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Archived Blogs September-June 2010

Ad Watch 2010: U.S. Chamber’s Hypocritical Attacks On Barbara Boxer

Posted by Lauren Levenstein on September 28, 2010

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is up with its latest ad slamming Barbara Boxer for “voting to add trillions to the national debt” and “making America less competitive and driving away California jobs.” As usual, it turns out the ad is just an empty political attack reel at the behest of anonymous corporate interests and the shadow Republican Party. The Chamber’s attacks on Boxer simply reflect its own agenda.

U.S. Chamber Spent Millions Lobbying for Policies That Would Increase Federal Deficit

  • 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 proposed 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.” [New York Times, 5/14/09; Reuters, 7/14/09; National Journal, 9/26/09].
  • US Chamber Strongly Backed Extension of Bush Tax Cuts, Which Would Ad $36 Billion To Federal Deficit and Help Fewer Than 2 Percent of Small Business Owners. The Chamber has been very vocal in its support for extending the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest two percent of Americans. Despite all their rhetoric on deficits, extending the Bush tax cuts would add $36 billion to the deficit in 2011 alone. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, fewer than two percent of small businesses make enough to even file in the top two income tax brackets. [Washington Post, 8/12/10]
  • U.S. Chamber Spent Millions To Kill Health Care Reform That Would Reduce Budget By $138 Million. Backed by the health insurance industry, in 2009 and 2010 the U.S. Chamber spent over $26 million to kill health care reform, using scare tactics to claim it would increase the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office actually found that the Affordable Care Act would reduce the deficit by $138 million by 2019. [ABC News, 8/14/09; National Journal, 1/30/10; CBS News, Congressional Budget Office, 3/18/10]

U.S. Chamber Has Long Record of Supporting Outsourcing, Policies That Would Kill U.S. Jobs

  • U.S. Chamber Opposed Bill To Crack Down on Outsourcing And Bring Jobs To U.S. For all their talk about creating U.S. jobs, in September 2010, the U.S. Chamber opposed a Senate bill offering a tax holiday to multinational companies that would shift overseas jobs to the U.S. [The Hill, 9/23/10]
  • US Chamber Opposed “Buy American” Provisions Of the 2010 Jobs Bill. In January 2010, the Chamber unabashedly opposed “Buy American” provisions in stimulus funds. “We must limit the negative consequences of the Buy American requirements in the Recovery Act, and we must ensure that additional Buy American requirements are not included in future legislation.” [US Chamber of Commerce Release, 2/17/2010, Report & Joint Business Letter Opposing Buy American Provisions in Jobs Bill, 1/24/10]
  • U.S. Chamber President Defended Outsourcing of U.S. Jobs, Arguing That Americans Are “Short of Skills.” Defending outsourcing in 2004, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue said, “The big fundamental issue that we need to understand is we are short of skills in this country.” [CNNFN,5/3/04]
  • U.S. Chamber President Vowed to Fight Any Attempts to Reduce Outsourcing. “The chamber’s message is clear: The US must be able to source around the world to stay competitive in the global economy and the business community will fight any attempts by our government to restrict outsourcing,” Thomas Donohue, the chamber’s president, told a news conference.” [Agence France Presse, 4/14/2004]

Surprised that the Chamber Opposed Anti-Outsourcing Bill? Don’t Be…

If you were surprised that the US Chamber– an organization that announced, with much fanfare last year, a campaign to create 20 million new jobs– OPPOSED the Senate bill to crack down on outsourcing, well, don’t be. The giant lobbying organization’s been pretty keen on outsourcing for some time now. Here are some of our favorite quotes from the Chamber on taking American jobs and putting them overseas:

  • U.S. Chamber President Defends Outsourcing of U.S. Jobs, Arguing That Americans Are “Short of Skills.” Defending outsourcing in 2004, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue said, “The big fundamental issue that we need to understand is we are short of skills in this country.” [CNNFN, 5/3/2004].
  • Donohue Vows to Fight Any Attempts to Reduce Outsourcing.  “The Chamber’s message is clear: The US must be able to source around the world to stay competitive in the global economy and the business community will fight any attempts by our government to restrict outsourcing,” Thomas Donohue, the chamber’s president, told a news conference.”  [Agence France Presse, 4/14/2004]
  • Donohue Says Outsourcing Will Cost Only Two, Three, Maybe Four Million Jobs.  “We employ — American companies employ 140 million Americans. They provide health care for 160 million Americans. They provide training in terms of 40 billion a year. The outsourcing deal over three or four or five years and the two or three sets of numbers are only going to be, you know, maybe two, maybe three million jobs, maybe four.” [CNNFN, 2/10/2004]
  • Donohue: “Outsourcing is Here to Stay” Because “It Benefits Everybody.” Donohue again discounted American lives impacted by a globalizing economy in an interview with The Straits Times of Singapore. He said, “we are very confident that outsourcing is here to stay. And why not? It benefits everybody.” [4/23/2004] But Donohue still looks out for number one. He has also said, “One job sent overseas, if it happens to be my job, is one too many.” [Associated Press, 7/1/2004]

And in case you thought that maybe the Chamber would change its tune in the wake of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, well, don’t be silly.

