July 24, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Bentivolio returns U.S. Chamber of Commerce award over immigration disagreement

U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Milford, accepted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's 'Spirit of Enterprise' award on March 12 from chamber president Thomas Donohue. On Thursday, Bentivolio abruptly returned the award after disagreeing with the group's stance on immigration policies. Photo credit: U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Ian Wagreich)

U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio on Thursday took the unusual action of returning a special interest group’s award he happily accepted earlier this year after disagreeing with the organization’s stance on immigration policy.

The Milford Republican announced in a news release he is returning the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “Spirit of Enterprise” award because of the business group’s recent support of providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers.

“The Chamber of Commerce is beholden to special interests and has long since forgotten the main street businesses that struggle everyday to make payroll and keep their company afloat,” Bentivolio said in a written statement. “It is with great pride that I reject their award, and call on them to stand on the side of America, instead of on the side of China and corporate interests seeking to exploit people for profit. I am with main street, not Wall Street.”

The U.S. Chamber endorsed Birmingham attorney Dave Trott over Bentivolio in the 11th Congressional District Republican primary Aug. 5. Trott has outspent Bentivolio 20-to-1 in the primary.

“The erratic behavior of Congressman Bentivolio continued today,” said Megan Piwowar, Trott’s campaign manager.

Bentivolio’s chief of staff, Rob Wasinger, had even harsher words for the nation’s largest business group’s pursuit of immigration reform.

“The U.S. Chamber is in the pocket of Communist China and big companies seeking cheap labor in the United States,” Wasinger said in a statement. “We think it is morally repugnant for the chamber to pursue, as a matter of public policy, initiatives which exploit the poor and oppressed, just so they can keep labor costs down for their fortune 500 member companies.”

Despite the chamber’s endorsement, Trott “opposes amnesty and will not allow illegal immigrants to have a legal status,” Piwowar said.

Bentivolio’s sudden rejection of the award seems to have been a surprise to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which provided The Detroit News with a photo of the first-term congressman smiling for a photo with the award and chamber president Thomas Donohue.

“In March, Mr. Bentivolio seemed very excited to receive our award,” U.S. Chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes said in an email to The News. “Apparently he has changed his mind. It’s likely we will be giving it to Mr. Trott next time around.”

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