The Chamber’s Small Business Illusions Continue
Today, the U.S. Chamber’s Small Business Summit magic show continues with a rally on Capitol Hill. On Monday, the Chamber’s top lobbyist Bruce Josten and his partisan cohorts including “Not Meant to Be a Factual Statement” Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) introduced a bill that they said would start “chipping away at ObamaCare.” The bill, the Small Business Health Relief Act, co-sponsored by U.S. Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) would kill provisions that would raise taxes – on HEALTH INSURERS – to implement affordable healthcare.
Sounds less like a “non-partisan, small business” Chamber and more like “partisan, big business” organization creating the illusion that what’s good for health insurance companies is surely good for small businesses. In fact, the Chamber uses this same magic trick on almost any pertinent issue – if policies create a return for any big corporations’ investors and CEOs, a small business card magically appears in the big business deck for the audience. But what’s down the Chamber’s sleeve? Secret money, contributed by big corporations, for them to specifically pull that card.
In preparation for the rally, the Chamber offered talking points on health care, taxes the economy, intellectual property, Energy and the Environment, Trade, Infrastructure, Union Activism, Workforce, Capital Markets, Legal Reform. Well, small business owners around the country are starting to figure out the Chamber’s tricks. Yesterday, several small business owners across the country made it clear that the Chamber does not represent them on issues including health care reform, taxation, and big banks’ power over the economy:
Mike Roach (Owner, Paloma Clothing; Portland, Oregon): “It’s really frustrating to see an organization that supposedly represents mom and pop small businesses like the one my wife and I own stand in direct opposition to something like healthcare reform. It’s hard to understand how they can oppose that sort of legislation, which lowers premiums, allows more of us to provide for employees with health coverage and overall helps small businesses succeed… they say they’re advocating for small business but it sure doesn’t look like it.”
Mitch Rofsky (CEO, Better World Club): “Taxation is a classic example where the Chamber, apparently cares more about big business than small business. The effective tax rate of big business – of the largest companies in the country – are nowhere near the 35 percent nominal marginal rate that is discussed all the time… we didn’t’ see the Chamber joining us on trying to close tax loopholes for the oil industry that was just in front of congress within the past couple of weeks.”
David Borris (Owner, Hell’s Kitchen Catering; Northbrook, IL): “I believe that the pendulum has swung too darn far and it’s critically important that we recognize the vital role that government has to play – in partnership with small business – to protect us from the greed and avarice of the corporations that the U.S. Chamber and unfortunately the NFIB seem to be supporting.”
Abracadabra – the U.S. Chamber doesn’t represent small businesses!
Opening Day for Chamber’s Small Business Theater
Today, 600 small business owners are descending upon Washington D.C. for the Chamber’s “Small Business” Summit. To kick things off, the Chamber and some of its pals held a press conference to introduce the Small Business Health Relief Act – the opening act in a series of small business theater the Chamber has planned for the week. The list of press conference speakers (err, leading players?) vis-a-vis small business presents laughable irony in and of itself, but more on that in a moment. First, we’re just curious: how much of the new Small Business Health Relief Act is being sponsored and stage-directed by the health insurance industry?
In 2009, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) paid the Chamber $86.2 million to wage a misleading campaign against health care reform in the name of small business – a deceitful, pay-to-play operation for the record books that has not been forgotten. Just last Friday, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, protestors were escorted out of Aetna’s annual board meeting, in Philadelphia, for protesting the contributions. (Crooks and Liars has some footage.)
And who’s putting on this theater? Here’s some of the cast of characters:
Second-Highest-Paid-Lobbyist Bruce Josten, Executive VP, U.S. Chamber: Bruce Josten is the Chamber’s Executive Vice President and top lobbyist who was named – just this weekend – the second highest-paid lobbyist in 2009. Wonder how much of Josten’s $1,340,455 in 2009 came directly from AHIP’s big Chamber bucks?
