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Archived Blogs August-July 2011

NYTimes: Why Hasn’t Chamber Stepped Up on the Economy?

In case you missed it…The New York Times editorial pages took the U.S. Chamber and other business leaders to task over the weekend for completely abdicating responsibility on the default crisis and the economic recovery in general. To wit – on the most important economic issue since, well, the last time the Chamber and its Wall Street buddies helped crash the economy, the self-proclaimed “voice of business” remained silent, afraid or unwilling to confront the extremist elements in the Republican Party who were advocating for default. These are the guys we want to trust on the economy?

Wrote the Times:When the federal government was on the brink of default and the economy hung in the balance, the nation’s business leaders had a chance to step forward and push for a long-term solution. They could have supported a grand bargain that cut spending and raised tax revenue. They could have warned House Republicans that it was far too risky to use the debt ceiling for political leverage.Instead, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Financial Services Forum and other important players wrote a series of weak letters to the White House and Congress saying, in essence, “just don’t default.” This is not the time for the usual demands by business for fewer regulations and lower taxes. The economy is too fragile and the deficit too high — in no small part because the George W. Bush administration spent eight years giving business and the wealthy exactly what they asked for.Instead, business leaders should be pushing Washington for what is needed to avoid another recession: more near-term spending to stimulate the economy, more revenue to help pay for it, and a balanced approach to the long-term deficit by reducing health care costs and strengthening the tax base.…Business has already blown several chances [to step up on the economy]… Until they ante up, they will remain part of the problem, not the solution. 

Nearly 1,000 Small Businesses Denounce Chamber for Fighting Anti-Smog Regulations in Their Names

Today, announced that “nearly 1,000 small business owners…from across the political spectrum have joined forces to denounce the U.S. Chamber for claiming smog regulations will crush small businesses.”

These 1,000 signatures swamped a recent petition penned by the Chamber and the American Petroleum Institute, signed by a meager 170 small business owners, which claimed anti-smog and ozone protection legislation was a threat to small businesses.

U.S. Chamber Watch Spokeswoman Christy Setzer was quoted in’s press release, explaining why the Chamber and oil industry’s petition rang hollow:

“The US Chamber builds its credibility by claiming to speak for American business owners. But the fact is, on issue after issue, the Chamber really only speaks for a handful of wealthy corporate donors who fund their lobbying budget,” said Christy Setzer of U.S. Chamber Watch. “From smog regulations to health care reform to Wall Street reform, the Chamber’s policies will hurt the very small businesses and local Chambers they claim to support– all so that they can do the bidding of Big Oil companies, pharmaceutical industries, and big corporate outsourcers.”

Full press release is available here.

You can find all the great work being done by’s “The U.S. Chamber Doesn’t Speak for Me” Campaign’ here.

Lobbying for Lung Cancer: Chamber Attacks “Job-Killing” Regulations, Stands Up for People-killing Profits

Yesterday, the holy trinity of big business interests – the U.S. Chamber, American Petroleum Institute (API), and National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) – held a meeting at the White House to convince the administration that stricter ozone standards are killing jobs and the economy. As we have seen, one of the Chamber’s main objectives is to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and any attempts to hold corporations accountable to the environment and people’s health. Short of calling for a Scopes Monkey Trial again, the anti-climate Chamber has declared all out war on responsible atmospheric protections, crying wolf by using its same old “job-killer” argument to do so.

And don’t be mistaken – the Chamber’s corporate-sponsored campaign against protecting the health and safety of this generation and the next is not just at the behest of the executive pocketbook, it is just as much about partisan politics. According to the Hill, the Chamber, API and NAM also just “launched an advertising campaign this week blasting the Environmental Protection Agency’s upcoming ozone regulations as a major burden on the economy.” Unsurprisingly, the ads, which are critical of the President, “ran along the route of Obama’s bus tour.” Chamber leaders always say they don’t get involved in Presidential politics but their issue ads aren’t going anywhere. The Chamber has spent the majority of the last three years as one of Obama’s largest, most outspoken opponents on every major issue or reform initiative and 93% of its electioneering funding was spent supporting the GOP in 2010. Big Business and the Chamber know that the GOP will keep profits high for them so they keep votes high for conservatives.

