It’s Not Just Exxon Who’s Profiting: The Chamber’s Dance with Big Oil
As Exxon unveiled more than $11 billion in first-quarter profits yesterday, it wasn’t just big oil execs who had something to cheer about: the top dogs at the U.S. Chamber could rightfully share in the glee.
Companies including Conoco Phillips, Shell, Chevron, BP, and Exxon all can call themselves Chamber members, contributors, or– most importantly– direct recipients of the Chamber’s lobbying largesse.
We all remember Chamber President Tom Donohue’s call for taxpayers to pay for the disastrous oil spill clean-up– an unprecedented environmental disaster brought to us by BP. But that’s not the only way the Chamber’s been shilling for Big Oil. They’ve also vociferously opposed cracking down on oil price speculation, as we pointed out earlier this month– despite the fact that even Chamber member Goldman Sachs admits that gas prices are high due to speculation artificially driving them up. Aside from the Chamber’s direct lobbying against laws that would have cracked down on speculation, the Chamber is also now applauding the Paul Ryan budget, recently passed by the House, which would slash the budget of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the agency that regulates oil speculation.
Protesters Fan Out to Save Social Security– But the Chamber’s Still Opposed
Events are taking place across the country this week in order to push back on Republican efforts to privatize Social Security– an idea also championed, of course, by the U.S. Chamber. Notably, the Chamber has opposed Social Security from its inception (which the Chamber opposed) straight through to the present day, supporting nearly every effort for privatization along the way. Chamber President Tom Donohue himself has said that any social security reform “must” include privatization, despite the fact that it’s neither politically popular (polling consistently shows Americans opposed to privatization) or economically wise (in 2009, the editor of Fortune magazine explained how privatizing social security would have made the financial meltdown of 2008 even “worse”). But hey, the Wall Street titans seem to like the idea.
Here’s some more information on the Chamber’s anti-social security agenda:
THE CHAMBER OPPOSED THE CREATION OF SOCIAL SECURITY
U.S. Chamber Opposed the 1935 Social Security Act. According to an official history of Social Security, “In 1935, while there were long debate and votes on many amendments, the Congress passed the Social Security Act by an overwhelming majority. In the House, the vote was 372 yeas, 33 nays and 25 not voting. The vote in the Senate was equally positive, with 77 yeas, 6 nays and 12 not voting. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Act into law on August 14, 1935. Despite the strong support, there was vocal opposition to the Act, both in the Congress and externally. The minority members of the House Ways and Means Committee said it would impose a crushing burden upon industry and upon labor. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers opposed the bill.” [SSA History: History of SSA 1993-2000]
THE CHAMBER SUPPORTS CUTS TO SOCIAL SECURITY
The U.S. Chamber “Commend[ed]” The Bowles-Simpson Plan To Cut Social Security And Medicare. Following the release of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC’s) deficit reduction report, the U.S. Chamber issued praise: “We commend the BPC’s valuable contribution to the deficit reduction debate and thank co-chairs Senator Pete Domenici and Director Alice Rivlin—and members of the Deficit Reduction Task Force—for their leadership. The report, along with the recommendations made by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson of the President’s Deficit Commission, is a powerful reminder of three things: the tremendous harm we are inflicting on our economy by failing to get the deficit under control; the unconscionable burden we are passing on to future generations; and that practical solutions can be found when public leaders work together on a bipartisan basis and with the long-term interests of the country in mind.” [U.S. Chamber, 11/17/10]
Bowles-Simpon “Would Cut Benefits For The Vast Majority Of Social Security Recipients” And Increase Medicare And Medicaid Premiums. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities: “It would cut benefits for the vast majority of Social Security recipients, weaken the link between a recipient’s benefits and past earnings (which could undermine public support for the program), and, despite the claims of the co-chairs, fail to protect most low-income workers from benefit cuts. … Bowles-Simpson’s cuts in Medicaid and Medicare would pose further problems for millions of Social Security beneficiaries. They call for increasing the amounts that elderly and disabled Medicare beneficiaries must pay for health care services (presumably through higher co-payments) under both Medicare and the Medigap policies that supplement Medicare coverage while giving them better protection against catastrophic expenses.” [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2/17/11]
THE CHAMBER SUPPORTS PRIVATIZATION OF SOCIAL SECURITY
U.S. Chamber President: Any Social Security Reform “Must” Include Privatization. In June 2005, Tom Donohue, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, co-wrote an op-ed that stated, “any Social Security reform must meet four core principles,” including “[g]iving younger workers the option of investing part of their payroll taxes in personal retirement accounts.” In January 2005, Donohue “said a Social Security overhaul is ‘doable’ this year and said the Chamber believes ‘individual investment accounts must be an important component of reform.” [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 6/7/05; CongressDaily, 1/5/05]
U.S. Chamber Website “Gives Credit” to President George Bush’s Plan to Partially Privatize Social Security that Later Failed. A webpage on the U.S. Chamber’s website states “Give credit to President Bush for challenging the status quo and committing to tackling the thorny issue of Social Security reform.” The Chamber outlined the President’s positions on the issue including “Voluntary Private Accounts for the younger generation, to offer the opportunity to earn higher benefits than the current system can afford, and to build a “nest egg” that they own.” Bush’s push to reform social security was widely defeated in 2005, as Jacob Weisberg of Slate explained, “George W. Bush’s plan to remake the Social Security system is kaput. This is not a value judgment. It’s a statement of political fact.” [U.S. Chamber of Commerce website, accessed 4/25/11; Slate, 3/31/05]
U.S. Chamber Said “Best Way” To Reform Social Security was with “Personal Account Proponent.” A webpage on the U.S. Chamber’s website states the “problems” with social security and “solutions” for reforming it. The Chamber states that social security is an “‘unfunded’ income transfer scheme” and that without reform “the only way to address this problem is to either cut Social Security benefits or raise payroll taxes.” Offering solutions, the Chamber claims “the best way” to “permanently strengthen social security” is “with a personal account component as President Bush and others have proposed.” [U.S. Chamber Website, Accessed 4/25/11]
ICYMI: U.S. Chamber’s 44 Billion Reasons to Fight Corporate Political Transparency
Posted by Lauren Levenstein on April 26, 2011
Last week, the U.S. Chamber immediately criticized news about a leaked proposal from the White House, that according to the Huffington Post, “would require government contractors to disclose campaign contributions.” The Executive Order would directly affect many Chamber companies and jeopardize the secrecy of their contributions to the organization.
