12/13/2006 12:37 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Corrupted Chamber of Commerce: Thomas Donahue

If it were possible to pick one person as the representative for American business in Washington, Thomas Donahue is that man.  He is the President and CEO of the United States Chamber of Commerce, the most important business lobbying group in the country.  He is also on the Board of Directors and the Audit Committee of Sunrise Senior Living, and was caught selling stock ahead of the revelations of accounting problems.  That is a serious no-no for any board member or any business executive.  It's deeply unethical and possibly illegal, because it's stealing from investors.  If there's any indication that the business lobby under Republican rule became unbelievably corrupted, look no further than Thomas Donahue, the man that the business community picked to represent them to the Republican power structure.

It's time for the business community to turn over a new leaf.  Donahue needs to go.  Progressives, New Democrats, and Blue Dogs have different relationships with the business community, but all of us agree that corruption is wrong and that having someone like Donahue attempting to make policy recommendation is egregious. And let's be clear - Donahue and the Chamber of Commerce are very very powerful.

But it's not of course just the stock sales and theft from investors.  These assisted living facilities are managed badly, and that often means that they are a living hell for the people taking care of fading elderly and the patients themselves.  My grandfather lived in an assisted living facility before he died, and his stuff was stolen by an undertrained staff that was clearly badly managed.  I was little, but I remember the stress as my mother had to worry about whether he was being fed and taken care of properly, juggling two kids and a full time job.  It's not just that business corruption is some abstract problem, in this case its consequences are horribly cruel and immoral.  I know I'm not alone in these kinds of stories; we do not treat our elderly well in this country, because these relatively unregulated industries are allowed to flourish and rip everyone, including investors, off.

Here's an investigation from USA Today on these facilities:

Staffing worries caregivers themselves

Sunrise administrators would periodically say, "Get more staff in here," says Stilabower, who resigned in 2001 and now is co-owner of a nearby adult day care facility. "Then, two or three weeks later, after they've gotten the profit and loss report and the numbers were not on, I'd be asked to see if anyone wanted a day off, or would work less than eight hours."

During the two years after Stilabower left, three residents or their families filed lawsuits against the Sunrise facility. Two of the lawsuits alleged inadequate staffing and training, and the third involved allegations of a medication overdose. Two have been settled. State health officials cited the facility for several violations in January 2003, including failing to adequately care for an incontinent resident and failing to properly change the dressings on a resident's wound.

But the center has been free of violations since May 2003, according to the Indiana Department of Health.

Sunrise credits the change to a new executive director, who began work in May 2002 and soon moved to replace the facility's management team by hiring seven new supervisors. Sunrise spokeswoman Sarah Evers said employees who did not embrace Sunrise's model that "no task is beneath any team member" were let go. But the staffing level was not increased.

"It wasn't changing the number of people working there, but it was changing the people who worked there," Evers said of the improvement in the facility's record.

Still, assisted living staffers across the country voice complaints similar to Stilabower's.

That Donahue is still President and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce is an outrage.  He should step down.  Members of the US Chamber, Forture 500 companies, ought to think better of themselves than to let a sleazy and unethical man represent them in DC, one who makes millions stealing from small investors in an industry known to mistreat the sick and elderly.  Rarely is a situation this stark, morally speaking.

The business elite in this country has a responsibility to ethical corporate governance and business practices, but I still don't hear any of them speaking out.  And as for Democrats, this is an easy one.  We need a healthy and honest business lobby in this country, one that operates in good faith and can faithfully represent corporate interests.  If you take money from corporate lobbyists and meet with them to discuss business objectives, then you have an interest in speaking out here.  It's time to let the business community know that the rampant corruption tolerated in DC under Republican rule is no longer acceptable.

I'm going to stick on this one.  I'm just outraged that Donahue is still in charge of the Chamber.  Please send me any statements from elected officials, corporate executives, or local Chambers.  This is egregious, and it's an easy one.