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Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson

Posted: October 12, 2009 09:34 PM

Turning Up the Pressure on the U.S Chamber of Commerce

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The hits keep coming for the embattled United States Chamber of Commerce. On Saturday, I wrote about the Chamber's overwhelming hypocrisy on climate legislation:

While the Chamber claims it "continues to support Federal climate legislation," it is actually continuing its 17-year-old campaign against it. Representative Ed Markey on Thursday issued a point-by-point explanation of how his legislation, which the House passed in June, meets all of the Chamber's criteria for successful legislation. Energy Secretary Chu even took a few shots on Thursday as well, but the ever-defiant chamber remains unrepentant.

This follows an unprecedented string of public relations disasters that have left the Chamber grasping for straws.


Pete Altman at NRDC is keeping track of the fallout over the last few weeks regarding the Chamber's climate change extremism:

Quit US Chamber over climate: Apple, Exelon, PNM Resources, PG&E, PSEG, Levi Strauss & Co.


Quit US Chamber Board over climate: Nike.

Say Chamber doesn't represent their views on climate: Johnson&Johnson, General Electric, San Jose Chamber of Commerce, Alcoa, Duke, Entergy, Microsoft.


It is starting to look like the only actor in the debate over clean energy legislation less credible than the Chamber of Commerce is the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which is currently facing investigations for sending 14 fraudulent letters opposing the bill to members of Congress.

In the last few weeks a diverse group of activist, NGO and labor campaigns have launched to escalate the pressure on the Chamber and its member companies. Here is a brief summary of current efforts:

The Natural Resources Defense Council has been leading the fight. In addition to Pete Altman's prolific coverage of the story as it develops, they have launched a website -- whodoesthechamberrepresent.org -- to ask the question: "Who Does the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Really Represent?"

Credo Mobile sent an email to their customers on Thursday with the subject line "Earth to Chamber of Commerce: You're killing me":

We can't let this stand. Help us keep up the momentum and join us in asking every CEO serving on the Chamber of Commerce board to quit the Chamber and renounce its radical stance.


The science is clear. And the Chamber is feeling the heat.

Click here to urge CEOs on the board of the Chamber of Commerce board members quit the Chamber and join the planet.


Kevin Grandia applied pressure directly to Toyota two weeks ago, calling out the company's inconsistency in a piece at DeSmogBlog:
If Toyota is genuinely committed to sustainability as they say they are, then they can can take their lead from Nike, Exelon and others and stop supporting the US Chamber and their attack on the Obama administration's clean energy and climate change reforms. If they don't leave the US Chamber, then we know where their motivations truly lie.

Move On followed up on Grandia's pressure on Toyota, writing in an email blast to members on Friday:
If Toyota is as "green" as they claim, why are they supporting a massive effort to kill President Obama's clean energy plans?


Toyota needs to know consumers won't stand for this. Can you ask Toyota to quit the Chamber of Commerce? If you've owned a Toyota, be sure to mention it when you call.

If major companies like Toyota quit the Chamber, members of Congress will be less likely to listen to the Chamber's lobbyists.

For years, the Chamber of Commerce has pursued a right-wing agenda out of step with the business interests of many of its members. This year, they've launched an all-out lobbying blitz to block all of Obama's goals--from climate to health care to fixing the economy. If the Chamber has less influence in Washington, our country has a real chance for change.

Call on Toyota to quit the Chamber of Commerce:

Toyota
(212) 223-0303


The Service Employees International Union is also running a campaign against the Chamber, petitioning Senators to "Break Up with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce":
There's an exodus from the corporate front group over its extreme views. We must use this opportunity to further isolate the U.S. Chamber as an out-of-touch outfit that only serves the interest of a handful of greedy CEOs.


The U.S. Chamber can't be taken seriously. Your senators need to know this -- the corporate front group is in Congress every day, lobbying for its extremist positions. They need to be immediately discredited.

Sign the petition to the Senate now: don't listen to the extremist U.S. Chamber of Commerce on any issue.


And Brad Johnson at Think Progress has been painstakingly correcting the Chamber's falsehoods with rapid-response blog items, as they pop up.