Veteran Lobbyist and Steel Executive Dan Danner, CEO, NFIB: Dan Danner is the President and CEO of the National Federation for Independent Business (NFIB) – also known as a small business front group for big business. On Sunday, the Hill reported on the NFIB’s notable absence from the debate over credit card swipe fee reform that has pitted the big banks against small business. As for Danner’s previous roles? He was a former steel executive, lobbyist, and Chief of Staff to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. The NFIB was originally on board with health care reform until it did a complete 180 against it. And when did the NFIB and AHIP become “friends not foes” on health care reform? March 2009. In May of 2010, Danner wrote of his support for “a constitutional challenge to the health-insurance mandate.”
“Not Meant to Be a Factual Statement” Senator Jon Kyl (R- AZ): Republican Senator Jon Kyl from Arizona was also at the presser. Kyl, you may remember, recently received rave reviews for blatantly lying on the Senate floor about a statistic and later explaining that his remark was “not intended to be a factual statement.” According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Kyl’s campaign and political action committee took almost $1.8 million from the health industry during the 2010 election cycle and he has been staunch opponent of the Affordable Care Act. Will Kyl stay on the corporate script this performance? Ad-lib some facts about health reform? It’s yet to be seen.
At the same time, the Chamber, NFIB, and many other trade groups that mostly represent BIG corporations have launched another sham coalition called “Stop the Hit on Small Business” (virtual small business theater?) to oppose a provision in the Affordable Care Act that would tax health insurance companies and to help pay for health care reform. A small business owner and executive committee member of the Main Street Alliance (an actual small business organization) said in response:
So let me get this straight: the U.S. Chamber and its allies are arguing to let insurance companies off the hook from paying their fair share to bring the small business benefits of the health law – things like rate review and a value for premiums requirement – to market? And they’re making that argument in our name, in the name of America’s small businesses?
Put it together and what do you get? Small business theater bought-and-paid for by big business. Enjoy the show!
U.S. Chamber Board Members Support Rolling Back Civil Rights Laws For LGBT Community
Following the approval of a Nashville ordinance extending civil rights protections to the LGBT community, the Tennessee state legislature approved of legislation that would prohibit local municipalities from extending civil rights protections to the LGBT community. With the help of at least six U.S. Chamber members, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce teamed up with radical anti-gay organizations to lobby for the bills passage. While the U.S. Chamber might seek distance from this bigoted legislation, the reality is that the U.S. Chamber has a disturbing track record on civil rights issues.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Chamber released a report that analyzed the business climate for each state. Although U.S. Chamber Watch thoroughly debunked this report, it exposes a decidedly bigoted partiality. As we previously explained:
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.”
Can you hear that? The U.S. Chamber’s dog whistle is deafening. John Aravosis at AMERICAblog passionately and eloquently explains the sinister but real consequences of the legislation:
And don’t for a minute buy the chamber’s excuse that this is about business, not prejudice. Every other minority is protected in the state under federal law. Gays and trans are not. The law was the idea of the religious right. The lead lobbyist on the law was the religious right. The only victim of the law was the LGBT community. This law was specifically written and intended to repeal Nashville’s new civil rights ordinance protecting gay and trans citizens, period.
Indeed, not only did sixU.S. Chamber members endorse this bigoted legislation, it was endorsed by the local affiliate of the Family Research Council, a group so radical and anti-gay that they were designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The U.S. Chamber’s complicity in these radical anti-gay social engineering policies was most apparent when they recently opposed a draft Executive Order that would require federal government contractors to disclose their financial contributions to trade associations. As part of the U.S. Chamber’s rationale was the public relations blowback that Target received after it was revealed that the retail giant contributed $150,000 to an independent expenditure campaign on behalf of a radical anti-gay gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota. According to the Star Tribune:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has made a controversial campaign contribution in last year’s Minnesota governor’s race a centerpiece in a fight against tougher federal disclosure rules for government contractors. … The Chamber cited the Target case as a prime example of how government contractors could have their right to free speech stifled if President Obama issues an executive order forcing them to reveal their political donations.
