You're the President of the United States on the verge of a historic election. So you're going to let one of your most important appointees give credibility to your biggest opponent and the BP spill victims' greatest enemy, the Chamber of Commerce?
BP Fund Administrator Kenneth Feinberg is scheduled for the keynote address at the Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform Wednesday. This is the oil-backed arm of the Chamber that wants to take away the legal rights of spill victims, and the rest of us too. So why is the President going to let Feinberg go?
Obama should force Feinberg to withdraw or fire him. My letter to Obama today on behalf of Consumer Watchdog lays out the case for why this is just wrong.
Given the Chamber's controversial role in the 2010 election, the organization's commitment to deny individual citizens their right to hold large corporations accountable and Mr. Feinberg's own troubled record when it comes to administering the BP Victims Fund, it is highly inappropriate and probably unethical for Feinberg to go.
Let's start with the election. There is no greater threat to voters getting all the information they need to make an informed choice in the election next Tuesday than the Chamber of Commerce. Days before an election, Mr. Feinberg should not be credentialing one of its most anti-American causes -- stripping citizens of their legal rights.
The Chamber is engaging in one of the largest corporate campaign contribution laundering schemes in U.S. history. The President rightfully made public his concerns that the Chamber's efforts to funnel millions of corporate dollars from undisclosed donors is compromising our democratic processes. Last Friday's New York Times investigative report confirmed the fact that concealed donations to the Chamber's efforts come from big oil, Wall Street tycoons and insurance industry trying to roll back financial protections, thwart the implementation of health care reform and shred environmental protections.
The fact that the Chamber is largely hiding such activities from the American public is particularly troubling for our democracy.
In California, for example, we at Consumer Watchdog have seen a Chamber-backed political action committee, JobsPAC, receive $3.8 million from the insurance industry for television commercials to elect the industry's candidate for insurance commissioner. Television commercials for the industry's candidate don't disclose that the source of the contributions is from the insurance industry, only the Chamber's committee. So the commercials can say the candidate for insurance commissioner is fighting the very insurance industry that is surreptitiously funding the advertisements.
Now take a look at the Chamber's Legal Institute.
The Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform has led deceptive efforts to change the composition of state supreme courts in order to make them pro-business and anti-consumer.
Feinberg himself has been slow to pay compensation to victims of BP's Gulf spill, largely small businesses and individuals. While he forces claimants to jump through bureaucratic hoops and provide endless paperwork, he accepts multimillion-dollar compensation from BP under a contract that has not been fully made public.
The Chamber's activities aimed at thwarting consumer rights and oil industry environmental safety in the Gulf may create an outright conflict of interest for Feinberg:
• The Chamber has lobbied against the Death on the High Seas Act (as well as the whole SPILL Act that passed the House).
• The Institute's 990 Internal Revenue Service tax filing show that several oil companies sit on the board of their Institute for Legal Reform. Charles James is EVP at Chevron and Charles Matthews is General Counsel at Exxon. Mark Holden is Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Koch Industries.
• The Chamber filed amicus briefs supporting Exxon as it fought punitive damages post-Valdez. That is here: http://secure.uschamber.com/NR/rdonlyres/ew3o3lcvdfcby5nnnpqkstiww3sdjucpeg5np5asvytg72zv2donrmfd5jo2xbfjlzqi75sz2drtlgnuufov53pn5sg/exxonshippingcovbakersc.pdf
• The Chamber has been especially involved in Louisiana. The Institute for Legal Reform owns an outlet called Louisiana Record that is a propaganda outlet and has consistently ranked Louisiana at the bottom of their legal rankings list. http://www.instituteforlegalreform.com/lawsuit-climate.html
The President shouldn't allow his appointees to be helping the enemy of his Administration and the spill victims in the Gulf. All he needs to do is pick up the phone this time. Will he?
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