  • US Chamber Opposed “Buy American” Provisions Of the 2010 Jobs Bill. In January 2010, the Chamber unabashedly opposed “Buy American” provisions in stimulus funds. “We must limit the negative consequences of the Buy American requirements in the Recovery Act, and we must ensure that additional Buy American requirements are not included in future legislation.”  [US Chamber of Commerce Release, 2/17/2010, Report & Joint Business Letter Opposing Buy American Provisions in Jobs Bill, 1/24/10]

U.S. Chamber Spends for GOP – and Chamber Members Drop Out In Protest

In case you missed it: The Washington Post put together a bee-yoo-tiful chart capturing the latest spending by that giant of lobbying groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. According to the chart, the Chamber has *reported* spending nearly $7 million on “independent campaigning” so far this cycle. That “reported” word, however, is key: In addition to the spending listed, the Chamber has run ads in Missouri, Illinois, and Ohio (and possibly elsewhere), but since they didn’t fall within the 60 day window before a general election, or a 30 day window before the primary, the spending isn’t required to be reported to the FEC as electioneering communications.

One thing we do know: that spending is benefiting one party and one party alone. According to the FEC, 96% of the money reported has been spent on behalf of Republicans.

Wonder how America’s small business owners (significantly less than 96% of whom are Republicans) feel about the partisanship of the U.S. Chamber? Well, they’re not pleased.

  • High-Profile Chamber Members Resigned After the California Chamber Endorsed Meg Whitman. According to the Los Angeles Times, members of the California Chamber of Commerce, including the president of the University of California and the chancellor of the state community college system, resigned in protest after the Chamber made the partisan decision to endorse Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. “I do not believe the board is using sound judgment by catapulting the California Chamber of Commerce into the center of a fierce political contest,” Jack Scott, community college chancellor, wrote. “…It is destructive to the chamber’s core mission and the businesses it represents when it becomes a partisan operation.” (LA Times, 9/5/10)
  • American Electric Power Dropped Out of Ohio Chamber After Kasich Endorsement. “A day after the Ohio Chamber of Commerce endorsed Republican John Kasich for governor, one of the state’s largest electric utilities says it is leaving the chamber and its president is resigning from the chamber board,” reported the Columbus Dispatch. “We think it creates division within the chamber among different businesses,” spokeswoman Melissa McHenry said. (Columbus Dispatch, 9/24/10)

Sestak Turns Down Chamber Debate — Not That We Blame Him

Pennsylvania Senate candidate Joe Sestak won’t be attending a debate sponsored by the state chamber of commerce, reported the Allentown Morning Call Tuesday—and we can’t say we blame him.  It was the U.S. Chamber, after all, who’s not only run hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of ads attacking Sestak, but whose ads against him were so plainly false, the righter-than-right-wing Sinclair Broadcasting was forced to pull them down.

(In case that name doesn’t ring a bell, Sinclair Broadcasting became briefly famous during the 2004 presidential elections when it ordered all 62 of its affiliate stations to preempt prime time programming to air an anti-John Kerry documentary, “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal.” The documentary was scheduled to air just two weeks before the election.)

At issue was the Chamber’s claim that Sestak had voted with Nancy Pelosi 100 percent of the time—a fact that is demonstrably false, and one that the stations had clearly not checked out before airing the ads.

For more on the Chamber’s less than honorable past with advertising, go here.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce: An “Extra National Organization” For the GOP

The Chamber may have made news this week by endorsing a Democrat for the U.S. Senate, but it is precisely because of the Chamber’s activity on behalf of Republican candidates that this is news.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is at the nexus of secretive business groups and GOP operatives who, working along side each other, are using the recent Citizens United decision to spend an explosive amount of undisclosed money in political campaigns. Connecting all the dots and counting all the numbers brings it back to the reality that “the Chamber’s expanding role is almost like giving the Republicans an extra national organization.” (Politico Op-Ed, 9/16/10)

U.S. Chamber: GOP By Any Other Name

  • U.S. Chamber’s Former General Counsel and GOP Alum Runs “Shadow RNC” American Crossroads.  When Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie needed someone to run their “Shadow RNC” group American Crossroads and its sister 501(c)4 organization, Crossroads GPS, who did they turn to?  None other than Steven Law, who left his position as former General Counsel for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to run American Crossroads.  Before going to the Chamber, Law served as George W. Bush’s Deputy Labor Secretary, executive director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and chief of staff for Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
  • U.S. Chamber’s Top Lobbyist Cozies Up To John Boehner, GOP. As mentioned previously, the U.S. Chamber and John Boehner have a symbiotic relationship – from policy platforms, to lobbyists, to the Chamber’s invitation to exclusive GOP messaging and strategy sessions.
  • 85% of the Chamber’s Political Contributions This Cycle Have Gone to Republicans, Plain and Simple. Want to know who the Chamber really supports? Let the statistics speak for themselves.
  • Chamber Upped its Spending to $75 Million This Cycle to “Change the Composition” of Congress. In July 2010, when the Chamber announced it would raise its 2010 midterm election political spending to $75, President and CEO Tom Donohue urged business community to “change the composition” of Congress.
  • 2010 Chamber Ads: Attacking the Issues or Nancy Pelosi? A slew of the Chamber’s political “issue” ads this cycle compare Democratic candidates to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s agenda, incorporating the usual bad pictures, scary music and demonic tone. Whether in MA, PA, KY, or CO, is this a real debate on the issues or a partisan attack on Democratic leadership?