The U.S. Chamber might publicly disavow discrimination but their actions enable it as are the seven corporations that belong to the U.S. Chamber and serve on the Tennessee Chamber’s board. On Friday, AMERICAblog reported that Alcoa announced their opposition to the bill. Alcoa is the only known U.S. Chamber member and TN Chamber member that has unequivoically declared their opposition to the bill. The remaining six corporations that are known U.S. Chamber members and belong to the TN Chamber are:
|Company||U.S. Chamber Membership|
|AT&T||U.S. Chamber, Board|
|Caterpillar||U.S. Chamber, Board; Institute for Legal Reform, Board|
|DuPont||Global Intellectual Property Center, Member|
|FedEx||U.S. Chamber, Board; Business Civic Leadership Center, Board|
|KPMG||National Chamber Foundation, Board; Business Civic Leadership Center, Board|
|Pfizer||U.S. Chamber, Board; Institute for Legal Reform, Board|
It is time for the U.S. Chamber and their members to lead by example.
**Update 1: The National Gay Lesbian Chamber of Commerce has posted statements from Alcoa, AT&T, FedEx and KPMG.**
**Update 2: According to the Huffington Post, shortly before TN Gov. Bill Haslam signed the legislation into law yesterday evening, the TN Chamber of Commerce publicy un-endorsed the bill.**
**Update 3: John Aravosis at AMERICAblog.com has a helpful summary of what the corporations said about the law (after receiving pressure from the LGBT community).**
Hey Main Street, Here’s Your Sign
To all the small business owners about to descend upon Washington D.C. for the Chamber’s Small Business Summit next week – who still think the Chamber or the summit is about small business or Main Street Americans – here’s your sign.
This week, armed with $100,000 in secret money, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sponsored a partisan political ad in New York’s 26th district, deemed misleading by the very newspaper it quoted in the ad. When the Chamber is not putting on show-and-tell small business summits, this is what the Chamber’s leaders are doing – spending anonymous corporate cash to influence voters, lawmakers, the White House, and even the Supreme Court.
This is the not the first time the Chamber has sponsored misleading political ads, and it won’t be the last time, if the 2010 election cycle (brought to us by Citizens United and the Chamber) was any indication. According to today’s Bloomberg report on secret money spent in the 2010 election cycle:
“The biggest of the groups that kept its donors secret in 2010 was the U.S. Chamber, which reported $32.9 million in campaign spending to the FEC…‘The amounts of corporate money involved in Watergate will look quaint by the standards of secret corporate funding that will take place in 2012,’ said Donald Simon, a director of Democracy 21 and former general counsel of Common Cause, both pro-disclosure organizations.”
And how were the Chamber and its allies so successful?
“…the effectiveness of the outside money was magnified by coordination efforts by the Republican-leaning groups. Leaders of about 15 met regularly to discuss where to concentrate their firepower, said Collegio, the Crossroads spokesman.”
The Chamber was at those meetings and, as we concluded last November, led the charge in electing a Republican Congress. Stephen Law, formerly the Chamber’s General Counsel, left his position in 2010 to run American Crossroads. Republican-leaning groups discussed where to “concentrate their firepower” during the 2010 election cycle when Republican outside groups outspent Democrats “about two to one — and by seven to one when the money came from secret donors,” according to Bloomberg.
Misleading ads is only a fraction of what the Chamber anonymously funds, of course. Lobbying takes another portion of the Chamber’s undisclosed corporate loot. Lobbying for small businesses? Nope – more like lobbying, sponsored by the big banks, to kill financial reform that was designed to protect small businesses from the big banks. As LA Times columnist David Lazarus explained:
“There can be only two possible reasons for Republican lawmakers’ steadfast opposition to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
One: Maybe not a single GOP member of Congress has ever had a problem with his or her bank, credit cards, mortgage or car loan, and thus sees no need for additional oversight of financial institutions.
Or two: Maybe GOP lawmakers are responding to the millions of dollars spent by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the financial services industry to undermine a new government agency intended to rein in abusive lending practices.”