And no wonder the Chamber howled. A U.S. Chamber Watch review of public records reveals that at least 55 companies associated with the Chamber had contracts with the federal government, totaling $44 billion in 2010 alone.
Clearly, the Chamber has 44 billion reasons to oppose the White House’s plan. As Chamber President Tom Donohue admitted, the Chamber’s main purpose is to be the “reinsurance” policy for big corporations to secretly influence the political process and then profit handsomely from it, without public accountability. After all, disclosure is the Chamber’s kryptonite. As the Chamber noted in its amicus brief supporting Citizens United, “The reason no Chamber donors are disclosed is simple. Many of its members have made clear that they are not willing to be identified and will terminate or withhold support if disclosure becomes a risk.”
Click here to read Huffington Post’s coverage.
Click here for pdf version of the list below.
U.S. Chamber Board Members – 2010 Government Contract Awards
Lockheed Martin $34,376,276,089
Fluor Corporation $1,909,397,381
Deloitte LLP $882,103,043
United Parcel Service $700,647,431
PEPCO Holdings Inc. $199,773,198
Deere & Company $106,103,148
JPMorgan Chase $73,282,527
The Carlyle Group $67,438,415
3M Company $39,072,206
Duke Energy $19,194,945
Entergy Services, Inc. $18,513,507
AGL Resources, Inc. $12,483,327
Alcoa Inc. $10,777,795
Indiana University Health Care Associates Inc. $9,230,751
Buffalo Supply $5,138,871
Eastman Kodak Company $4,235,080
SIRVA Inc. $1,803,493
Las Vegas Sands Corporation $999,256
Ryder System Inc. $985,105
American Medical Association $900,618
CVS Caremark Corporation $900,306
Hawk Corporation $592,240
CONSOL Energy $551,678
Norfolk Southern Corporation $363,009
The Travelers Companies, Inc. $330,764
Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce $300,000
KCI Technologies, Inc. $248,102
BNSF Railway Company $216,774
Vulcan Materials $203,802
Aegon N.V. $114,437
The Alpha Group $1,657,551
Bay Cast Companies $65,550
U.S. Chamber of Commerce $17,097
Leading Authorities Inc. $16,050
Allstate Insurance Company $10,700
Tandy Leather Factory $8,791
Premiere Global Services $8,451
Action Chemical $8,004
Anheuser-Busch Companies $182,818
Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. $4,547
US Airways $3,239
State Farm Insurance $0
Jackson Kelly $0
Spencer Stuart $0
Odney Advertising $0
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association $0
Constangy, Brooks & Smith $0
Harrah’s Entertainment $0
Sunrise Senior Living $0
Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc. $0
New York Life $0
Select Milk Producers $0
Peabody Energy $0
AGCO Corporation $0
Ruan Transportation Management Systems $0
Human Genome Sciences, Inc. $0
Argo Group International Holdings Ltd $0
*Companies with $0 are presently U.S. Chamber board members that have received federal government contracts in previous years.
Chamber Teams Up With PhRMA To Defend Data Mining
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc. As SCOTUSblog explains, at issue is “Whether a [Vermont] law that restricts access to information in nonpublic prescription drug records and affords prescribers the right to consent before their identifying information in prescription drug records is sold or used in marketing violates the First Amendment.” This law was designed to prevent prescription drug companies and third party data mining groups from obtaining private prescription drug data as a means to craft the marketing strategy of prescription drug sales.
Despite being implicated in a scheme to use data mining as a means of discrediting their opponents, the U.S. Chamber’s National Chamber Litigation Center filed an amicus brief on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry, claiming that the law violates the First Amendment rights of major corporations. The U.S. Chamber frequently runs campaigns on behalf of their members who are otherwise afraid of the public relations blowback from backing unpopular deregulation policies. Notably, during the recent healthcare debate, Bloomberg reported that the U.S. Chamber received at least $86.2 million from the health insurance industry to run a smear campaign against health insurance reform. However, the U.S. Chamber’s position on data mining puts the organization in an uncomfortable position.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Chamber and their outside counsel Hunton and Williams made international headlines after an investigative report revealed that Hunton solicited potentially illegal proposals from defense industry contractors. These private companies – that have received millions of dollars in federal contracts – proposed infiltrating and discrediting the U.S. Chamber’s critics – including U.S. Chamber Watch. Among the schemes entertained by at least one of the subcontractors, HBGary Federal, was the use of illicit data mining techniques to extract information from their critics.