Chamber Backs Away From Small Biz Bill, Lobbying Hard To Strip Preventative Care Funding and Preserve Tax Breaks for Big Oil


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce regularly creates the façade of its support for small businesses. Although the U.S. Chamber remains the biggest spender on lobbying this year, they have been peculiarly silent, and even agnostic, on the Small Business Jobs Act, a bill to establish a $30 billion lending fund for small businesses and provide them $12 billion in tax relief. Instead of lobbying hard for the legislation, the U.S. Chamber unsuccessfully threw all its weight behind an amendment to repeal the 1099 purchase reporting provisions born out of the healthcare reform legislation.
The amendment, by Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE), would have not only eliminated the reporting requirements, but also stripped preventative healthcare funding, raised insurance premiums, and kept an additional 2 million individuals from having health insurance.   As the Times Picayune reported, the Johanns amendment
“may have succeeded in giving the Chamber reason, or cover, to back away from a bill that has come to take on a highly partisan edge in the run-up to the mid-term elections.”
The Chamber still could have supported alternative measures to eliminate this provision.  Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) offered a separate amendment that would have eliminated the requirement for almost all small businesses.  Perhaps the Chamber didn’t support the Nelson Amendment because it would have paid for it by repealing tax cuts for the five largest oil companies.
Today, the Chamber is hosting a fly-in day for small business owners to lobby, not on pushing the Small Business Jobs Act, but specifically in favor of the Johanns amendment that was killed yesterday.
Once again, the Chamber is caught red handed pretending to fight for small businesses by focusing on a minor, partisan provision that would ultimately strip healthcare funding.  They protected the oil industry by ignoring an almost identical amendment that would have rid tax breaks for oil companies, and ironically stayed mute on the larger bill that would help small businesses!
Senator Mary Landrieu, sponsor of the Small Business Jobs Act, had a message for the Chamber: “We have a year and a half to fix 1099; we have no more time to help small businesses.”

For John Boehner, A Bad Weekend to be Called “Chamber of Commerce Republican”

In the same weekend that the New York Times reported that the Chamber has been accused of tax fraud and misuse of charitable funds for political purposes, the Times also profiled House Republican leader John Boehner calling him a “Chamber of Commerce Republican”.

Describing his “alliance” with lobbyists and trade association leaders, the Times wrote:

“It is his reputation as a ‘Chamber of Commerce’ Republican and his fund-raising skills — he has raised $36 million for Republican causes during this election cycle, more than almost anyone else in his party — that explain, in part, his rise.”

Boehner’s symbiotic relationship with the U.S. Chamber is well documented.  Just this summer, the Center for Public integrity pointed out that one of the top five career individual donors to Boehner’s campaign has lobbied for the U.S. Chamber. In July 2010, the Chamber’s top lobbyist, Bruce Josten, was invited to attend a controversial “closed-door” meeting between lobbyists and Republican leaders running the America Speaking Out project in Boehner’s office.  And, after U.S. Chamber President Tom Donohue made headlines stating that American Taxpayers should help pay for the BP oil spill cleanup, Boehner adopted Donohue’s talking points as his own.

This weekend, Boehner also changed course on the Bush tax cuts stating that if all of them, including those for the wealthiest Americans, were to expire, he would still vote for extending tax cuts to the middle class. The Chamber, meanwhile, continues to urge an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, relying on its unsubstantiated argument that it would help small businesses.  Was Boehner bucking his biggest Chamber allies or just confident that the Chamber would act as a surrogate, lobbying for his causes?

Other reports this weekend revealed that so far this year the Chamber is still the “top dog on Capitol Hill” for lobbying expenditures and that 85% of its political contributions have gone to Republicans.  So when Chamber President Tom Donohue urges the business community to “change the composition” of Congress this election cycle, it is important to remember that John Boehner could become the Speaker and the Chamber’s top dog.

Public: Let the Bush Tax Cuts Expire. U.S. Chamber & Friends: I can’t hear you!

woman plugging earsOnce again, the U.S. Chamber and friends are demonstrating an extraordinary tone-deafness to the reality for every day Americans. A Gallup poll this week revealed that 59% of Americans would allow the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire. Further, Gallup notes that it “has typically found Americans unsympathetic to the argument that upper-income Americans are overtaxed. They generally believe upper-income Americans pay too little in taxes and favor higher taxes on wealthy Americans as a means to fund government programs, such as Social Security.

But the U.S. Chamber is still crying foul – desperately working to keep the wealthiest 2% from having to shoulder their pre-Bush tax responsibility. This despite the cost of extending the cuts, and the Chamber’s oft-repeated arguments against deficit spending.