This is just a preview of what is to come this cycle as everyday Americans see ads sponsored by innocuous sounding coalitions, in this case “the Coalition for American Jobs”, and many to come from the “U.S. Chamber of Commerce.” These hard working Americans probably won’t even realize that it is not some coalition of concerned citizens telling them to criticize Obama’s agenda but Chevron, Exxon, BP and a long list of other self-serving companies that just warned them to oppose regulations that would reduce smog, lung cancer, asthma, and so on.

Stay tuned for the Chamber’s predicted and baseless labeling of any regulatory policy – no matter how protective of your health, safety, financial status, or ability to breathe – as “job-killing” and “bad for the economy.” When will the Chamber’s cover finally be blown? Hopefully before these so-called “job-killing” regulations are squashed in favor of “people-killing” profits and partisanship.

We Called It: Chamber-Bought GOP Now Following Chamber’s Jobs Agenda (or-lack-thereof) to Kill Regulations

Shortly after the 2010 election, we published a report about how the U.S. Chamber’s unprecedented financial sponsorship of electing a Republican majority in 2010 would dictate the GOP agenda for the 112th Congress. My, how our prophecies are coming true. Failing to thwart the passage of health care and financial reform, the Chamber’s main agenda since December 2010 has been to kill so-called “job-killing” regulations. Now, according to The Hill, “after focusing for months on the deficit, Republicans are preparing a ‘jobs’ pivot of their own in September by moving to roll back and limit new federal regulations.” It looks like the Chamber’s GOP minions are as predictably staying on the Chamber’s course in anticipation of 2012.

As early as December 1, 2010, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) reported that the U.S. Chamber was “initiating a new effort to raise millions more from energy, health insurance, financial services, and other firms to fund a new anti-regulatory campaign.” According to CPI, by that time, several big oil companies including Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Exxon Mobil, had been “solicited by the Chamber for funding” and “at least one of them [had] agreed to write a six-figure check.” Chamber lobbyists were also approaching Wall Street financial firms. In June 2011, the Chamber introduced its “Regulatory Road Show” PR stunt to feature Evan Bayh and Andy Card, and in early July, at its Jobs Summit, the Chamber “targeted” economic regulations as a “roadblock” according to The Hill.

Now the GOP continues to follow suit by paying back dividends to the corporations that helped get them elected. They are jumping aboard the Chamber’s corporate policy train and making federal regulations the crux of their “jobs” agenda too. We knew this was coming. The Chamber says it’s not a partisan organization and the GOP says its new focus on killing regulations is all about job creation – but we know the truth behind this mutual operation. Whether funneling cash through the Chamber or demanding Congressional payback from their 2010 electoral investments, big business, big banks, and big oil are calling the shots. While we are still recovering from the biggest financial meltdown in recent history and the BP environmental disaster initiated by deregulation – do we really want the Chamber and its blatantly partisan agenda in the driver’s seat?

Don’t Blame the Greenies, Blame the Greedies

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce remained suspiciously quiet throughout the default stalemate despite potentially debilitating consequences for the business community. But the Big Business lobbying group was hard at work regardless, planning an assault on the environment under the guise of job creation, but for the benefit of corporate profit.

On July 29, days before the debt-ceiling deadline, the Chamber’s “Institute For 21st Century Energy” launched its so-called “Partnership to Fuel America.” This lobbying campaign aimed to garner support for a proposed pipeline that would link Canada’s controversial oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries—a project already deemed “environmentally objectionable” by the EPA. A few days later, the Institute released its Index of Energy Security Risk, whose data supposedly “clearly [validated] the [Institute’s] recommendations…[to] eliminate regulatory barriers that are stalling urgently needed energy projects.” And just one day after Congress reached a debt-ceiling agreement, the Chamber and its allies, including Big Oil’s American Petroleum Institute, sent a letter to President Obama urging him to delay the EPA’s proposed new ozone standards, a move that came shortly after GOP Representatives “added rider after rider to the 2012 spending bill…that would essentially prevent [the EPA]…from doing [its] job.”

