Can a membership organization compete against its own members?
Apparently so, judging by the actions of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
HISPANIC BUSINESS® magazine
Luis Briones couldn’t believe it. At a board meeting of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) last August, he listened as directors discussed a proposal with Hispanic Publishing Corp. to publish a new magazine, Hispanic Trends. Under the proposed deal, members of Hispanic chambers would receive the publication as a membership benefit, and the USHCC would control half the seats on the publication’s editorial board. Financially, the chamber wouldn’t invest any money but would receive 6 percent of all advertising revenues. The board asked USHCC Counsel Tom Stahl to rework the legal language in the contract before they would approve it, according to official minutes. As publisher of Hispanic Journal, a regional magazine in Texas, Mr. Briones saw the new publication as direct competition. As a USHCC member who had provided ample coverage of the chamber in his publication, he wondered why his own business organization had suddenly turned against him. Soon other voices joined in a chorus of protest. Within weeks, the board of the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC) passed a resolution to oppose the arrangement, stating that the USHCC had “entered into an exclusive partnership with Hispanic Publishing Corp. that provides exclusive advocacy and promotion for that business which creates an unlevel playing field.” TAMACC demanded dissolution of the deal. On September 21, during the USHCC convention in Atlanta, the board of the National Association of Hispanic Publications (NAHP) approved a similar letter of protest against the agreement. The California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce (CHCC) also weighed in, asking that the USHCC adhere to an open bid process, according to CHCC Chairwoman Melinda Guzman. But by that time, the USHCC board had approved a final contract; the final vote was 14-0, with 10 board members absent from the crucial meeting on September 18, just one week after the terrorist attacks. Other than an announcement at the USHCC National Convention, held September 19-22 in Atlanta, no announcement to the general membership accompanied the decision, although the first issue is due in March. Few of the organization’s general members knew anything of the matter. In keeping with the organization’s bylaws on confidentiality, board members were told not to discuss the deal, according to sources. (For this article, Hispanic Business contacted 10 board members; the only two who returned repeated telephone calls and e-mails deferred to the chamber leadership. Chairwoman Elizabeth Lisboa-Farrow made a statement at the USHCC convention in Atlanta. USHCC CEO George Herrera referred the matter to COO Ramon Rodriguez, who in turn referred it to Counsel Tom Stahl. Mr. Stahl has not responded to telephone calls or e-mails.) The USHCC-Hispanic Publishing contract (view "Contract at a Glance") raises several concerns outlined in a letter Mr. Briones wrote to NAHP President Zeke Montes. First, an organization dedicated to advocacy on behalf of its members now competes against them. Second, the nonprofit chamber becomes partner in a commercial venture that will pay it as much as $300,000 per year, according to the agreement. Finally, Mr. Briones expressed a sense of betrayal, calling the agreement “a shameful sell-out of our members, an unethical use of power, and an unnecessary destruction of opportunities.”
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