aaron Gould Sheinin

May 28th, 2010
9:32 am

Un Clear @8:42 a.m. — Not that we know of. Not all candidates attended, but we don’t believe it was because of the media blackout.


May 28th, 2010
1:46 pm

I have lived and voted in Georgia since 1976. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce has always been dishonest and ethically troubled.

So crash the party.....

May 29th, 2010
12:40 am

Seriously. If some ditzy blond can bluff her way into a white house event, surely the AJC has some hot babe who could get all boo-hoo sad that she forgot her invitation at home. It’s not like you’re raiding Alcatraz….just dress up like a waiter, it works for James Bond.

Free Polazzo

May 30th, 2010
8:49 pm

Looks like GA is not changing much, even in an election year where “good old boys” is supposed to be a problem, they still lined up and attended the meeting.

It is what you DO and NOT WHAT YOU SAY that counts.

Good Grief. Didn’t anyone NOT attend the meeting when they found out it was “CLOSED”. ?

[...] is indeed a private organization) held a Candidate forum on Thursday which was closed to the press. From Aaron Gould Sheinin of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Many of the Republicans and Democrats who want to be the next governor of Georgia are at this [...]

George C. Wilson

May 31st, 2010
3:32 pm

This is typical arrogance displayed by the Chamber of Commerce.Their national president sets the tone and culture for that organization.This incident proves that.Take a look at his record.
They have too much power over our elected officials.They have taken corporate welfare to a new level nationally and in this state.

[...] The Metro Chamber, it appears, decided it was a good idea to embrace a free and open press, unlike some other organizations. [...]