Archived Blogs 2012

Matthew Hite to Join Chamber’s Environment Commitee

By Robert Weissman

Well, it looks like the Chamber of Commerce is doubling down on efforts to obstruct climate change solutions and on revolving door corruption, all in one play.
Politico reported earlier this week that Matthew Hite, senior counsel to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) on the Environment and Public Works Committee, is leaving for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where he will be policy counsel for the environment and agriculture committee in the Chamber’s environment, technology and regulatory affairs division.

Senator Inhofe, you’ll recall, is the author of the book, “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future,” and has made a name for himself mocking the science of climate change.

Here’s a typical Inhofe statement: “It’s also important to question whether global warming is even a problem for human existence. Thus far no one has seriously demonstrated any scientific proof that increased global temperatures would lead to the catastrophes predicted by alarmists. In fact, it appears that just the opposite is true: that increases in global temperatures may have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives.”

There must be people out there who deny the science of gravity, but they don’t matter much. But when powerful people like Senator Inhofe, or powerful interests like the Chamber of Commerce, deny or dispute the science of climate change — or, more importantly, act to block policies urgently needed to prevent catastrophic threats to the planet — it’s another matter altogether.

To be clear, the Chamber isn’t Inhofe. It doesn’t deny that climate change is occurring or suggest that it is desirable. Presumably, Matthew Hite won’t be advancing these positions at the Chamber, either. What the Chamber is doing, however, is helping lead the charge against meaningful policies to control greenhouse gas pollution and avert catastrophic climate change.

It’s also worth remarking on the revolving door issue. It’s taken as an article of faith in Washington, D.C., that this is just how things work: You leave government service and go to work for the corporate interests over whom you previously exercised oversight. But while it may be the norm, it’s not right. Jack Abramoff suggests that the revolving door is perhaps the chief corrupting influence in Congress.

So, it’s all business as usual perhaps, but dangerous business indeed.

 

Get ready for a blitz

Get ready for the blitz. Sure, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren, made a pact – called the “People’s Pledge” – in January to try to prevent third-party ads in their U.S. Senate race. So far, there have only been a couple infractions – and Sen. Brown contributed twice to the charity of Warren’s choice. But don’t expect things to continue to be fine and dandy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said that it’s not making any promises when it comes to spending in the Massachusetts Senate race. The Chamber last week endorsed Sen. Brown, and in 2010, the Big Business lobby poured $1 million into Brown’s special election race. So far this year, the Chamber has spent more than $11 million to influence elections.

Rob Engstrom, the Chamber’s political director, said that Massachusetts remains an important race for the organization and is one of the 12 or 13 Senate races the Chamber is paying attention to.

“Make no mistake, we have been and will be aggressive in the Massachusetts Senate race to educate our members and the voters as to where these candidates stand on the issues,” he told The Boston Globe.

Brown and Warren are spending many millions in their high-profile race – combined they have raised more than $40 million – so it’s not like the people of Massachusetts aren’t getting fully exposed to the candidates and their advertisements. But the two have managed to make a deal that keeps them each in control of the election, not outside groups. So, Dear Chamber, can’t you respect the request from Sen. Brown – and surely the deep desire of Massachusetts citizens – and stay out of this one, along with other outside groups?

Why does the U.S. Chamber really oppose the federal Superfund program?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has long criticized the federal Superfund program – which cleans up heavily polluted sites, from Love Canal to the Atlas Tack facility – for its “unreasonable liability and cleanup standards,” and says that the program is “slow, ineffective, very expensive, and has managed to address very few sites,” as quoted this week in The New York Times

While the Superfund program has had great successes (says Steve Cohen of the Earth Island Institute: “If we hadn’t had Superfund, we would have 30, 40, 50 million people in the direct pathway of exposure to toxic wastes,”), it’s absolutely true that hasn’t done enough — but that’s an argument for its strengthening, not dismantling. One of the great advances of the Superfund law was that it established the principle that the polluter must pay for cleanup.