Although there’s more exposure to be done, the Main Street Alliance of Oregon, has seen the sign. As its co-chairs wrote in a Hill op-ed today:
“Unfortunately, too often a purported focus on small businesses is little more than lip service, verging on a form of identity theft: large corporate interests steal the good name of small business to advance a special interest agenda – at our expense.
We see this pattern again and again. Health insurers give $86 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to lobby against health care reform – in the name of small business. Wall Street bankers spend $1 million a day in their fight to pre-empt reforms intended to prevent a repeat of the financial meltdown that decimated the small business customer base – and they spend that money in the name of Main Street businesses. The list goes on.”
On the heels of its first 2012 partisan, political, misleading ad, the Chamber is about to hold its small business summit. Throughout next week and beyond, we will continue holding up the signs backed by the facts: “The U.S. Chamber doesn’t speak for small business or Main Street America!”
Chamber Brings Their Partisan Antics to NY-26
Well, Chamber leaders are back at it – pushing their partisan agenda in support of extreme GOP candidates. This time, the Chamber has both endorsed and dropped $60,000 on an ad buy in support of a Republican congressional candidate in the NY-26 special election.
The Chamber’s claim to be “non-partisan” is highly suspect when the Chamber and partner-in-electioneering American Crossroads (spending over $700,000 in an extended ad buy there) are suddenly getting involved in this special election race, that according to Politics on the Hudson blog, has “become an unexpectedly close race in a traditionally Republican district.” And this is not the last we’ll be seeing of the Chamber as the next election cycle ramps up.
Back in April, when asked about 2012, Chamber President Tom Donohue told the Christian Science Monitor, “You will find us significantly involved.” Earlier this month, the Hill reported on the Chamber’s “renewed focus on its base of grassroots support,” as the Chamber “hopes to increase its grassroots membership from 5.5 million to 12 million in a recruitment drive.” The Chamber’s grassroots membership drive seeks to bring in small business owners in support of their partisan, conservative agenda by engaging them in letters to Congress, conference calls with big corporations, and alerting them to act on largely GOP-supported bills.
So stand ready for more of the Chamber’s overly partisan electoral activities– the same nonsense that caused more than 50 local chambers to break away or distance themselves from the national Chamber during the last election cycle. It may only be spring of 2011, but for the U.S. Chamber, it may as well be November 2012.
Chamber Scorecard – Big Oil Profits: 1 Deficit Reduction: 0
Yesterday, the Chamber won another big one for Big Oil companies (and their company profits – $200,000 every minute in the first quarter of 2011 to be exact) when the Senate voted to block a vote on legislation that would’ve cut subsidies to Big Oil companies in order to reduce the deficit. Despite the Chamber’s calamitous insistence on the need to pay down the deficit and reduce government, as soon as Democrats proposed a plan that would do so by cutting federal help to highly-profitable Big Oil, the Chamber raised holy hell.
In their key vote letter to Congress, Chamber leaders tried to use the false argument that the bill would “increase costs to consumers,” but as Political Correction made clear, a Congressional Research Study found that the legislation “won’t affect pump prices or production rates.” The Chamber also tried to blame the “lack of more robust domestic energy production” on “a failure of Congress and the Administration,” and urged Congress’ “strong support” for a bill on deck this week that, according to NRDC, would expand deepwater drilling in “reckless” ways and undo certain measures taken in response to the BP Gulf Oil disaster.
Again, the Chamber’s words ring hollow. As Politico reported today, “More Americans actually believe in UFOs and ghosts than blame President Barack Obama for causing their pain at the pump. Three years of hammering away with the ‘drill, baby, drill’ mantra hasn’t gotten the GOP [or the Chamber] very far politically despite fuel costs crossing into the $4-a-gallon no man’s land.”
The Senators who voted to block this bill have received over $18 million from Big Oil over their careers (vs. $3.7M for those supporting) and every single Senator supported by the Chamber’s almost $20 million during the 2010 election cycle are among them.