In addition to these newer campaigns, some small businesses have dealt with the U.S. Chamber's extremism in more creative ways. The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce offers an alternative for small businesses that want to be part of a business association but don't agree with the U.S. Chamber's anti-consumer policies. They have been fighting against coal plants and for federal climate legislation for years, and they applauded Senator Graham just yesterday for his newfound urgency to reach a bipartisan deal on climate change.

Frank Knapp, President of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber told me on Monday that the U.S. Chamber does not represent the best interests of most small businesses. "I co-founded The S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce because I didn't believe that small business interests were being represented, specifically in South Carolina, by any other chamber," Knapp said. "It is clear that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is driven, as most organizations are, by their largest contributors. That traditionally leaves small business interests not being considered." BusinessWeek asked a similar question last week.

James Surowiecki explored what may be behind this in next week's New Yorker:

In any large group, a few people do most of the work -- usually those who are most ideologically committed or who have a direct stake in a particular outcome. So decisions often end up reflecting not the wishes of the group as a whole but those of its most engaged members. In the case of climate-change legislation like cap-and-trade, many of the companies on the Chamber's board of directors actually support it. But among the few that publicly oppose it are coal companies, which have a huge stake in stopping any carbon-pricing system. So it's not surprising that the Chamber's general approach is closer to Massey Energy's than to Nike's.


We assume that lobbies always recognize what's best for their members. But they don't, and, in the case of climate change, they may very well be missing what the companies that have resigned in protest have seen: global warming isn't just bad for the planet; it's bad for business.


As if the Chamber's anti-science stance on climate legislation wasn't enough, they are a key player in fights against other smart, popular, pro-consumer reforms. Their playbook is exactly the same for every single campaign: spend millions of dollars on misleading television commercials, trying to create fear that reform will destroy the American economy.

Here are a few of the other campaigns they've been involved in this year:

The Chamber has lead the fight against the Employee Free Choice Act. They ran millions of dollars worth of misleading ads in home states of key Senators, opposing the legislation. Here is one such ad:

Labor unions responded forcefully -- pointing out that the Chamber used the same misleading arguments against the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act 20 years ago -- but the damage was done.

On health care they are playing the same disingenuous game they play on climate change. While claiming to support reform, they continue doing everything in their power to protect the status quo. Here is the Chamber's latest misleading health care ad, thanking Blanche Lincoln for "standing up against a government-run health care plan":

As Adam Green noted, Blue America is running the antidote

The Chamber has used the same cynical tactics to oppose financial regulatory reform and the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency. President Obama on Friday specifically called out the Chamber for "maintaining the status quo" at the "expense of American consumers" (emphasis mine):

"But all this hasn't stopped the big financial firms and their lobbyists from mobilizing against change. They're doing what they always do - descending on Congress and using every bit of influence they have to maintain a status quo that has maximized their profits at the expense of American consumers," he said. "And since they're worried they may not be able to kill this agency, they're trying their hardest to weaken it - by asking for exemptions from this agency's rules and enforcement; by fighting to keep open every gap and loophole they can find. And they're very good at this, because that's how business has been done in Washington for a very long time. In fact, over the last ten years, the Chamber of Commerce alone spent nearly half a billion dollars on lobbying - half a billion dollars."

So while the bulk of media attention these past few weeks has focused on the Chamber's stance on climate legislation, there should be no doubt that the group's efforts are getting in the way of other key elements pieces of the progressive agenda as well.


As Move On notes in their email, the Chamber's ability to influence members of Congress decreases with each high-profile member company that departs. But the Chamber also relies on annual dues from their nearly 3 million member organizations to finance their misleading political campaigns. Small and large businesses nationwide should take a long hard look at the Chamber's campaigns and track record, and those who don't feel represented should end their memberships immediately. Those companies on the Chamber's board of directors should be subject to additional pressure, since they contribute so heavily to the Chamber's coffers for the pleasure.

Put another way, companies should only be members of the Chamber of Commerce if they support hyper-conservative anti-regulatory policies across the board, and aren't afraid to show it. I suspect that hundreds of forward-thinking companies will jump ship in the next several months before their reputations are tarnished by association.

Follow Josh Nelson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/enviroknow