Why this burst of anti-environmental activity?

The Chamber and its EPA-hating friends in Congress are blaming environmental regulation for—get this—the country’s lagging economy. The Chamber’s letter to Congress, for example, read that new clean air regulations “would…impair the ability of U.S. companies to create new jobs,” and stated that “Now is not the time to saddle our economy with the extraordinary costs associated with EPA’s proposed national ozone standard.” Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID) went so far as to claim that “overregulation from EPA is at the heart of our stalled economy.”

Because of course, “America’s high unemployment rate is not the fault of the worldwide recession or the housing bubble or Wall Street hubris or two unfunded wars on top of…tax cuts for the rich,” joked The Guardian’s Diane Roberts.

And never mind that health experts are pleading Congress to enforce the stricter smog regulations—again, opposed by the Chamber—to prevent thousands of pre-mature deaths and respiratory problems that pose a costly burden to our healthcare system and economy.

It’s time for a reality check. The truth is that the Chamber’s preoccupation with environmental issues is nothing but a sinister attempt to leverage the political buzzword of the day—“jobs”—to advance its anti-regulatory agenda, benefitting its Big Oil and Dirty Coal donors at the expense of Americans’ health and safety.

Don’t blame the greenies. Blame the greedies.

Debt Ceiling Jammed Chamber’s Partisan, Corporate Machine

“The Chamber is a lobbying organization, not a partisan organization,” U.S. Chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff recently told the Hill, regarding the group’s inaction on the debt ceiling. But actions speak louder than words.  And as the debt ceiling debacle finally comes to an end, it has become clear that the end-goal for the Chamber is a partisan agenda, even if it means funding the rise of the Tea Party and allowing the enactment of policies they fundamentally oppose, find dangerous, and even wrong.

The Chamber spent a reported $32 million on ads last election cycle, 93% of which supported Republicans.  In its effort to “change the composition of Congress,” as Chamber President Donohue put it, the Chamber ultimately supported a number of Tea Party candidates, many of whom supported views antithetical to the Chamber’s past policy goals. It was a risky move, and one for which the Chamber is now paying the consequences.

Mainstream Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner, supported raising the debt ceiling, as did the Chamber itself.  Yet the protest from Tea Party Republicans came loud and strong. The Chamber’s corporate members remained on the sidelines, waiting, hoping for Congress to work it out. Afraid to confront the monster it had created and unsure of where to place their chips, the Chamber sat out the debate. In the end, several Members of Congress who came to office on a wave of Chamber dollars bucked the group and voted against raising the debt ceiling.

It seems like the Chamber sank its own ship this time, buying the Tea Party in the name of partisanship.  Perhaps columnist Dana Milbank said it best last July 2010, when he described the Chamber as “once a center of moderate Republicanism that worked with both parties but now a sort of radicalized corporate Tea Party.”

We have yet to see how the Chamber and the corporations that dictate its agenda navigate the 2012 election cycle.  Will corporations find the Chamber too partisan to fund its electioneering program only to have bad returns on investment? Or will the Chamber be forced to run an honest electioneering program that is truly representative of corporations and small businesses alike?

On Dodd-Frank Anniversary, Chamber Still Putting Financial Stability in Jeopardy

One year may have passed since the passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, but that hasn’t slowed the the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to gut it.  At every possible opportunity, the Chamber has opposed financial reform and strengthening regulatory oversight of the big banks and lending houses that, left unregulated, led us into what one economist called “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.”  In fact, the Chamber lobbied for the very policies that created our country’s financial meltdown and Chamber leaders have continued to fight any kind of reform that would prevent future collapses.

Yesterday, the Obama administration announced its nomination of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to head the newly established Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Of course, with this news, the Chamber is now taking to their blog, television and radio to denounce the agency.  Chamber blogger and former GOP flack Sean Hackbarth tried to be funny, conjuring Cordray’s stint as a five-time Jeopardy champion to attack the CFPB. Hackbarth even set the scene, asking us to imagine SNL’s Will Ferrell as the Alex Trebek.