As ThinkProgress elaborated, it appears that the subcontractors, on behalf of the U.S. Chamber, sought to use malware – a form of hacking – to steal information from their critics. Additionally, the subcontractors scraped information about progressive activists from Facebook, which would violate the website’s terms of service. Acting on behalf of the U.S. Chamber’s counsel, the subcontractors entertained using potentially illegal hacking techniques to target the U.S. Chamber’s critics:
HBGary, the parent company of HBGary Federal, specializes in analyzing “malware,” computer viruses that are used to maliciously steal data from computers or networks. In other presentations, Barr makes clear that his expertise in “Information Operations” covers forms of hacking like a “computer network attack,” “custom malware development,” and “persistent software implants.” The presentation shows Barr boasting that he had knowledge of using “zero day” attacks to exploit vulnerabilities in Flash, Java, Windows 2000 and other programs to steal data from a target’s computer.
Indeed, malware hacking appears to be a key service sold by HBGary Federal. Describing a “spear phishing” strategy (an illegal form of hacking), Barr advised his colleague Greg Hoglund that “We should have a capability to do this to our adversaries.” In another e-mail chain, HBGary Federal executives discuss using a fake “patriotic video of our soldiers overseas” to induce military officials to open malicious data extraction viruses. In September, HBGary Federal executives again contemplate their success of a dummy “evite” e-mail used to maliciously hack target computers.
In light of the alleged ChamberLeaks scandal, where exactly does the U.S. Chamber draw the line between privacy rights and personal invasion?
The U.S. Chamber: Not a Friend to LGBT Businesses
Big news was made last week when House Republicans announced that they had hired Paul Clement, partner at the law firm King and Spalding, to defend the anti-LGBT Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Today, under pressure from LGBT groups, Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel reported that King and Spalding is withdrawing from the case. Yet Clement has no intention of quitting. In fact, he is resigning from King and Spalding expressly so that he can continue defending legislation to deny federal recognition of gay marriage.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that Clement has deep ties to the U.S. Chamber– a group that also supports policies to weaken protections for lesbians and gays. Clement serves as a board member of the National Chamber Litigation Center (NCLC), the Chamber’s legal arm. As recently as February 2011, Clement and his former law firm filed an amicus brief for the Chamber in a case involving GE.
A recent and widely debunked Chamber report presents additional ways in which the Chamber’s policies hurt the LGBT business community. In the report, the Chamber asserts that states with stronger anti-discrimination policies, including protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, have worse business and employment climates. For example, the Chamber rated Washington State as a having a “poor” business climate that “imposes[s] burdens on employers.” The Chamber explains, almost cautioning its readers:
“Seattle has long been known as one of the more socially liberal cities in the country…the Seattle Office for Civil Rights enforces the city’s prohibitions against employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, martial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, political ideology, age, creed, religion, ancestry, national origin, honorably discharged veteran or military status, or the presence of any sensory mental or physical handicap.”
The report was widely debunked for its questionable conclusions– including giving higher ratings to states like Mississippi with high unemployment, than to states like California and Illinois, whose unemployment rates were lower and businesses were flourishing. Yet the Chamber sent the factually misleading report to every Governor and State House leader in both parties, declaring that states with stronger anti-discriminatory policies were creating bad business climates.
And now, one of the Chamber’s most trusted legal minds – as both an advisor and a lawyer for the Chamber – is being paid by the GOP to axe rights for LGBT citizens.
As the Aesop fable goes, “A man is known by the company he keeps.” The Chamber is also being exposed for the company it keeps and the discriminatory policies it actively pushes and supports.
Time to Play: Earth Day the Chamber’s Way
To celebrate Earth Day, we thought it might be fun to see how much you really know about the nation’s largest lobbying entity that is currently the leading voice of big corporations’ anti-environmental agenda. Do you know how the anonymous corporate money funneled through the Chamber by Big Oil and Coal is affecting environmental policy?
Q. This past Monday, which event took place in front of the Chamber’s headquarters (that the Chamber later took to its blog to dismiss)?
a.) Tom Donohue disclosed Chamber member companies
b.) Chamber acknowledged the importance of strong regulatory policies
c.) Thousands gathered to protest Chamber’s anti-climate policies
A. If you answered “C,” you are correct. On Monday, April 18th, thousands of activists from the pro-environmental Power Shift conference gathered in front of the U.S. Chamber, shutting down the street. Participants loudly held the Chamber accountable for what it really is – as Power Shift partner 350.org put it – “little more than a front group for corporate polluters.” Check out video from the event here.
Q. This week marked the one year anniversary of the British Petroleum (BP) gulf oil spill, after which Chamber President Tom Donohue came under fire for saying that American taxpayers should help pay for the oil spill cleanup. In the past year, how else has the Chamber helped BP remain unaccountable to the American people?
a.) Chamber lobbied against bill making it easier for victims to sue for damages
b.) Chamber helped defeat LA bill making it easier for state to sue BP for damages
c.) Chamber unabashedly supported and continues to support deepwater drilling
d.) All of the above
A. If you answered “D,” “all of the above,” you are correct. The U.S. Chamber had been “shilling” for BP long before the oil disaster and ratcheted up its support immediately following the spill. In the fall of 2009, while many other large corporations had already distanced from the Chamber over climate issues, a BP spokesman embraced the Chamber noting, “Yes, BP is a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and expects to remain so.” And as the reporter explained, that news likely caused Tom Donohue to “breathe a sigh of relief.”