Is it a surprise the U.S. Chamber says something to the contrary? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is opposed to nearly everything the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does or stands for. The Chamber is against the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, wants the government to take no further action on climate change, opposes government agencies using existing laws to regulate greenhouse gases, and it recently petitioned a federal appeals court to invalidate the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Utility MACT” rule – which aims to reduce emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants – because it says will lead to blackouts by forcing coal-fired power plants to close. Basically, in the Chamber’s world, environmental protection gets in the way of Big Business’s bottom line.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce would prefer to privatize – yes, privatize – the cleanup of contaminated property and minimize the government’s involvement, so it says on its website.

But how did the Chamber weigh in when one of its member organizations – BP – was facing huge liability for a massive environmental disaster? Let the taxpayers chip in for the cleanup. I kid you not.

This perhaps sheds some light on the Chamber’s proposal to privatize Superfund cleanups. Can we surmise that the Chamber cares less about cleaning the environment than helping its polluter members escape liability from paying for the mess they make?

New Chamber study seems to forget that its member companies shirk criminal sanctions

Posted by Dorry Samuels on August 13, 2012

So, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a new report on Friday finding that some state laws favor labor unions. The report highlights numerous exemptions from criminal statutes, such as from trespassing if committed in conjunction with a labor dispute, among other alleged examples of favoritism.

Interesting. You see, many of your member organizations have not only escaped punishment for violating state laws, they’ve also managed to skirt criminal sanctions for violating federal laws. You know what they say about glass houses, dear Chamber.

Let’s take a look at some of your member organizations, shall we?

BP so far has not faced criminal punishments for causing the biggest environmental disaster our country has ever seen, let alone for the 11 workers who died when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded.

Chevron faced no criminal sanctions after it inserted illegal surcharges, benefiting the former Iraqi government, when it bought Iraqi oil.

CVS faced no criminal penalties after it illegally sold and distributed large quantities of pseudoephedrine in California and Nevada. The customers planned to use the pseudoephedrine to make meth.

Google was not criminally punished after it allowed online pharmacy advertisers to place links promoting their prescription drugs, in clear violation of U.S. laws governing importation and dispensation of prescription drugs.

Shall I go on?

Here are some of your other member organizations who have shirked criminal sanctions, entering into “no-prosecution” or “deferred prosecution” deals with government prosecutors that enable them to escape pleaing guilty for acknowledged wrongdoing: GlaxoSmithKline, AIG, Gibson Guitar Corp., General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, JPMorgan, Merck & Co., Pfizer and Tyson Foods.

Glad that’s settled.

Evade, Evade, Evade

Today, the Washington Post joins the chorus of disbelief over the U.S. Chamber’s intended shift in election strategy to avoid disclosing who’s financing its political attack ads. The Post says the Chamber’s switch to independent expenditures from the issue ads they used to run constitutes a “notable shift in strategy for the nation’s largest business lobby, which has long characterized itself as focusing primarily on policy rather than politics.”

The Post continues:

The move also means that the chamber is poised to become more directly involved  in specific congressional races by explicitly telling people how they should vote.  It’s a notable shift in strategy for the nation’s largest business lobby, which has  long characterized itself as focusing primarily on policy rather than politics.

“We will have a vigorous, unchanged election program,” chamber President Tom Donohue told reporters Monday, adding that the push for disclosure is “all about intimidation. They want to intimidate people from participating.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who brought the lawsuit that led to the ruling, said “It’s extraordinary what lengths these groups will go to in order to hide the sources  of their funding. They’re going to twist themselves into knots to prevent voters  from knowing who’s financing their ads.”

The focus of the dispute is political advertising run by nonprofit organizations that  are not required to reveal their funding sources publicly. Most of  the advertising aired in connection with the 2012 general election campaign has  come from such non-disclosing groups, suggesting that much of the political  spending over the next six months will come from sources invisible to the public.

Nailed It.

Today, the New York Times reported on something the Chamber most surely wishes it hadn’t: the Chamber’s change-up in its political ad-buying strategy to avoid disclosing its donors. The Chamber clearly was hoping to bury this story when it quietly released it to BNA right before a holiday weekend.

But a story this big won’t go away. The Times aptly says the Chamber’s “charade” of nonpartisanship is over. The Daily Agenda agrees, and notes that the Chamber’s political prowress doesn’t end on the campaign trail; back in Washington, it’s the country’s largest and most influential lobbyist:

…the U.S. Chamber of Commerce does not represent the interests of American business. It is a lobbying group for a few elite, super-wealthy, multi-national corporations.