This is a “pay-to-play” scene between the Chamber, Big Oil and their bought-and-paid for Congress that will only make the rest of us pay-to-stay afloat.
CAC: Pro-Corporate SCOTUS Decisions Yield More “Big Wins” for the Chamber
The Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) is keeping a close watch on the Chamber’s influence over the Supreme Court these days. Yesterday, the CAC called attention to two recent decisions in the Chamber’s favor, both of which they say “shield corporations from liability by making it more difficult for individuals to pursue claims against corporate wrongdoing” and “represent part of a disturbing trend of increased polarization on the Supreme Court in business cases.” These cases included Schindler Elevator Corp. v. Kirk and AT&T v. Concepcion.
Neil Weare, Litigation and Policy Counsel for CAC, explained why these decisions only bolster a previous study by the organization showing how the Chamber has seen more Supreme Court decisions go its way under the Roberts’ court than at any other time:
Not surprisingly, the Chamber’s success rate this term has now improved and, overall, the Roberts Court has still ruled for the Chamber far more than its predecessor Courts. Including yesterday’s decision, the Robert Court has now ruled 64% of the time in favor of Chamber positions since Alito joined the Court, compared to 56% during the stable Rehnquist Court, and just 43% during the last five years of the Burger Court.
Even more striking is the Chamber’s domination in cases decided by a 5-4 or 5-3 vote. There are more of these closely divided business cases in the Roberts Court than ever before, and the Chamber’s success rate in these cases is startling. Adding Schindler and Concepcion to our empirical study of the Chamber’s success before the Supreme Court, the Roberts Court has favored Chamber positions more than 75% of the time (16 of 21 cases) in close cases.
The U.S. Chamber: largest business influence over the Supreme Court, highest overall spender on Congressional lobbying, direct line into the White House, millions spent on electioneering communications, mostly for Republicans, and all with anonymous cash. As Weare ends his post, “Those are the facts.” Facts that deserve exposure as the Chamber’s secretly-funded shadow over Washington (and the country) grows larger and more ominous.
Read CAC’s entire post here.
Small Business Owners Furious Over Chamber-AHIP Scheme to “Sabotage” Healthcare Reform
Today, to kick off National Small Business Week, the Main Street Alliance held a call with small business owners across America whose views on the Affordable Care Act markedly differ from those touted by the U.S. Chamber. The small business owners, who represented all four time zones, expressed their anger over the Chamber/health insurance industry alliance in a campaign to roll back health benefits that would help small businesses.
Despite the Chamber and AHIP’s defeat, the health insurance industry has now taken its fight to the states, where small business owners explained that the industry’s power is felt all over.
In Montana, Brianne Harrington, owner of The Painted Pot in Helena explained, “We actually dropped our membership in the Montana State Chamber a couple years ago, because we saw that our dues were being funneled to lobby for big business interests, not small businesses. The insurance companies don’t have the best interests of small business owners like me at heart. They just want to take my money and lobby against me.”
In Maine, John Costin, owner of Veneer Services Unlimited in Kennebunk, said, “[The insurance industry] put their lobbyists to work here in Maine and almost overnight they’ve gutted key consumer protections in our insurance laws.” Nate Libby, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition, asked how much of Mainers’ healthcare premiums were being spent to “lobby against our best interests.”
And a small business owner from outside Chicago, Illinois, described a visit to meet with his representatives in the state capital of Springfield. “I was shocked at how everyone was at the beck and call of the insurance lobbyists. If the lobbyists said a bill was good, it would pass; if they said it was bad, it would die. No questions asked,” he revealed.
These stories and more beg the question: how much are the insurance industry AND the U.S. Chamber – incidentally holding its “Small Business Summit” next week – still spending in undisclosed cash to prevent small business owners and employees from accessing affordable, comprehensive healthcare?
To hear these testimonies and more, click here to download the call.