Q. In 2009, the New York Times editorial board wrote about the Chamber, “no organization in this country has done more to undermine” a comprehensive solution to global warming. During this Congressional session, how has the Chamber continued this work?
a.) Strengthening EPA’s ability to regulate corporate pollution
b.) Stripping the EPA of its power
c.) Holding Chamber member companies accountable for carbon emissions
A. If you answered “B,” you are correct. Make no mistake, the U.S. Chamber is leading the fight to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases and thus corporate pollution. The Chamber has filed several lawsuits challenging the EPA’s ruling that greenhouse gases are harmful to humans, thereby halting their potential regulation. The Chamber is also lobbying Congress at every chance to support laws that would weaken the agency.
Q. The U.S. Chamber has legally defended which of the following companies when environmental-related lawsuits were brought against them?
c.) American Electric Power Company
d.) Hornbeck Offshore Services Inc.
e.) Duke Energy Corporation
f.) Exxon Mobil
g.) Cinergy Corporation
h.) All of the above
A. If you answered “H,” “all of the above” you are once again correct. The (litigation-hating?) Chamber has filed friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of the companies listed above and many, many more when others were trying to hold the corporations accountable for damages to human life and the environment.
So, how did you do? Did you ace the quiz? You may have passed with flying colors but when it comes to sensible climate policies, the U.S. Chamber gets an F. Some big corporations (Apple, PG&E, Best Buy, Microsoft, GE, Dow, Cisco Systems, etc.), local chambers, and now citizens en masse, are stepping forward and reminding the Chamber that its arcane climate policy just won’t cut it any longer.
Happy Earth Day!
The U.S. Chamber’s Tax Repatriation Holiday: Boon for CEOs, Bust for American Workers
As working families file their taxes today, many major U.S. corporations will effectively not. Through a series of tax loopholes – which the U.S. Chamber has lobbied on behalf of – major U.S. corporations like General Electric and ExxonMobil have an effective tax rate of zero. Remarkably, instead of eliminating the tax loopholes that have contributed to our national debt, the U.S. Chamber is promoting a scheme that would enrich shareholders and executives with a tax repatriation holiday.
Currently, many U.S. based multinational corporations create foreign subsidiaries to avoid paying U.S. corporate taxes. Instead of advocating for a policy that would strip U.S. corporations of these tax loopholes, the U.S. Chamber is calling for a “tax holiday,” which would allow multinational firms with foreign subsidiaries to repatriate earnings at much lower tax rates than the current corporate rate. In 2004, the Bush administration implemented a tax repatriation holiday that failed to accomplish the purported objectives. The facts show that far from creating jobs, tax repatriation merely allowed an outlet for Chamber member companies to offshore U.S. jobs and reap personal windfalls for their CEOs.
In a new report, U.S. Chamber Watch explains how this policy not only shortchanges American taxpayers but enriches the executives of the companies that repatriate. In particular:
- Despite claims by the U.S. Chamber to the contrary, the tax repatriation holiday in 2004 did not create jobs in the United States. Instead, it created an estimated windfall of well over $250 million for the CEOs of U.S. Chamber companies who benefitted from stock buybacks after the repatriation.
- Of the top 105 companies that repatriated earnings, 22 have direct ties to the U.S. Chamber or its affiliates. These companies repatriated over $133 billion in earnings.
- Not only did repatriating companies not create jobs, some even cut jobs in the United States. Five of the U.S. Chamber-affiliated companies for whom jobs data is available repatriated over $16 billion in foreign earnings but cut over 70,000 American jobs.
- Research shows that 92% of overseas earnings repatriated by companies went to shareholders, mostly through stock buybacks. Such buybacks – which Warren Buffett called “foolish” – typically benefit only those shareholders able to capitalize on short-term impacts, often at the expense of investors interested in long-term growth and investment that leads to job creation.
- Since executive compensation is often either linked to measures inflated by buybacks or comes in the form of stock options, these stock buy backs have been have been called “backdoor compensation” for corporate executives.
- Many CEOs of U.S. Chamber companies who repatriated earnings and conducted stock buy backs executed stock options, thereby increasing their net worth.
To learn more about the U.S. Chamber’s push to line the pockets of corporate CEO’s at the taxpayers expense, read the full report, here [Updated as of 4/29/11].
U.S. Chamber Member: High Gas Prices Are Wall Street’s Fault
In a rare departure from its usual protocol, it appears that the U.S. Chamber is not listening to Wall Street. On Tuesday, U.S. Chamber member Goldman Sachs attributed burgeoning oil prices to rampant market speculation– that is, a Wall Street giant openly admitted that it’s Wall Street’s fault, not a problem of supply and demand, that have forced gas prices to unaffordable levels. According to Reuters:
Goldman analyst Greely said that while unrest in the Middle East and North Africa remains a risk to oil markets, with Libyan exports already largely cut off, the price had been pushed too high by the large number of speculative traders currently long crude oil. “Both inventories and spare capacity are much higher now and net speculative positions are four times as high as in June 2008,” Greely said.