Of the $140 million total contributions the Chamber received in 2008, 45 multinational corporations funded half. The Chamber is the largest lobbying organization in America by a factor of 3, spending $132 million in 2010. Between 1998 and 2011, the Chamber spent $785 million, three times more than the next biggest spender (the American Medical Association at $259 million)….

The US Chamber does not stand for business. It is a lobbying front for a small number of tremendously powerful, tremendously wealthy multi-national corporations, who have purchased the Republican party, and who every election cycle work to advance their own self-interest (as they will in the upcoming election).

Chamber of Secrets: Part II

Yesterday, we reported on the DC Circuit’s decision in Van Hollen v. FEC, which requires those who engage in electioneering – those ads that name a candidate within sixty days of an election – to disclose significant funders.  The U.S. Chamber is an active “electioneer,” and has announced plans to spend more than $50 million on them this election cycle.


So when the court said the Chamber would have to disclose its donors, we saw it as a “check mate” for the Chamber’s notorious secret politicking, especially when the Chamber declared its intention to move forward with its election activities despite the ruling.

 

But today, in a quiet announcement the Chamber revealed that the decision will change its activities: it announced that it will no longer engage in the electioneering ads that require disclosure under the new court ruling.

 

Members of the Chamber of Commerce are clearly terrified of being associated with the Chamber’s infamous television ads – ads that are routinely discredited by independent fact checkers.

Does this mean the Chamber will refrain from airing ads in the 60 days before an election? Doubtful.  With $50 million dollars burning a hole in Tom Donohue’s pocket, the Chamber is sure to find alternate avenues to sway elections. The most obvious way to do so? Air ads that expressly urge voters to choose a particular candidate. Under the Van Hollen ruling, these “independent expenditures” actually require less disclosure than the types of electioneering communications the Chamber is used to issuing.

 

In the past, the Chamber has not aired independent expenditures, saying that its role was to educate voters about issues important to American business. But now that the tables have turned, and more disclosure is required for education ads, watch how quickly the Chamber changes its tune. Companies like WellPoint, JP Morgan and Wal-Mart, all of whom fund the Chamber, do not want their names flashing after the Chamber’s notoriously unreliable political ads.

 

If it wasn’t clear before, the Chamber’s flip flop on its election activity this year should make it crystal: The Chamber doesn’t care about educating the American public about business. It has always cared about swaying elections – in the most secretive way possible. Now that more disclosure is required for electioneering ads, the Chamber is switching gears. All in the name of protecting the corporations that funnel millions of dollars through it to do their dirty work.

Despite Court Order for Disclosure, Chamber “Full Steam Ahead” on Secret Political Spending

Last week, a DC Circuit panel upheld disclosure for the types of political ads known as “electioneering” communications. Electioneering ads clearly identify a federal candidate, and air within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary.

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) mandated that a group running an electioneering ad must identify any person, corporation or labor union that contributed $1000 to the organization running the ad.

 

But the FEC narrowed the scope of the law, applying it only to contributions intended to further electioneering. So donors who simply refrained from earmarking their funds for electioneering speech could skirt the law’s provisions.

 

Yesterday, the DC Court of Appeals panel affirmed the lower court judge who based  her decision in part on the Supreme Court’s observation that, “disclosure requirements serve an important public function because they “help citizens make informed choices in the political marketplace.” 

 

So, groups should be on notice that they are required to disclose their donors if they plan to run electioneering communications.

Right?

 

Well, not the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Chamber Executive Vice President Bruce Josten noted that the decision will be appealed. He also said that the Chamber will not “pull back on anything we are doing. It’s full steam ahead.”

 

Full steam ahead in an unprecedented political campaign in which the Chamber plans to spend more than $50 million in secret corporate money to buy itself a congress – and particularly, a Senate.

 

Chamber CEO Tom Donohue said, “We’re going to put the money on the races that are up for grabs and I think there are…in the Senate, an extraordinary set of opportunities. There are a lot of opportunities there, particularly if there is a close presidential race.”