But the Chamber’s fight to kill financial reform is no joke or Saturday night laugh.  We’ll take “The Truth” for $1,000, Alex.

Answer: “An opaque lobbying entity that has spent millions, funneled by big banks and financial institutions, to kill measures that would protect Americans from predatory lenders, bad mortgages, and unfair credit card fees.”

Question: “What is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?”

The U.S. Chamber’s Fight to kill Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Legislation On Behalf of Big Banks Continues Full Force. Despite losing its long and expensive battle to kill financial reform legislation, the U.S. Chamber is still fighting the regulations borne out of the Dodd-Frank bill.  Earlier this year, reports indicated that the Chamber continued to solicit funding from “New York financial powers” for an “anti-regulatory drive,” and launched an interactive website illustrating the rules and regulations required by financial reform legislation.  With news of President Obama’s nomination of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Chamber remained the main voice on television and print media criticizing the nomination and the bureau itself.

The U.S. Chamber “Coordinat[ed] “Wall Street’s Stealth Lobbying Campaign to Kill (Financial) Reform.” During the financial reform debate, ThinkProgress revealed that “Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Master Card, and other industry players are working through ‘Democracy Data & Communications’ (DDC) — a firm that specializes in helping corporations activate their employees and customers into grassroots advocates — to join the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s effort to kill reform. The domain list of the DDC server, obtained by ThinkProgress, contains various Wall Street websites, including one seemingly named after JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, which all transfer visitors to the Chamber’s anti-reform campaign: The banks are conducting a two-faced campaign to kill reform. In public, the banks pledge to fully support reform. However, behind closed doors, the banks — many of which were bailed out with TARP money and have not paid back taxpayers — are funding the Chamber’s attack ads and are connecting their network to the Chamber’s grassroots lobbying campaign.” [ThinkProgress, 4/24/10]

The U.S. Chamber Supported Policies that Led to the Financial Crisis. According to the New York Times, derivatives “were a major cause of the financial crisis and have gone largely unregulated for decades.”   Efforts by the big banks to block regulations proposed by the Obama administration and Congress appeared doomed until the US Chamber weighed in.  As Reuters reported, “the banking industry will get an assist from the influential U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which plans to lobby Congress hard to ensure companies are able to use customized derivatives.”  The Chamber and other trade groups subsequently formed the Coalition of End Users to soften proposed derivatives regulation, “much to the relief of several big Wall Street banks that had been waging a lonely and uphill lobbying effort.” [National Journal, 9/26/09; Reuters, 7/14/09; New York Times, 5/14/09]

Happy anniversary, Dodd-Frank.

The U.S. Chamber: Filling Up (Shilling Up) for Chevron

Back in February, we wrote about how the U.S. Chamber defended oil giant Chevron in a lawsuit brought against it by the people of Ecuador for environmental devastation and health risks.  According to Bloomberg, the plaintiffs claimed that Texaco, acquired by Chevron in 2001, “had dumped billions of gallons of dangerous drilling fluids into rainforest streams and rivers while extracting oil from the Amazon from 1972 through 1990.”   After a lengthy legal battle in the early 2000s, Chevron/Texaco’s lawyers urged a New York court to dismiss the case, arguing that it should be tried in Ecuador.  The case was reopened there and in February 2011, Ecuadorian judges ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.  According to Bloomberg, “some 30,000 Amazon Indians and peasant farmers” were awarded $18.2 billion.  But lawyers for Chevron didn’t like that verdict and essentially persuaded a federal judge in New York to block its enforcement.

According to the Rainforest Action Network blog, in July 2011, U.S. Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan brought a “‘worldwide preliminary injunction’ barring enforcement of the $18 billion Ecuadorean verdict against Chevron.” The injunction elicited briefs from 16 international law experts who said that injunction was both “unlawful” and “‘likely to have ‘negative consequences for the transnational rule of law.’”

On the other side, Chevron and its corporate cronies – including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – shot back at the international law experts, submitting briefs favoring the injunction.  Perhaps the most telling part of the Chamber’s brief is in the conclusion:

“At bottom, this appeal involves a carefully tailored solution in a case containing extraordinary, unrebutted evidence of a plan to shake down a United States corporation.”