Interestingly, the U.S. Chamber appears to disagree with its member organization Goldman Sachs. The U.S. Chamber has repeatedly demagouged the issue of oil price speculation, arguing that oil costs are intrinsically tied to domestic supply. For instance, last month, Karen Harbert, President of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, testified on the topic of gas prices to the House Committee On Natural Resources, but failed to mention the costs of oil speculation as a potential cause of the problem. Instead, she used her influence to lobby on behalf of the big oil companies by calling for more domestic drilling.
In fact, the Chamber has taken efforts to encourage oil price speculation. During the summer of 2008, as gas prices soared passed $3 a gallon, the U.S. Chamber’s chief lobbyist Bruce Josten, opposed efforts to pass legislation that would’ve cracked down on oil price speculation. Instead, Josten – representing the narrow interests of the U.S. Chamber’s oil industry members – called for more domestic drilling. In a letter to members of Congress, Josten wrote:
Speculation and home heating assistance are important issues that Congress should consider, but both pale in comparison to the basic economic supply and demand issues that this Congress has failed to address. The Senate cannot and should not neglect this latest opportunity to pass legislation that would make a real impact on rising energy prices. The Chamber therefore urges the Senate to overcome failed polices of the past by repealing the Congressional moratorium on OCS energy production.
This all begs the question: when the U.S. Chamber’s Big Oil friends are in conflict with its Big Wall Street friends, who does the Chamber side with?
Southern Company’s Cozy Relationship to the Chamber
Today, the Chamber’s charitable organization, the National Chamber Foundation, is hosting a presentation by Thomas A. Fanning, President and CEO of Southern Company, one of the world’s largest energy companies. According to the Chamber’s website, Fanning will discuss “how Southern Company is advancing energy policy and jobs in the energy sector.” Yet it’s hard to see who’d want to be taking green jobs advice from Southern, one of the largest polluters in the world.
In 2009, when many large corporations, including energy companies like Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Duke Energy, denounced the Chamber’s climate policies, Southern Company spokesman Jason Cuevas told the New York Times, “‘We are in agreement [with the chamber] on many of the issues,’…adding that Southern Co. belongs to the chamber for many reasons.” Perhaps one of the “many reasons” Southern Company belongs to the Chamber is that it is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses in the world (per 2008 data) while the Chamber is leading the fight against the EPA’s mandate to regulate them.
Not only does Southern belong to the U.S. Chamber, its Executive Vice President currently sits on the Board of Directors and in 2009, the corporation was represented on the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform board.
Why the cozy relationship? Here are some possibilities: Last summer, the Chamber filed a lawsuit – and not the first – challenging the EPA’s determination that greenhouse gasses are harmful to humans. Just last week, the Chamber lobbied for a narrowly-averted bill that would have stripped the EPA of more regulatory power. This past February, Southern’s Senior Vice President for Research and Environmental Affairs testified in Washington D.C. that the EPA’s timetable to begin enforcing emissions limits for power plants and oil refineries was “too aggressive.”
It also turns out that in 2009, according to the Center for Public Integrity, Southern had the “largest force of lobbyists” fighting the cap-and-trade bill (at least before it passed the House.) In fact, the company paid at least $100,000 to Hunton and Williams, co-star of the ChamberLeaks scandal, for lobbying services. The Chamber was also a leading and outspoken opponent of cap and trade legislation, even using the vote to attack Democrats in ads during the 2010 election cycle.
As Fanning will predictably rave about how many jobs Southern Company has created and how much token carbon it has captured – without the pesky government regulating it – we caution the luncheon attendees. As one of the largest polluters in the world, is Southern’s “jobs” policy really sustainable or just a short-term fix designed to shove a long-term global problem under the rug?
Chamber “Praised” Ryan Plan That Would Cost Two Million Private Sector Jobs
Need another reason why the Chamber should really take down its J-O-B-S poster?
At a Christian Science Monitor breakfast this morning, U.S. Chamber head lobbyist Bruce Josten “praised” Paul Ryan’s budget plan stating, “We think it is exactly the pathway to a trajectory to get the federal budget spending down to where it’s under control…This is not just touching the third rail, this is grasping the third rail.”
The Chamber’s statement comes two days after the Economic Policy Institute found that Ryan’s budget plan would “result in a loss of 2.1 million jobs over the next five years, or 2.9 million full-time equivalent jobs.”
Some jobs policy, huh?
U.S. Chamber “Commends” Paul Ryan For Privatizing Medicare
Earlier this week, the U.S. Chamber “commended” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s long term budget proposal that – the Wall Street Journal explains – would “essentially end Medicare, which now pays most of the health-care bills for 48 million elderly and disabled Americans, as a program that directly pays those bills.” By pushing Medicare recipients into the private market, the health insurance industry plans to profit royally on the backs of seniors.
Privatizing Medicare will generate an entirely new market for the health insurance industry and according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), increase the cost of health insurance for seniors:
A private health insurance plan covering the standardized benefit would, CBO estimates, be more expensive currently than traditional Medicare. Both administrative costs (including profits) and payment rates to providers are higher for private plans than for Medicare.
Using the CBO’s estimates, the Center for Economic and Policy Research explained that the Ryan plan could shift as much as 68 percent of health insurance costs to seniors:
According to the CBO analysis the benefit would cover 32 percent of the cost of a health insurance package equivalent to the current Medicare benefit (Figure 1). This means that the beneficiary would pay 68 percent of the cost of this package. Using the CBO assumption of 2.5 percent annual inflation, the voucher would have grown to $9,750 by 2030. This means that a Medicare type plan for someone age 65 would be $30,460 under Representative Ryan’s plan, leaving seniors with a bill of $20,700. (This does not count various out of pocket medical expenditures not covered by Medicare.)