The Chamber’s Big Love for Big Oil
In today’s installment of “least-surprising-news-ever from the U.S. Chamber,” the Chamber, again, stands up for Big Oil.
Yesterday, the Chamber released its key vote letter staunchly opposing legislation that would cut government subsides to Big Oil companies to help pay off the deficit. After whining that the law would punish Big Oil corporations, calling it “punitive taxation,” the Chamber shook its mighty fist and warned that the vote could be counted in its annual scorecard. Today, around 6:15pm, the Senate will have a roll call vote on the motion to proceed to vote on this legislation, S.940, the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act.
In case you’ve forgotten, here are some of the other ways the Chamber gives Big Love to Big Oil.
U.S. Chamber Prioritizes Tax Breaks For Oil Companies Even When That Support Conflicts With Other Policy Priorities. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposed an amendment to repeal the 1099 reporting provisions in the Affordable Care Act because it was paid for by raising taxes on the five biggest oil companies. The U.S. Chamber called the 1099 provision “an unprecedented burden on small business reporting and paper work requirements at a time when they can least afford it,” but they opposed the amendment to repeal it proposed by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) which paid for the bill by repealing the portion of the tax code that applied to the five largest oil companies with more than $1 billion of before-tax income.” [U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Letter to Congress, 9/9/10; U.S. Chamber of Commerce Press Release, 11/29/10; American Public Health Association]
The Five Biggest Oil Companies That Would Have Experienced These Tax Hikes Are All Connected To The U.S. Chamber:
- Exxon Mobil (Q1 2011 Profits: $10.7 Billion): Exxon Mobil was represented on the board of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), according to the ILR’s 2009 IRS Form990.
- Royal Dutch Shell (Q1 2011 Profits: $6.9 Billion): Among other connections, in 2010, the U.S. Chamber filed anamicus brief defending Shell in a multi-million dollar punitive damages case.
- BP (Q1 2011 Profits: $7.1 Billion): BP is a member of the Chamber and the Chamber lobbied on its behalf after the company’s devastating April 2010 oil spill.
- Chevron (Q1 2011 Profits: $6.2 Billion): Chevron is a member and a donor to the U.S. Chamber. Chevron gave the Chamber an amount of $250,000 in both 2008 and 2009.
- ConocoPhillips (Q1 2011 Profits: $3.03 Billion): Conoco Phillips is represented on the Chamber’s board.
U.S. Chamber Encouraged Oil Price Speculation Despite Goldman Sachs’ Admission that it Was Driving Up Oil Prices. The U.S. Chamber has supported and taken efforts to encourage oil price speculation despite a recent report by Goldman Sachs that it was driving up the price of oil. 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. [“Letter Opposing Cloture on S. 3268, the ‘Stop Excessive Energy Speculation Act of 2008,’ and S. 3186, the ‘Warm in Winter and Cool in Summer Act,’” U.S. Chamber of Commerce Website, 7/24/08, accessed 5/16/11; “S. 3268, the Stop Excessive Energy Speculation Act of 2008,” Democratic Policy Committee website, 7/16/08, accessed 5/16/11]
U.S. Chamber Prioritizes Fossil Fuels Over What It Calls “High-Cost” Renewable Energy. In an interview with the Hill, Karen Harbert, the president of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy questioned the funding of “high-cost” renewable energy projects. She said, “Can we, in the economic times in which we find ourselves, continue to fund the type of research and development and the types of monies that were spent in the stimulus package on very high-cost energy sources?” Instead, Harbert recommended a focus on off-shore oil drilling, saying “It would be a huge mistake if the administration or the Congress or a combination of the two were to regulate or overtax the ability of industry to participate in offshore exploration.” [The Hill, 1/10/11]
U.S. Chamber Goes So Far as to Support Resource Development in Protected Lands. The U.S. Chamber made a pitch to have the government tap more natural resources on federal lands in order to create jobs and increase federal revenue. The organization made its case in ‘An Open Letter to the President of the United States, the United States Congress and the American People’ and a speech by its president and CEO, Tom Donohue. The U.S. Chamber argued “that opening national forest land that is currently closed to timber harvesting and developing inactive oil, gas and shale leases could generate trillions of dollars in royalties.” [Politico, 7/21/10]
Asked to Disclose Secret Corporate Donors, Chamber Calls for War
Editorial Boards across the country agree: Taxpayers have a right to know what happens to their money, and whether or not government contractors are paying-to-play.