The problem may be that Chamber and friends don’t understand why people would be against tax cuts for the wealthy. This week, at a Chamber of Commerce event in Louisiana, Senator David Vitter demonstrated his complete ignorance of his state’s – and the country’s – demographics. He declared that “virtually everybody” would be subject to the pending expiration of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. The taxes he’s referring to apply only to the top 2% of Americans- those making more than $250,000 a year. The average income for a family in Louisiana is about $40,000. But it’s understandable that Vitter would think that “everybody” is wealthy – it shows the bubble he and the Chamber operate in. It’s reminiscent of when Tom Donohue decried the fate of poor Wall Street CEOs being “hauled up to the Congress … and beat up like unruly children for the TV cameras” earlier this summer.

U.S. Chamber Political Attack Machine: Running on Empty

As the U.S. Chamber lets loose its political machine across the country,   perhaps it should check under the hood.  Its attack ads are notably lacking in substance. Or at least, accurate substance. Most recently, the  U.S. Chamber launched ads attacking Rep. Paul Hodes in New Hampshire and Robin Carnahan in Missouri.In New Hampshire, the Chamber is attacking Congressman Paul Hodes, who’s running for the state’s Senate seat, claiming that Hodes’ motto is “Tax, borrow, or spend,” and accusing him of helping to “push America’s debt to $13 trillion” by voting for health care reform and cap and trade legislation.

But Media Matters Action Network did an excellent fact check of the ad. Media Matters rebuts the Chamber’s claims that a) health care reform is a “government takeover” of healthcare and b) that the reform cost jobs. Media Matters cites the Center for American Progress’s predicted 4 million jobs as a result of the legislation.

In response to the Chamber’s attacks on climate change legislation, Media Matters points out that cap-and-trade legislation would boost GDP by $111 billion – not kill jobs, as the Chamber claims.

In Missouri, the Chamber is running an ad asking why Democratic Senate Candidate Robin Carnahan is “making it harder” for Ohio’s “struggling” economy by endorsing the “massive healthcare overhaul” that “hurt small businesses and cost Missouri jobs.”

But the Chamber’s “jobs” refrain is ringing hollow (here as elsewhere). In a scathing editorial, Stacy Mitchell of Bloomberg Businessweek, explains why the Chamber’s “misleading” business model actually hurts small businesses:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the NFIB [National Federation of Independent Business], together with their state-level affiliates, are among the country’s most powerful lobbying forces. While they claim to speak for small business, a look at their lobbying record suggests their primary allegiance lies elsewhere. The U.S. Chamber has fought to preserve offshore tax havens that only multinationals can use, leaving small businesses at a disadvantage. Both the NFIB and affiliates of the Chamber have lobbied in various states to maintain loopholes like Pennsylvania’s. And neither group has contested he multi-million-dollar tax breaks cities routinely bestow on big-box retailers to the detriment of their independent rivals.

With $75 million at hand, you’d think the Chamber could afford to dig up some facts and substance for its ads. But thus far, the U.S. Chamber’s political machine seems unable to reach beyond its typical tired rhetoric.

California Chamber Backs Whitman; Chamber Members Revolt

Two California Chamber of Commerce Board Members Resigned After the State Chamber Endorsed Meg Whitman for Governor.   The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has undergone a transformation over the past decade, shifting from a well-respected voice for American business into a partisan behemoth that dominates American politics.

In 1998, the year after U.S. Chamber CEO Tom Donohue took over, the U.S. Chamber spent $17 million on lobbying. In 2009, that number grew to more than eight times that size, with the U.S. Chamber spending $144 million to fight reform efforts.

As the U.S. Chamber has evolved into a breathtakingly large political machine, some state chambers have followed suit. The California Chamber of Commerce (CalChamber) began testing its political might in 2002, when it backed Arnold Schwarzenegger with its first endorsement for governor in its 112-year history.

But CalChamber’s foray into politics has not been all that warmly welcomed. This cycle, CalChamber endorsed Meg Whitman, the former CEO of EBay, for California Governor. Thought leaders in California were so disappointed that several of them left the group in protest, including the president of the University of California and the chancellor of the California community college system. In his resignation, Community College Chancellor Jack Scott wrote, “I do not believe the board is using sound judgment by catapulting the California Chamber of Commerce into the center of a fierce political contest…It is destructive to the chamber’s core mission and the businesses it represents when it becomes a partisan operation.”

This is the second time CalChamber has gotten itself into hot water this election season. It first raised ire when it issued a controversial television ad about Jerry Brown, Attorney General and Democratic candidate for Governor. CalChamber pulled the ad after four of its board members complained that it was a “hit job that ‘undermines the Chamber’s credibility.’”

The lesson to CalChamber should be that its members appreciate it as a voice for California business. But California business leaders don’t need or want CalChamber to wade into the political muck. Here’s hoping CalChamber gets the message – and that maybe the U.S. Chamber can take a hint, too.

U.S. Chamber: Jobs Argument a Little Leaky

Oil RigDrilling Down on the U.S. Chamber’s Weak Jobs Arguments



Once again, the U.S. Chamber cries “job-killer!” and once again, the Chamber is found to be crying wolf.  