Ironically, it was just last fall that the U.S. Chamber spent millions of dollars on attack ads against members of Congress that supported the Affordable Care Act for allegedly supporting “cuts” to Medicare. Not only does this smack of hypocrisy, the charge was repeatedly debunked and discredited. For instance, as PoliticalCorrection.org notes, the U.S. Chamber attacked Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jack Conway of Kentucky for “cutting Medicare by 500 billion dollars.” Watch:
Now, the U.S. Chamber is hawking Ryan’s decidedly un-serious budget proposal.
In a letter to members of Congress praising Ryan’s budget, the U.S. Chamber attributed entitlements as “the biggest reason for this long-term debt explosion.” Yet, the underlying math behind Ryan’s budget is nothing short of dubious.
Ryan’s plan is based upon wildly optimistic budget assumptions that anticipate another housing boom and places the unemployment rate at the lowest point since 1953 – all within a decade. This is not just extremely unlikely; it ignores forty years of Federal Reserve policy:
It’s worth noting that this is not just unrealistic, it’s impossible. When unemployment drops beneath 5 percent, the Federal Reserve starts raising interest rates until a recession pushes it back up. This is deemed necessary to prevent inflationary wage increases.
Of course, back in 2001, Heritage also wrongly predicted that the first Bush tax cut would yield 1.4 million jobs by 2010 (in actuality, payroll unemployment was at 2001 levels). Heritage’s analysis is so off-base that New York Times columnist and Princeton economist Paul Krugman noted that Heritage appears to have altogether removed the unemployment data from their study.
Chamber Still Leading the Fight to Block EPA, Climate Change Legislation
Since the Republican victories on Election Day 2010, many have said “one of the biggest losers…was the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)” which was “expected to be the target of bruising congressional attacks.” Most stories have focused on Republicans leading the fight to block the EPA, when the spotlight should really be on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber, an organization that has done more than anyone else to destroy climate legislation, spent over $32 million in 2010 to elect those Republicans and is now looking for a return on its investment. Now the Chamber is actively supporting a bill offered by the GOP that would prevent the EPA from enforcing its Constitutional right to protect the air we breath from dangerous pollutants and further weaken the agency.
This is just the latest in the Chamber’s execution of its anti-climate agenda. Don’t forget that the Chamber spent millions to kill the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, causing at least 21 companies, many of which were member companies, to quit or denounce it in the process. In August 2010, long after the Chamber-friendly Roberts Supreme Court decided that greenhouse gasses were a “pollutant,” the Chamber took up the fight once again, filing another lawsuit challenging the EPA’s finding that greenhouse gasses are harmful to humans. And this is just the tip of the proverbial (and melting) iceberg.
In her letter to supporters regarding the EPA vote today, the Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy President Karen Harbert concludes, “There’s a growing consensus that EPA’s efforts are a barrier to our country’s economic recovery. Further, the EPA is superseding the power of Congress.” Doesn’t she mean the U.S. Chamber?
The U.S. Chamber Bankrolled A Series Of Lawsuits Against The U.S. Government To Prohibit The Regulation Of Green House Gas Emissions. According to The Hill: “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Friday filed a lawsuit that challenges EPA’s recent rejection of its petition for reconsideration of the agency’s 2009 “endangerment finding” that greenhouse gases threaten humans. The finding is the underpinning for upcoming EPA rules limiting emissions from power plants, factories and other sources that are opposed by a number of business groups.” [The Hill, 8/14/10]
The U.S. Chamber Has Spent Millions Of Dollars In Television Advertisements Against Cap-And-Trade Legislation and its Supporters. In a September 2009 editorial, the New York Times wrote that “no organization in this country has done more to undermine [cap and trade] legislation” than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. According to Climate Progress, during the 2010 election, the Chamber was “running an unprecedented $75 million campaign to unseat progressives from Congress, in defense of a big-oil agenda,” running ads attacking candidates for supporting cap-and-trade and clean energy legislation, with money from big oil companies. In 2007, the Chamber ran and ad stating that cap-and-trade policies would “usher in a Dark Age for America.” [New York Times, 9/29/09; Climate Progress, 10/24/10; Salon, 12/4/07]
The U.S. Chamber’s Leadership Has Openly Questioned The Merits Of Man Made Global Warming. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has repeatedly and publicly challenged the merits of man-made global warming. From promoting a book that outright denies the existence of man made global warming to the Chamber’s senior energy advisor calling for a public trial on the science of global warming, the Chamber has forcefully questioned sound science. [ThinkProgress.org, 9/29/09]
Many Corporations and Local Chambers Protested the U.S. Chamber’s Extreme Climate Policy By Denouncing, Quitting the Chamber. In 2009 and 2010, several large corporations including Apple, Excelon, PNM Resources, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), and Mohawk Paper ended their memberships with the U.S. Chamber over the Chamber’s extreme anti-climate views. Additionally, Nike quit the Chamber’s board. Other companies like Duke Energy, Johnson and Johnson, General Electric, Alcoa, Microsoft, Pepco, Best Buy, and Cisco Systems publicly denounced the Chamber. As did local chambers like San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, and many more. [U.S. Chamber Watch Website, Accessed 2/1/11
On 1st Anniversary of Massey Mining Disaster, Chamber Continues War on Regulations
Yesterday was the first anniversary of the Massey mining disaster that killed 29 miners and was, according to the Wall Street Journal, the “worst U.S. coal mining accident in 40 years.” The explosion occurred at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine, which according to the Wall Street Journal had “on average…more safety violations than other mines in recent years.” In January 2011, according to the New York Times, a preliminary report by officials from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) revealed that the explosion was “a preventable accident caused by a relatively small flare-up of methane gas that touched off a huge coal dust explosion” and “that Massey Energy, operator of the Upper Big Branch mine, had repeatedly violated federal rules governing ventilation and control of coal dust to reduce the risk of explosion.”