Yet the U.S. Chamber considers these basic notions of disclosure and transparency as threatening to democracy as Col. Moammar Gadhafi, and they are “not going to tolerate it.”
Corporate transparency – and a recently proposed executive order that would require government contractors to disclose their political contributions – threatens the U.S. Chamber’s existence as “an accomplished conduit for secret donors” and its ability to wield corporate influence over all branches of government. The Chamber’s fight against financial disclosure reform has always been their top priority and now it is using every weapon in its arsenal to squash the possible executive order. As the debate unfolds, editorial boards around the country explain why corporate transparency and accountability is necessary and why the Chamber is wrong on this one.
Baltimore Sun: White House “Transparency Requirements…Actually Protect Against Pay-to-Play by Forcing Contractors to Reveal Their Donations.” In May 2011, the Baltimore Sun editorial board wrote, “In reality, transparency requirements like those proposed by the White House actually protect against pay-to-play by forcing contractors to reveal their donations…Republicans are far more likely to be the chief beneficiaries of backdoor corporate largesse. That’s why the executive order is causing such a fuss with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its ilk. But that doesn’t make secret political donations right. If Republicans want to level the playing field, let them pass a campaign finance reform law in Congress that covers not just federal contractors but all who give to third-party groups, including unions and other traditional Democratic allies…President Obama needs to safeguard the 2012 election and sign the executive order.” [Editorial, Baltimore Sun, 5/9/11]
LA Times: “Disclosure is the Solution, Not the Problem.” In May 2011, the Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote, “Transparency — and scrutiny from the political opposition — would provide a check on any abuses. Disclosure is the solution, not the problem. Government contractors can argue that they are being singled out. The easy remedy for that is to require that all contributions to all groups that engage in political activities be made public. Requiring disclosure by contractors is a first step, but it doesn’t have to be the last.” [Editorial, LA Times, 5/5/2011]
NY Times: “U.S. Chamber…Accomplished Conduit for Secret Donors…Crying Foul About Executive Order…Needed to Combat Pay-to-Play Campaign Abuses.” In May 2011, the New York Times editorial board wrote, “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an accomplished conduit for secret donors, is crying foul about the proposed executive order. But clearly the measure is needed to combat pay-to-play campaign abuses.Democrats came close to passing a new disclosure law last year, but were stopped when Senate Republicans — who will benefit the most from stealth corporate donations — stood fast. The prospects with this Congress are, of course, far worse, and the checkbooks are already out.Mr. Obama vowed to rein in campaign abuses. Now is not the time for him to flinch before noisy threats from the chamber and other deep-pocketed players.” [Editorial, New York Times, 5/1/11]
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Current Practice of Contractors’ Political Donations “Should Not Occur in a Democracy… Obama Should Issue the Necessary Executive Order Now.” In April 2011, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette editorial board wrote, “President Barack Obama and Congress need to take action to inform Americans of federal contractors’ contributions to political candidates… Many companies and individuals who are paid by the federal government for goods and services are supported, in effect, through these contracts by the taxpayers. Many of the contractors lobby federal officials, including congressmen to get this work, sometimes by making large campaign contributions…It doesn’t take magic to understand that this practice, in a way, uses public money to finance political campaigns, money recycled through the hands of the contractors. This should not occur in a democracy, but it does…Mr. Obama should issue the necessary executive order now.” [Editorial, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/28/11]
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: U.S. Chamber “Will Not Tolerate” Disclosure Order, Will “Fight the Proposal With the Same Force” as U.S. Military Action in Libya In April 2011, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted the U.S. Chamber’s opposition to the disclosure requirements: “Indicating how important these contributions from contractors are, a chamber executive said Tuesday that the organization was “not going to tolerate” such action by the White House. He said the chamber would fight the proposal with the same force the U.S. military is using against Col. Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.” [Editorial, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/28/11];