Apparently, to the Chamber, holding corporations accountable for environmental devastation is just “a plan to shake down a United States Corporation.” Or maybe when Chevron is one of your major contributors, having given the Chamber at least half a million dollars over the last two years[1], then that legal jargon rolls off the tongue pretty easily.

[1] Applies to 2008 and 2009, the last two years for which records are available.  Chevron gave the Chamber $250,000 each year.

Debunking the Chamber’s Small Business Survey

Yesterday, at its “Jobs for America Summit,” the U.S. Chamber released its “Small Business Outlook Survey” which revealed mostly what we already know – that small businesses’ most significant concerns are economic uncertainty (49%) and America’s growing debt and deficit (47%).

That is, if you define small businesses as having annual incomes of $25 million or less. The Chamber doesn’t elaborate on the revenue cross section of the 1409 “small” businesses surveyed.  If all of the companies had $24 million in annual revenue, would that actually represent the concerns of real Main Street America?

On top of the Chamber’s questionable definition of a small business, many of the Chamber’s survey findings actually discredit their own claims about the issues concerning small businesses.  Does the Chamber really represent the concerns of small businesses?

We think not and here’s why:

Mom and Pop or Not? Chamber’s Definition of “Small Business” is Questionable.  In its survey methodology, the Chamber explains that Harris Interactive polled 1,409 “small” business owners.  Then it goes on to define a small business as having “Annual company income of $25 million or less.” How many coffee shop owners do you know that would consider a company income of $25 million or less a “small business”?  The Chamber provides no break down of the incomes of its 1,409 “small” business owners surveyed.  How are we supposed to know if these are the issues truly affecting Main Street America or just a bunch of high powered consulting and law firms?

Poll Calling the Kettle Black: Chamber Lobbied for Policies Creating “Economic Uncertainty” that is Top Concern for Small Businesses in their Survey. In its “Small Business Outlook Survey,” the U.S. Chamber found that 49% of the “small” businesses surveyed considered “economic uncertainty” to be their “top challenge.”  Well, those business owners have none other to thank than U.S. Chamber leaders who lobbied for and supported policies that led to the financial crises. The Chamber continues its multi-million fight against financial reform by fighting to maintain the pre-recession status quo.

Taxes and Over-Regulation: Not the Boogeymen for Small Business that the Chamber Claims. The way the Chamber has been campaigning against the “threat of a regulatory avalanche” you would think that small businesses would find regulation to be their number one concern.  Yet even in the Chamber’s own biased study, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they did not consider over-regulation to be a top challenge facing small businesses or the issue causing the most uncertainty about the future of their business. Similarly, over 70% of the “small” business owners surveyed said taxes were not a main concern whether as a “top challenge facing small businesses,” or an “issue in Washington that Causes Most Uncertainty about the Future of Their Business.” More considered it an inside-the-beltway “threat” to their business but even then, 65% of respondents did not.

What Lawsuit Crisis? Small Businesses Are Hardly Worried About Litigation Despite Chamber Bankrolling Documentary About “Lawsuit Crisis.” Despite the Chamber’s overheated rhetoric, 95% of respondents—again, of theChamber’s own members– said they do not consider litigation to be an “Issue in Washington that Poses the Greatest Threat to Their Business.”  This can’t be for lack of trying on the Chamber’s part. It was revealed this week that the Chamber helped bankroll a documentary called InJustice that, according to its website, was about “greed and corruption in America’s lawsuit industry.”  According to Forbes, the filmmaker took money from the Chamber only after Discovery Channel, PBS and other outlets would not buy it.

Lord Voldemort’s lobby group: The US Chamber of Commerce

Cross Posted from

Today, we are launching a new site called “US Chamber of Secrets,” an effort to reveal the corruption and sordid history of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The final installment of Harry Potter is finally here, and anyone who has read the final book knows that it is full of a more sinister good vs. evil plot than many of its predecessors. Instead of shallow villains we get vast conspiracies, inside jobs, corrupted governments, and elected leaders taken over by the forces of evil.

Truth be told, this spooky story has a lot of resemblance to real life.