Yet representatives of the Massey Energy Corporation, whose former CEO Don Blankenship used to sit on the U.S. Chamber board, are still calling it a “natural disaster.”
The U.S. Chamber must have agreed. Soon after the blast, the Chamber lobbied hard against the Mine Safety and Health Act, legislation that would have strengthened regulatory agencies, including MSHA. Additionally, the legislation “provid[ed] for, among other things, increased civil and criminal penalties for repeated, willful violations of workplace safety regulations; stronger protections for whistleblowers who call attention to unsafe working conditions; and a seat at the table for victims and survivors by allowing them to participate in the hearing process.” As recently as December 2010, the Chamber also opposed the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2010, even counting it in its yearly key vote scorecard, and awarding members of Congress who voted against it.
This isn’t the first tragedy for which the Chamber has sought to place blame on “natural disasters.” Last year, after the British Petroleum (BP) oil rig explosion and subsequent spill that caused months of irreparable damage to the Gulf Coast and the fishing industries, the Chamber continued shilling for BP. Most notably, Chamber President Tom Donohue said “everybody is going to contribute to this cleanup” meaning American taxpayers, and that he was “personally troubled” that “people who run oil companies” were “being hauled up to Congress…and beat up like unruly children.” The Chamber recently came to the defense of Chevron, one of its generous contributors, after an eighteen year lawsuit in Ecuador found the company liable for environmental devastation and health risks brought on by its subsidiary Texaco back in the 1970s and 1980s. Natural disaster, we presume?
The Chamber’s cavalier, corporate-driven agenda against stronger regulation in the wake of isolated disasters is stark enough. When it comes to the larger questions of how to deal with climate change that could lead to a state of permanent disaster, the Chamber doesn’t event want to hear it. Yesterday, controversial Chamber environmental “expert,” Bill “Scopes Monkey Trial” Kovacs asserted that “it was clear that the Clean Air Act was never intended to [give the agency (EPA) authority to] regulate greenhouse gases.’” This is the most recent outdated assertion by the Chamber as it leads the fight against a determination by the EPA that greenhouse gases are harmful to humans. In 2007, even the Chamber-friendly Roberts Supreme Court ruled that “greenhouse gases are a pollutant.”
Donohue himself will tell you that the driving force of the Chamber’s agenda– indeed, his only answer when asked how to create jobs– is seeking returns for its investors, and in turn for those corporations’ CEOs and investors. Those people may never have to worry about workplace safety issues or the effects of global warming and environmental disasters, but what about everyone else? On the anniversary of the Massey Mining disaster, we are only reminded that the Chamber’s multi-million dollar battle against regulation could lead to larger, more permanent states of disaster –with far more perilous implications.
 A report by researchers at the University of California Berkeley and several others showed that “climate change will create a ‘climate gap,’ disproportionately affecting people of color and the poor.” And according to Grantmakers in Health, “the poor, particularly communities of color, tend to live in the most environmentally dangerous areas.”
Workplace “Wellness”? Yep, The Chamber Opposes It.
Today, the U.S. Chamber is holding an event called “Workplace Wellness: How Business is Part of the Solution.” According to the event’s website, it will focus on how “worksite wellness programs continue to be a vitally important mechanism to improve health and control costs.” Looks like another Chamber public relations stunt put on by its less political “Business Civic Leadership Center.”
A word to the event’s participants: The Chamber of Commerce spent over $86 million opposing workplace wellness provisions during the healthcare reform debate. The Chamber opposed both the Affordable Care Act and its subsequent Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, which included workplace wellness grants for small businesses. By opposing both measures, the U.S. Chamber…
…Opposed Wellness Grants for Small Businesses. [WellSource.com, 4/22/10]
…Opposed Technical Assistance to Employers for Evaluating Wellness Programs. [WellSource.com, 4/22/10]
…Opposed Greater Rewards for Employees Who Participate in Wellness Programs. [WellSource.com, 4/22/10]
…Opposed Requirements in Group Health Plans To Implement Promotion of Workplace Wellness Programs. [WellSource.com, 4/22/10]
…Opposed Creation of National Prevention, Health Promotion and Public Health Council to Achieve “National Wellness, Health Promotion and Public Health Goals.” [WellSource.com, 4/22/10]
While we’re on the subject, the Chamber hasn’t exactly been supportive of workplace wellness or making life better for employees in general. For example, the U.S. Chamber…
…Opposed Family and Medical Leave, Saying it Set a “Dangerous Precedent.” [New York Times, 2/3/87]
…Opposed Americans With Disabilities Act. [Newsday, 9/9/89]
…Opposed Paycheck Fairness for Female Employees. [USA Today, 7/20/10]
…Opposed Fundamental Improvements to OSHA Laws, Partnered in Astroturf Group to Kill Them. [The Pump Handle via Scienceblogs.com, 7/13/10]
Business may indeed be part of the solution for workplace wellness… just not the U.S. Chamber.