This summer, the Chamber lobbied heavily against the post-BP disaster deepwater drilling moratorium, arguing that it would “continue to cost the Gulf much-needed jobs.”  Turns out the Chamber’s arguments rang a little hollow. In an article titled “Job Losses Over Drilling Ban Fail to Materialize,” New York Times journalists John M. Broder and Clifford Krauss write:

…oil executives, economists and local officials complained that the six-month [deepwater drilling] moratorium would cost thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in lost revenue…the worst of those forecasts has failed to materialize…it now appears that the direst predictions about the moratorium will not be borne out.

The Chamber is also offering up its empty argument on jobs this week. It says that extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy will save jobs and small businesses.  But the Chamber clearly missed the memo that only 3 percent of small business owners would be affected by the extension.  And if the Chamber still wants to complain that White House policies “vilify” business and kill jobs, the CBO reported this week that the White House’s stimulus is largely responsible for job growth this year.

For at least twenty years, the Chamber has reached for its tried and true “jobs” argument when it wants an excuse for espousing its big-business, big-CEO policies. Here’s a look at some greatest hits:

Top 10 Policies U.S. Chamber Opposed Using the “Job Killing” Argument.

Healthcare Reform Law: U.S. Chamber Said Congress Must Repeal “Job-Killing Requirement” In Healthcare Reform Law.  In August 2010, U.S. Chamber official James Gelfand wrote in an op-ed on the healthcare reform bill: “The next piece that needs to be repealed is the job-killing requirement that businesses purchase government-approved health insurance or pay crippling fines. At $2,000 to $3,000 per employee, these fines will destroy countless businesses, especially those with low profit margins.” [Chamber Post Blog, 8/3/10]

Deepwater Drilling Moratorium: U.S. Chamber Said Post-BP Deepwater Drilling Moratorium Would “Cost the Gulf Much-Needed Jobs.”In July 2010, as the Obama Administration renewed its “ban on deepwater drilling, imposed after the BP oil spill, Karen Harbert, President of the chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy stated, “The blanket moratorium will continue to cost the Gulf much-needed jobs.” [Financial Times, 7/13/10]

Financial Reform: U.S. Chamber President Said Final Financial Reform Bill “Exacerbated Uncertainties For…America’s Job Creators,” Bill’s Passage Was “Sad Day” For Jobs. Commenting on the “final conference report of the financial regulatory reform legislation,” U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue said the bill “exacerbates uncertainties for Main Street and America’s job creators, and consumers will pay the ultimate price in higher fees, less choice, and fewer opportunities to responsibly access credit. Today is a sad day for the U.S. economy, for jobs…” [Press Release, US Chamber of Commerce, 6/25/10]

Clean Air Act Provisions: U.S. Chamber Said Measure Curbing Greenhouse-Gas Emissions Through Clean Air Act “Would Kills Jobs and Stifle Growth.” According to the Wall Street Journal, in June 2010, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supported Senator Lisa Murkowski’s “proposal to block the administration from curbing greenhouse-gas emissions using its power under the Clean Air Act…Ms. Murkowski’s measure has the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Automobile Dealers Association and other business groups that say EPA regulation would kill jobs and stifle growth.” [Wall Street Journal, 6/10/10]

Unemployment Benefits Extender: U.S. Chamber Said Unemployment Benefits Extender Bill Was A “Job Killer,” “Would Do More Harm Than Good.” “Despite supporting the tax measures resuscitated in legislation extending several measures, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposes the extender bill because of the tax increases it would inflict on businesses. ‘Ultimately, we have no choice but to oppose this legislation as drafted because it is a job killer,’ said Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s chief government affairs person, in prepared remarks. ‘While the Chamber believes the economy needs an extension of expired provisions, we believe that this legislation will do more harm than good.’” [The Hill, 5/24/10]

Healthcare Reform Bill: U.S. Chamber Sought Funds to Commission Study Presenting Health Reform as a “Job Killer.” The Washington Post reported that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups were “collecting money to finance an economic study that could be used to portray the legislation as a job killer and threat to the nation’s economy, according to an e-mail solicitation from a top Chamber official.” [Washington Post, 11/16/09]

Consumer Financial Protection Agency: U.S. Chamber Said CFPA Was “Wrong Way” To “Enhance Consumer Protection,” Would Harm Business Community. “On September 30, 2009, the [U.S.] Chamber…testifying before the Committee on Financial Services stated, ‘The Chamber opposes the CFPA legislation in its current form because it believes the current bill is the wrong way to enhance consumer protection, and it will have significant and harmful unintended consequences for consumers, for the business community and for the overall economy.’” [Press Release, Republicans In Congress, 10/13/09]

Children’s Healthcare: U.S. Chamber Said Expanding Children’s Healthcare Was “Unfair, Burdensome” To Businesses. In a January 2009 letter to Congress, R. Bruce Josten of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged members to vote against the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, writing that the bill “raises taxes on a narrow sector of the U.S. economy with the aim of funding a broad-based entitlement program, which is grossly unfair and burdensome to American businesses and consumers.” [Chamber Letter, 1/14/09]