Our government officials have not been cursed by dark lords and magic like their counterparts in the world of Harry Potter.

In real life, groups like the US Chamber of Commerce use money to charm their way into the offices of our elected leaders. In real life, they use their coffers of cash to intimidate politicians, fund extremist candidates, and run propaganda campaigns telling us that our tax dollars belong in the pockets of corporations.

As spooky as the last installment of Harry Potter might be, the real life story of the US Chamber of Commerce might actually be hiding more sinister secrets than Hogwarts. From fighting against civil rights and clean air to their attempts to dismantle health care and stop action on climate change: The US Chamber is hiding much of its history away.

We invite you to take a moment to dive into the deep, dark, dirty, and sometimes even scary secrets lurking beneath the surface of the US Chamber and it’s ever-present puppet master Tom Donohue.

It’s time to open the US Chambers vault of secrets and share them with the world–but we need you to help make it happen.

Check it out, then tweet it, facebook it, email it: just take a moment to pass this on.

The Chamber’s Real Job Killing Agenda

Today, the U.S. Chamber is holding its “Jobs for America Summit” at its Washington D.C. headquarters.  But based on the Chamber’s record, it should more accurately be called the Chamber’s “Summit to Kill American Jobs.”

Tom Donohue and the Chamber have distinguished themselves, job creation-wise, by rooting for America’s failure by attacking the unemployed, promoting the outsourcing of American jobs and opposing policies that would keep good paying jobs here in America.  Instead of offering real solutions to create or save jobs at home, the U.S. Chamber’s agenda reads like a wish-list for major corporate interests– including Wall Street, pharmaceutical companies and Big Oil.

According to columnist Dana Milbank, when Chamber CEO Tom Donohue was asked “what corporate America should do to help bring about the ‘jobs recovery,’ Donohue was utterly stumped…‘I think the most important thing to tell a company is to return a reasonable return to their investors.’  The Chamber’s true agenda today? Pushing whatever job-killing policies will create a return for Corporate America’s investors – from outsourcing, to supporting the Ryan Plan that will kill 2.1 million jobs and Medicare as we know it, to giving billions in corporate windfall profits to shareholders that kill, rather than create, jobs.

Click here for the facts on the Chamber’s job-killing agenda.

The Chamber’s Real Job Killing Agenda

Today, the U.S. Chamber is holding its “Jobs for America Summit” at its Washington D.C. headquarters.  But based on the Chamber’s record, it should more accurately be called the Chamber’s “Summit to Kill American Jobs.”

Tom Donohue and the Chamber have distinguished themselves, job creation-wise, by rooting for America’s failure by attacking the unemployed, promoting the outsourcing of American jobs and opposing policies that would keep good paying jobs here in America.  Instead of offering real solutions to create or save jobs at home, the U.S. Chamber’s agenda reads like a wish-list for major corporate interests– including Wall Street, pharmaceutical companies and Big Oil.

According to columnist Dana Milbank, when Chamber CEO Tom Donohue was asked “what corporate America should do to help bring about the ‘jobs recovery,’ Donohue was utterly stumped…‘I think the most important thing to tell a company is to return a reasonable return to their investors.’  The Chamber’s true agenda today? Pushing whatever job-killing policies will create a return for Corporate America’s investors – from outsourcing, to supporting the Ryan Plan that will kill 2.1 million jobs and Medicare as we know it, to giving billions in corporate windfall profits to shareholders that kill, rather than create, jobs.

Click here for the facts on the Chamber’s job-killing agenda.

Chamber’s Cup Runneth Over in the Courts

This week, as the 2010-2011 Supreme Court season wrapped up, one thing was clear: the U.S. Chamber’s stranglehold on the judicial system is as strong as ever. HBO viewers may have come to the same conclusion this week, as the documentary “Hot Coffee”—so named for the infamous legal case of Stella Lieback, a McDonald’s customer who suffered vicious third-degree burns by the restaurant’s 190 degree coffee—aired, with the U.S. Chamber in a star role. Not only has the Chamber spent millions electing and then lobbying a “business-friendly” Congress; it hopes to tip the scales of Lady Justice from within American courtrooms, and as Lee Epstein, a University of Southern California law professor stated, it has “gotten really good at this game.”

