Click photo to enlarge
Alan Zaremberg, CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce, speaks at Embassy Suites Hotel Monterey Bay in Seaside on Wednesday.

The head of the California Chamber of Commerce told a gathering of business people in Seaside on Wednesday to get more involved in politics and warned of changes brought by the Affordable Care Act.

"If you want to change the policies, you need to change the politicians," chamber CEO Allan Zaremberg told about 250 people at the Embassy Suites Hotel Monterey Bay for the annual TPO Human Resources employment conference.

He said business people are at a disadvantage because they are less involved than single-issue voters.

"If I had a roomful of schoolteachers here, every single one would raise their hand," he said after asking the crowd who contributes to political causes. "And it wouldn't be, 'I give $50 a year.' ... It would be, 'I give $50 or $100 a month to political activity.'"

The chamber had several victories throughout the year fighting "bad, crazy laws," he said.

An example of a law he said was stopped was Assembly Bill 325, which would have required employers to allow their workers to take three days of bereavement leave if they ask.

The bill would have added to "California businesses' legal costs and responsibilities," according to the chamber's online Job Killers list.

Another was Assembly Bill 1450, which would have forbidden an employer from not hiring someone just because they were currently unemployed. Yet it did not differentiate between people who were fired or laid off, meaning an employer may not find out if poor performance was a factor.

"So you're a bank teller and you can't find out they stole money?" he said. "... People seriously consider these things, people actually vote for these things."

Zaremberg said President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act was an example of a federal law that could hurt business.

"If you're going to provide health care for people who can't afford it," he said, "somebody has to pay for it. It's pretty simple math."

He said the new law would likely mean higher premiums for employers or higher taxes.

After Zaremberg's speech, Anna Foglia of the Nonprofit Alliance of Monterey County said she didn't agree with the assessment.

"Employees without health insurance don't do preventative care, they don't go to the doctor," she said. "It ends up costing employers more."

Political contributions

Of the top 10 contributors to California politics in the past 12 years, four were businesses, three were Native-American organizations, two were labor and an individual, Stephen Bing, contributed $53 million of his own money, according to California Common Sense.

The California Teachers Association was the biggest donator at $142 million. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. was second with $64 million and third was Altria Inc. with $58 million.

Phillip Molnar can be reached at 646-4487 or pmolnar@montereyherald.com.