A Living Wage: U.S. Chamber: “Wage Mandates…Prevent Businesses from Making Profits, Growing and Hiring More Workers. ” In an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court of Louisiana, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote, “Living wage proposals are economically unfair because they change the basis on which our economy operates. Instead of allowing the market forces to determine pay, living wages put the interests of employees above all other consideration…and they base wages on what the worker wants instead of on the value of work performed.” [The Pantagraph, 11/21/04]

Americans With Disabilities Act: U.S. Chamber Said Small Businesses “Simply” Did Not “Have Money in the Bank” for the Americans With Disabilities Act. Discussing the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1989, U.S. Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Nancy Fulco said, “”Small businesses simply do not have the money in the bank.” Fulco “also complained that the wording of the bill was so vague it would encourage an explosion of lawsuits.” [Newsday, 9/9/89]

U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Acting as if Women Aren’t a Part of the Economy

Last week, in defending the Bush tax cuts, a Chamber spokesman said the Obama administration was “acting as if the upper class aren’t part of the economy.”  But the Chamber seems to be neglecting a more significant part of the economy than the 2% who would benefit from the Bush tax cuts. Ignoring the fact that women-owned firms account for 28% of businesses, the Chamber continues to oppose policies that would help women grow our economy – and create much needed jobs. On the ninetieth anniversary of women’s suffrage, U.S. Chamber Watch took a look at the Chamber’s long history of excluding women from economic opportunity.


U.S. Chamber Opposed Paycheck Fairness Act.  According to USA Today, Paycheck Fairness Act “languished in Congress for several years… and it has been stalled by opposition from some Republicans and business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”  In July 2010, President Barack Obama announced he would “press Congress…to pass pay-equity legislation that would make it easier for women to sue employers who pay them less than their male counterparts…” [USA Today, 7/20/10] 

U.S. Chamber “Strongly” Opposed Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Threatened to Count it As Key Vote. In April 2008, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce “strongly” urged members of Congress “to oppose H.R. 2831, the ‘Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.’” The Chamber turned to a tort reform refrain, arguing that “subjecting employers to such claims would literally lead to an explosion of litigation second guessing legitimate employment and personnel decisions.” “Nor is it clear how an employer would defend itself from such a claim without the ability to go back in time and make the types of robust statistical analyses necessary for a defense.”  The Chamber’s head lobbyist, Bruce Josten, concluded the letter, “For these reasons, the Chamber strongly urges you to oppose H.R. 2831 and may consider votes on, or in relation to, this issue in our annual How They Voted scorecard.” [U.S. Chamber of Commerce “Key Vote Alert!” Letter, April 22, 2008]

U.S. Chamber Worries Defendants Unlikely to Prevail against “Tear-Stained” Plaintiffs.  “Few defendants would be likely to prevail at trial – even when the challenged decision was entirely bias-free – by meeting the live, detailed, and often tear-stained testimony of the plaintiff with a few words recorded on a document.” [Brief of U.S. Chamber for Respondent Goodyear, Ledbetter v. Goodyear, 550 U.S. 618 (2007)]

U.S. Chamber Said Act Would “Undermine America’s Civil Rights Laws.” In a January 2009 letter to Congress, R. Bruce Josten of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote, “the Chamber opposes S. 181 on both substantive and procedural grounds.” Discussing the bill, the Chamber’s Randel Johnson said the bill would lead to “frivolous litigation,” and that the bill would “undermine America’s civil rights laws.” [Chamber Letter, 1/14/09; BestWire, 1/28/09]

U.S. Chamber Maintains Opposition to Family Medical Leave Act: “Opposing Efforts to Expand FMLA” To Small Businesses is a Chamber 2010 Policy Priority. FMLA is the law that allows employees to take job-protected time from work if they or a family member are seriously ill.According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce website, one of its labor policy priorities for 2010 is to “Oppose efforts to expand FMLA by covering smaller businesses and making leave paid.” [U.S. Chamber of Commerce website, Accessed 8/18/10]

U.S. Chamber VP Said Business Community Would Wage “All-Out War” Against Paid Family Leave. Randel Johnson, vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits at the United States Chamber of Commerce, said the business community will wage “all-out war” against paid family leave because “paid leave will give employees an incentive to use it.” [Austin Business Journal, 9/10/07]


1977: U.S. Chamber Opposed Amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to Cover Women From Discrimination Due to Pregnancy.  The New York Times reported, “Women’s rights groups and organized labor urged Congress today to counter a major Supreme Court ruling by amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to make the law clearly prohibit job discrimination because of pregnancy.  But the United States Chamber of Commerce opposed the move…” [New York Times, 4/7/77]

U.S. Chamber Opposed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Arguing Pregnancy Is A “Voluntary” Condition.  A 1978 article described the fight against the Pregnancy Discrimination Act as lead by “the Chamber of Commerce of the U.S., the National Association of Manufacturers and other business groups. They argue that pregnancy, as a “voluntary” condition, should not be equated with illness…” [U.S. News & World Report, 7/10/78]