Media analysis of the Supreme Court’s 2010-2011 session overwhelmingly focused on how well corporations fared as a result of the highest court’s decisions, making it much more difficult for consumers and employees alike to sue large corporations for wrongdoing.  If press coverage alone is any indication of power, the National Chamber Litigation Center’s Executive President Robin Conrad was quoted or mentioned in Roll CallUSA Today, and the Washington Post summaries of this SCOTUS session and was named Monday by the National Law Journal as “among Washington’s most influential in-house attorneys” in the top 20.  The Chamber is probably thinking “thanks for the free publicity,” but this is no promotion – this is a wake-up call.  As reported by Roll Call, the U.S. Chamber, funded by anonymous corporations:

“…has been expanding its campaign to influence the Supreme Court…. The [National Chamber Litigation] center has grown steadily during the past 34 years and reported $3.2 million in revenue in 2009. It hired two lawyers in the past year, adding to the three already on staff and expanding the organization to the largest it has been since its inception…. It filed more briefs in the last judicial term than in any prior year, weighing in on 21 cases.”

The Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) has been a premiere watchdog of the Chamber’s involvement in Supreme Court cases this year, releasing two reports, including this week’s “Big Wins for Big Business: Themes and Statistics in the Supreme Court’s 2010-2011 Business Cases” and in December 2010, “Open for Business: Tracking the Chamber of Commerce’s Supreme Court Success Rate from the Burger Court through the Rehnquist Court and into the Roberts Court.” Both reports share important facts and analysis about the Chamber’s growing reign over the Supreme Court but Doug Kendall, lead author of CAC’s most recent report summed it up nicely, “There’s no group that is focused as comprehensively on the jurisprudence before the Supreme Court and that is as active.”

While the National Chamber Litigation Center exists to grease the Supreme Court’s wheels, the Chamber has an entirely separate entity to turn state courts into corporate friendly bastions called the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform (ILR).  During election cycles, the ILR has been known to run smear campaign ads against judges it deems “anti-business” or “anti-tort reform” across the country.

The Hot Coffee documentary highlights one such case, when the Chamber’s attacks on Oliver Diaz in 2000 nearly cost him the election and forever tarnished his reputation when he ran for Mississippi Supreme Court.  Eventually, the Chamber’s post-election smear campaign guaranteed that Diaz would not win reelection.

Diaz’s story in Mississippi is far from an anomaly.  In 2008, a U.S. Chamber Committee of 100 Member, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, spent half-a-million dollars to re-elect Spike Maynard to the West Virginia Supreme Court while then U.S. Chamber-board member company Massey Energy had an appeals case before that court.  During his re-election, photos surfaced of disgraced former Massey CEO, Don Blankenship, vacationing with Maynard. According to ABC News, “Maynard voted in favor of Massey following the trip, but the case was reheard after Maynard recused himself when the photos surfaced.”  Maynard eventually lost re-election. With news this week about Massey’s deceptive safety records, we don’t have to expound upon the questionable ethics of Massey Energy or Don Blankenship: this story seethes of corruption.  And with Blankenship on its board, it is doubtful that the Chamber didn’t know the game.

Examples of the Chamber’s dirty dealings don’t stop there.  In 2007, a state affiliate of the U.S. Chamber, the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), helped elect a judge in Wisconsin who became the deciding vote in favor of the Menasha Corporation, entitling it to $265 million in sales tax refunds from the state.  Menasha received financial help from WMC to bring the appeal and there you have it, the vicious cycle pay-to-play politics that the Chamber wields in the courts.

It is difficult to trace the stealthy flow of money in judicial races, and stories of the Chamber’s attack ads are often so localized that the threat of the Chamber on the judicial system – a last bastion of impartiality – is rarely elevated to a national level of concern.  But the time for concern is ripe.  As candidates prepare for the bullpen of 2012 Presidential politics, the Chamber will start plotting its under-the-radar strategy to target state judicial races around the country.  A fundamental shift in the legal system toward favoring corporate outcomes will last longer than the next Presidential term or two.