Investigate the U.S. Chamber, not AARP
As the nation’s largest senior-advocacy organization, the AARP, is hauled up to the GOP-controlled Ways and Means committee for their role in supporting the Affordable Care Act, we’re left wondering why some other groups – say, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — aren’t being investigated for their own roles.
It was the Chamber, of course, that received a massive $86 million check from big insurance companies to kill reform in the name of protecting profits. (More on that below.) And it’s the Chamber, not the AARP or any other organization, that’s gotten in extremely hot water recently for a scheme by its lawyers to spy on and destroy its critics through illegal means, to unlawfully transfer millions of charitable dollars into their political coffers, and to allow Chamber President Tom Donohue to receive such excessive compensation, it may itself be illegal.
While the Republican-controlled House of Representatives continues its effort to divide Americans — by defunding organizations like Planned Parenthood and PBS and attacking senior groups for the mortal sin of standing up for the elderly over insurance companies – the nation’s largest lobbying organization continues to get away with any number of possibly illegal activities that deserve much greater scrutiny.
Here’s our top few:
1) ChamberLeaks. In early February, it came to light that three government contractor security firms, working in tandem with the Chamber’s legal advisors Hunton and Williams, had put together a $2 million proposal to spy on and discredit the US Chamber’s political critics, including US Chamber Watch. While the Chamber continues to deny involvement in the scandal, email evidence clearly demonstrates a working knowledge of the proposal and even a meeting scheduled to sign off on the work—a meeting that was likely squashed when the illegal plan surfaced in the media. “Team Themis,” as the security firms were collectively known, had proposed blatantly illegal activity against Chamber Watch, including conducting wire fraud and mail fraud. Why were the Chamber’s lawyers engaging in potentially criminal activity on its behalf and why didn’t the Chamber put a stop to it?
2) AIG/Starr Foundation. On September 10, 2010, as reported by the New York Times, US Chamber Watch filed an IRS complaint alleging that the US Chamber had engaged in tax fraud to the tune of $18 million. Between 2003 and 2005, millions of dollars in charitable funds from the AIG-affiliated Starr Foundation (still run by disgraced former CEO Hank Greenberg) appear to have been funneled to the U.S. Chamber and used to bankroll the Chamber’s political activities. Using charitable money for non-charitable purposes is expressly illegal.
More interesting (and problematic) is what the Chamber likely did with the money. Around the time of the multi-million-dollar transfer, the Chamber’s chief political and legislative activities included beating back corporate accountability laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley and re-electing President Bush. In short, while publicly fighting corporate accountability laws, the Chamber and AIG’s Greenberg may have engaged in an illegal corporate accountability issue of their own.
3) Donohue’s excessive compensation. In another apparent violation of the U.S. Chamber’s tax-exempt status, Donohue receives excessively high compensation – including unreported lavish perks like a private jet and personal chaffeur — that seem to violate the “private benefit” provisions of tax laws. Donohue’s salary and incentive compensation totaled approximately $1.6 million in 2003 and escalated to more than $3.75 million by 2008. In addition, he was paid a $7.4 million supplemental retirement benefit in 2004. Even Donohue’s reported compensation is almost four times the compensation paid to the top 25% of CEOs at the nation’s ten largest trade associations.
4) $86 million from insurance companies to kill health reform and pad insurance companies’ bottom lines. In November 2010, Bloomberg reported that the US Chamber had received a breathtaking $86 million contribution in 2009 from AHIP, the lobbying organization for the nation’s largest health insurance companies. As the chief proponents of a campaign to kill reform, the Chamber spoke throughout the debate with an $86 million insurance lobby-funded microphone. We know why insurance companies wanted to kill reform: the pre-ACA system was a genuine boondoggle for companies like Aetna and Wellpoint. But what of the private benefit to insurance company CEOs of this lobbying effort? It seems more than worth looking into.
As published in the Hill on 4/1/11.
U.S. Chamber’s Spirit of Rampant Partisanship Awards 2010
If you’re still buying the argument that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a non-partisan, representative of Main Street interests – well the April fool’s joke is on you.
Yesterday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave out its 2010 “Spirit of Enterprise” awards to 239 members of Congress, based on the House and Senate scorecards officials assemble every year – you know, the one they always threaten members of Congress with in their lobbying letters. In order to be a “winner,” a member of Congress had to vote with the Chamber at least 70% of the time on its key votes against healthcare reform, strong corporate campaign disclosure, tougher mine safety regulations, paycheck fairness and financial reform to name a few.
Of the 239 members who won an award, 20 were Democrats– less than 10 percent. Yet an award went to every single one of the National Journal’s “top ten most conservative” Representatives and Senators in 2010.
Referring to the Chamber’s recent success in winning Supreme Court cases for big corporations, a Chamber official told the New York Times, “There has been a return on investment, not to sound too crass.” That seems to imply the Chamber sees America’s democratic process as some kind of investment house for big corporations to continue cashing in on– at everyone else’s expense.
Yesterday’s trophies seem to be more like the Chamber’s annual reminder to its top Republican favorites (and a few assorted conservative Democrats) that if they just keep voting with the Chamber and its large corporate members, the Chamber will spare them in the next election. Continue “investing” with us and you’ll see a return.
To the Members who just received their “awards,” beware: acceptance comes with a considerable price.