1991: U.S. Chamber Opposed Family and Medical Leave Because Government Shouldn’t Be “Personnel Administrators.” Discussing the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1991, Richard Lesher, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said, “We think most Americans don’t want the federal government to be their personnel administrators.” [Washington Post, 5/15/91]

1987: Chamber Said FMLA Set a “Dangerous Precedent.” Discussing the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1987, Virginia B. Lamp of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, “the bill [i]s creating a ‘dangerous precedent’ of federally mandated employee benefits. [New York Times, 2/3/87]

U.S. Chamber Opposed 1998 Equal Pay Law for Women. In 1998, the Chamber opposed President Clinton’s call for legislation to strengthen laws reducing disparities in men and women’s earning power. Randel Johnson, vice president of labor policy at the chamber, said that wage disparities are due mainly to the interruption of many women’s job careers to raise families. “Work experience does tend to translate to greater wages,” Johnson said. [AP, 6/10/98]

Other feedback on the Chamber’s stance on women in the workplace:

Rep. Taylor: U.S. Chamber Should Listen to Small Business, Not Insurance Industry

At the end of July, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce quietly took another step to protect giants in the insurance industry rather than the small businesses it claims to represent. In a letter to Congress, the Chamber expressed its opposition to H.R. 1264, the Multiple Peril Insurance Act. The bill is the first since Hurricane Katrina to address insurance issues in the Gulf States. The U.S. Chamber opposes the measure, which would add wind damage coverage – which became more expensive and less available from private companies following Katrina – to the National Flood Insurance Program. In its letter, the U.S. Chamber goes so far as to threaten using votes on the issue in its annual “How They Voted” scorecard

Gulf residents and business owners were paying attention, and they are speaking out against the U.S. Chamber’s position on the bill. Hancock County Chamber of Commerce Director Tish Williams responded to the Chamber’s letter with “dismay and concern,” saying “H.R. 1264 is critical to the livelihood of small business and real estate reinvestment across the Gulf Coast.”

The bill’s sponsor, Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS), issued a scathing critique, saying, “U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobbyists need to talk to Chamber members from coastal areas instead of believing everything the insurance industry tells them.”

Finally, Mississippi’s Sun Herald added its disapproval to the Chamber’s position as “primary opposition” to the “only alternative to financial ruin being offered to coastal residents and businesses.” The paper quoted local businessman Jerry St. Pé who noted that, “it is troubling that an organization such as the U.S. Chamber fails to recognize that in a global economy a national disaster in one region of the country inflicts serious, lasting economic hardship on all other regions. One would think the oil spill would have been a sufficient event to alter the Chamber’s understanding on the need for a national approach to dealing with disasters.”

But it seems that the oil spill, as now, is just another instance of the U.S. Chamber favoring big business over the best interests of the Gulf Coast.

US Chamber vs. America’s Teachers

School may be out for the summer, but America’s teachers are hot news in Washington today, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the House of Representatives back from recess to vote on legislation to save hundreds of thousands of teacher and first responder jobs.The $26 billion bill—half of the original request from President Obama—will give funds to states for Medicare and education, saving as many as 300,000 jobs of teachers, firefighters, and police officers in our local communities.

Who could possibly be against this? The US Chamber, of course.

Writes Bloomberg:

The bill would be financed in part by clamping down on what Democrats called the abuse of foreign tax credits offered to multinational corporations. The provisions are projected to raise almost $10 billion.

That drew the opposition of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which said the bill would impose “draconian tax increases” that would “hinder job creation, decrease the competitiveness of American businesses, and deter economic growth.”

Let’s say that again: the US Chamber opposes a bill designed to prevent the layoffs of hundreds of thousands of teachers and first responders because it would be funded by closing tax loopholes abused by big multinational corporations.

As for the Chamber’s excuse that the bill will “deter economic growth”? Sorry—that dog won’t hunt. The bill is fully paid for and would reduce the deficit by $1.4 billion. The Chamber just doesn’t like how it’ll reduce the deficit.

Letting big corporations engage in shady tax behavior vs. funding teachers and cops—those of the priorities of the biggest lobbying group in the country.

Local Business Leaders Looking for Alternatives to US Chamber; Chamber Not Happy About It

Today’s news saw small businesses in Colorado and California taking steps to get the representation that they can’t through the U.S. Chamber.  This week, small business leaders expressed frustration that the U.S. Chamber passed up a chance to do something to take its “jobs’ rhetoric beyond just talk and finger-pointing.  And today, a group of Laguna Beach, California businesses formed a new organization called the Laguna Beach Green Chamber of Commerce – becoming the third such “Green Chamber” in the state.

The new organization’s President, Chris Prelitz, pointed out that the group was formed out of frustration with the U.S. Chamber’s policies:

“If the local chamber of commerce really wants to support environmental legislation, I’d encourage them to follow the lead of San Francisco and Aspen, Colo., which publicly denounced the U.S. Chamber’s stance on these issues,” he said. “We all want a vibrant and abundant town that serves the needs of the community, but the U.S. Chamber does not represent the views of the majority of Laguna Beach citizens.

