03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Besieged by Critics

Unions and other left-leaning organizations typically oppose the big-business policies hawked in the halls of Congress by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. However, the U.S. Chamber is now being harshly criticized on the record by some unlikely sources: small businesses, medical professionals, and several of their own local chambers of commerce. And today, Twitter users are joining the growing clamor against the U.S. Chamber.

Local chambers are disputing the U.S. Chamber's right to speak for and represent its members, and some are openly citing the U.S. Chamber's big business policies as the reason. Thousands of small business owners and medical professionals are angry that the U.S. Chamber is taking sides in the health care reform debate, an important issue for small business owners who are struggling to provide employees with health benefits.

Monday, the Washington Post published a leaked email from the U.S. Chamber detailing plans to solicit an economist to conduct a quick economic study of current health care legislation for $50,000. The job qualifications, though, include the ability to know the outcome of the study before the study begins. The reads, "The economist will then circulate a sign-on letter to hundreds of other economists saying that the bill will kill jobs and hurt the economy. We will then be able to use this open letter to produce advertisements, and as a powerful lobbying and grass-roots document."

Health reform proponents quickly organized around the U.S. Chamber's illicit study proposal. MoveOn says more than 5,000 medical professionals have signed a petition asking the American Medical Association (AMA) to drop its membership in the U.S. Chamber.

American Rights at Work (ARAW) says more than 3,000 small businesses have signed a petition declaring that the U.S. Chamber does not represent their interests. Although the petition specifically cites the U.S. Chamber's intentions to conduct a health care study with a pre-determined outcome, the petition cites more than just health care; it also includes climate policy, labor laws, and corporate responsibility as reasons to disagree with the U.S. Chamber.

Friday, ARAW launched a "Twitter flash mob" against the U.S. Chamber using the same theme. They sent an email to supporters asking them to tweet "petition @chamberpost: The U.S. #Chamber doesn't represent me. It's Not My Chamber! RT to sign #p2 #notmychamber" In all, nearly 25,000 people have signed onto the "Not My Chamber" campaign. Hundreds signed the Twitter petition in the first hour.

Even local chambers of commerce are unhappy with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Some local chambers are even speaking out. Late last month, the CEO of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce (one of the largest chambers of commerce in the country), Mark Jaffe, told Mother Jones that the U.S. Chamber is "playing games" with their membership numbers. He accused the U.S. Chamber of inflating their numbers to 3 million (roughly of all U.S. employers) by including members of local chambers alongside actual dues-paying U.S. Chamber members.
The day after the Mother Jones story ran, the U.S. Chamber revised their published membership numbers from 3 million to 300,000. Although the U.S. Chamber allows local chambers to automatically enroll their members into the U.S. Chamber, only about 5 percent do so, indicating that most local members don't want this freebie.

Local chambers in more heavily Democratic areas like New York and San Francisco are finding themselves more and more at odds with the U.S. Chamber. For other local chambers, it's a matter of small business interests versus big business interests. Jaffe says this is because the Board of the U.S. Chamber is controlled by large corporations with "parochial" interests.


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