 

The Chamber’s not going to let a little thing like the law get in the way of its political machine.

Disclosure Debate Heats Up

Tom Donohue, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, can’t say enough for corporate political speech. He just doesn’t want you to know who is saying what. Moreover, he don’t think shareholders and consumers have the right to know what they’re supporting.

 

Today’s Washington Post highlights recent shareholder action to demand political disclosure from companies. As to be expected the US Chamber continues to push for anonymity over transparency. 

 

The article also highlights companies that are in hot water for their support of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), another veil organization for corporate political activism. Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Intuit, are feeling it for supporting ALEC despite the group’s ferocious advocacy for the “stand your ground” gun laws which made headlines after Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida. Wal-Mart is of course still under-fire for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in Mexico, while giving ALEC money to weaken that very law. 

States Fight Back!

In the wake of Citizens United, twenty-two states are fighting back against unlimited, anonymous corporate influence in their elections.  

 

The infamous Supreme Court case is controversial in public and legal circles but it is unlikely that changes will be made this cycle. However, it is encouraging that so many states, businesses, and organizations are trying to protect the integrity of democratic elections. 

 

The US Chamber of Commerce is likely to spend 50 million dollars this year on ‘voter education.’ We know that everyone from PolitiFact.com to FactCheck.org have called the Chamber’s ads blatantly false, but we don’t know who is behind their massive buy.

 

Read more about what states like Montana and New York are doing to protect their citizens from Chamber style scorched earth campaigns. 

 

Local Montana Chambers Distancing from U.S. Chamber’s Attack Ads

The 2012 election cycle is full steam ahead and two local chambers of commerce in Montana have come out swinging against the U.S. Chamber’s recent misleading ads attacking Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester.  Once again, local chambers are concerned about being tied to the national organization’s politics and are stepping out publicly to make the distinction clear.

According to the Missoulian, Steve Mauer, government relations liaison for the Missoula Chamber of Commerce, said the U.S. Chamber ads “contain many ‘half-truths.’” Also according to the Missoulian:

“The Missoula Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to members…saying it does not condone a set of ‘counterproductive’ U.S. Chamber of Commerce-sponsored campaign advertisements targeting Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. ‘As an independent organization governed by local business and community partners, we do not automatically agree with either the Montana Chamber of Commerce or the U.S. Chamber on their polices or messages,’ the letter said.”

According to the Flathead Beacon, “In a letter to the Great Falls Tribune…Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce President made clear that ‘dues from any Chamber member do not go to that PAC and, therefore, don’t help pay for those ads.’” The local chamber also wrote:

“The Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce does not support any negative ads on any candidate. We highly recommend that any negative ad toward any candidate be taken with skepticism until it has been researched, evaluated and verified before anyone makes a final decision regarding that candidate.”

Far from the nation’s capital, local business owners don’t seem to like it when they’re mistaken for “half truths” and Washington D.C. partisan political hacks funded by anonymous corporate donors. Considering the aggressive political program that the Chamber has promised for 2012, we don’t think this is the last we’ll be hearing from local chambers and business leaders.

US Chamber to Members: It’s Cool to Make Your Employees Work on Christmas

Dragging a little today? Desperately trying to focus on work while wishing you were still on a beach? Just be glad you don’t work for a member company of the US Chamber—you might not have gotten that vacation at all.

In a toolkit for small business owners on the Chamber’s website, the lobbying organization advises modern-day Scrooge employers: “If you need to, you can require that [employees] work on Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day, or any other traditional holiday.”

It’s a policy that other large corporations have already taken heat for. Over Thanksgiving, an enterprising Target employee called attention to the consequences of ever-earlier Black “Friday” sales (some starting on Thursday evening) for store employees: not getting to enjoy the holiday with their own families. More than 200,000 employees and customers signed a petition asking Target to drop the family-unfriendly policy, with copycat petitions formed against Kohl’s, Wal-Mart and other big box stores with similar holiday hours.

The Chamber’s advice may not be surprising for an organization that’s also opposed the 40-hour work week, paid family and medical leave, and even the federal minimum wage, but no doubt its member companies are taking note: Listen to this particular Dear Abby, only with a great deal of caution.