The Blade (Toledo, OH): “Taxpayers Have a Right to Know Who is Paying Whom to Do What With Their Money.” In April 2011, the Blade’s editorial board wrote, “President Obama is considering an executive order that would require would-be federal contractors to disclose all direct and indirect political spending of more than $5,000. Predictably, a Chamber executive said this week that the organization was ‘not going to tolerate’ such action. He said the Chamber would fight the proposal with the same force the U.S. military is using in Libya. This political skirmish reflects the financial relationship between members of Congress and donor-contractors. Taxpayers have a right to know who is paying whom to do what with their money, especially as another round of elections is just over the horizon.” [Editorial, Blade (Toledo, OH), 4/28/11]]
Rob Weissman, Public Citizen: “Chamber Draws Exactly the Wrong Conclusion…We Need – at a Bare Minimum – Openness and Disclosure of Contractors’ Campaign Spending.” In May 2011, Public Citizen President Rob Weissman said, “The U.S. Chamber is of course no stranger to using exaggerated rhetoric to advance its positions. But its opposition to the Executive Order is astounding even by the standards of the Chamber…the Chamber draws exactly the wrong conclusion. To protect our tax dollars, we need — at a bare minimum — openness and disclosure of contractors’ campaign spending. We can’t afford and should not tolerate secret spending accounts that invite government contracting corruption.” [Op-Ed, Alternet, 5/9/11]
A Wolf in Small Businessman’s Clothing
Gauging from their announcement last week, the Chamber is trying to artificially drive up its “grassroots” membership numbers. To kick off a reinvigorated membership drive, the Chamber released poll results which conveniently “revealed” how much small business owners disapprove of health care reform, the job President Obama is doing on the economy, and “regulations imposed by Washington.” Seventy-five percent of the small business owners in the Chamber-sponsored poll “said President Barack Obama was standing in the way of growth and progress.”
Interesting results, given that the poll was taken between April 8-11, as the Chamber was praising the Ryan Budget plan denounced by the White House, and that Small Business Majority said would “rob small businesses of much-needed financial support and stall our economic comeback at a crucial moment in the recovery process.” This isn’t the Chamber’s first misleading poll or study that magically aligns small business interests with those of big corporations.
The Chamber’s political director Bill Miller claimed the poll was “not about politics,” but it sure sounded and smelled like politics to us. The Chamber hired the firm of Frank Luntz, a well-known GOP pollster, to conduct the study. But it’s not just the partisanship that concerns us; it’s the idea that anyone involved actually supports small business! On his firm’s website, Luntz boasts about his firm’s “corporate reputation” and the “dozens of fortune 500 companies” on his current and past client list (several of which have known ties to the Chamber including GE, News Corporation, FedEx, and Pfizer).
In fact, the Chamber’s recent political agenda could have come directly from a Luntz memo. Remember, he was the one responsible for urging Republicans to cast Obama’s health care reform bill as a “government takeover.” (That’s the exact language the Chamber used in its ads attacking Democrats this last year.) And in 2010, Luntz wrote a memo laying out the arguments and language Republicans should use to kill financial reform, as he was working for clients like Ameriquest Mortgages, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and American Express. Luntz is also a regular commentator on Fox News (whose parent company News Corp is a million-dollar-contributor to the Chamber) and was reprimanded back in 1997 by the American Association for Public Opinion Research for his polling on the GOP’s 1994 “Contract with America.”
No matter what a misleading, partisan poll may say, the cold, hard, truth is that the Chamber, and its hired guns, do not represent small business. They don’t support the interests of small business…
All throughout the month of May, with the help and research of small business organizations, we will highlight just how the Chamber’s self-proclaimed small business agenda is both a distraction and a distortion.