Meanwhile in Colorado, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, which has been sharply critical of the U.S. Chamber on issues of Climate Change, voted to join a new national organization called Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy (CICE).  The recently formed network is being launched by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce with the mission of “restoring the nation’s leadership in innovation and economic prosperity.”  One of the group’s goals is to push Congress to take action on clean energy issues.

The group has drawn fire from the U.S. Chamber, which attacked it in a letter to local Chambers.  According to the Aspen Daily News, the ACRA had to respond to letters sent to its members charging the CICE with being organized by NRDC with the intent of undermining the US Chamber:  According to the paper, Steve Falk, the President of the San Francisco Chamber wrote a letter to colleagues responding to the U.S. Chamber saying,

“You may have received a letter from U.S. Chamber board member Winthrop Hallett stating that our group was established by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) with the intention of ‘undermining’ the U.S. Chamber on this issue,” Falk wrote in a July 28 letter addressed to chamber colleagues and distributed this week by ACRA President Debbie Braun. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

These Chambers and businesses join a growing number who are frustrated by the U.S. Chamber’s growing tendency to take extreme positions that reflect the agendas of a few large corporations that contribute millions to the U.S. Chamber rather than an agenda that benefits its membership at large.

US Chamber Spent More Than $3 Million in Undisclosed Money on Senators who Opposed Disclosure

Disclosure of corporate money in elections was dealt a blow yesterday when the Senate came one vote shy of brining the DISCLOSE Act to the floor for a debate.  Rather than debate the bill and offer amendments to fix perceived problems, Republicans who previously supported disclosure of campaign contributions simply voted on a party-line vote to kill the bill.

As the Huffington Post reported yesterday, at least five of the senators voting “no” today are fresh off campaigns where the U.S. Chamber spent significant amounts in the final days on their behalf.  According to FEC electioneering reports, here is what was spent just on electioneering communications in the final 60 days of the 2008 election.

Mitch McConnell (KY)  $890,000
Saxby Chambliss (GA)  $650,000
Susan Collins  (ME)  $342,387
Roger Wicker  (MS)  $108,400
Jim Risch (ID)   $75,000

[Source: FEC Electioneering Reports filed by US Chamber of Commerce in 60-day preelection period, 2008.]

In addtion, the Chamber spent just over $1 million to help Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate Special Election in January.

The U.S. Chamber did not have to disclose the sources of one dime of this money under current law.  And as they are preparing to spend a record $75 million in the next 100 days, that’s just the way they want to keep it.

Note: Sen Reid voted “No” in order to procedurally be able to recall the bill for another vote, Sen Lieberman was absent, but announced he would have voted “yes.”

Show Me the Money

Yesterday, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue blasted the Senate and Senate leader Harry Reid for daring to go forward with legislation that would compel corporations to disclose funding of election ads. “The fact that this assault to the First Amendment is being considered as millions are desperately looking for work is a complete outrage,” he said.

First, it’s not clear why the Senate doing its job – passing laws – is an outrage. And ironically, the Chamber itself is diverting an inordinate amount of energy away from its “jobs” message and toward the campaign finance reform measure. At press, the DISCLOSE Act is a top issue on the Chamber website (jobs is a lowly third or sixth mention, depending on how you count), and the Chamber has alerted the Senate that it intends to include Senators’ votes on the bill in its annual candidate score card.

Why is the Chamber spending so much energy on a bill that regulates election ad disclosures and appears to have little or no impact on the small business community the Chamber purports to represent? It seems that the Chamber is so worked up because Tom Donohue and other Chamber employees are worried about their own jobs. As we noted when the House was working to pass its version of the DISCLOSE Act, the Chamber’s business model relies on keeping its corporate funders anonymous. In its amicus brief arguing that corporations have the same first amendment rights as people, the Chamber admitted that it opposed disclosure requirements because “[m]any 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.”

Thus, the Chamber’s extreme position against disclosure. As head lobbyist Bruce Josten explains, the Chamber “never disclose[s] funding or what we are going to do.”

In opposing the DISCLOSE Act, the Chamber claims it is worried about protecting first amendment rights. But make no mistake: the Chamber is worried only about exposing the political agendas of its highest paying corporate contributors. Tom Donohue wants those corporate contributions to keep on coming. His desk displays a prominent sign that says “Show Me the Money.” But I guess he means just show him the money – in the Chamber’s ideal world, you and I just get shown the anonymous political ads.

Protecting Big Oil: A Week in the Playbook of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

For most Americans, a week when Congress could “hold BP accountable, lessen our dependence on oil, create good paying American jobs and protect the environment” would be a win.  For the U.S. Chamber it’s a disaster. It is staging a multi-targeted campaign designed to stop any efforts that might reform or impact the oil industry. In light of the Chamber’s many ties to the oil industry, particularly BP, it comes as no surprise that the Chamber has an involved playbook meant to protect Big Oil and ensure its continued favorable treatment from the government at all costs.

Limit Liability for Economic Damages. First, the Chamber is protesting plans to eliminate the cap on oil industry liability for economic damages resulting from the BP oil spill. The Chamber claims it may be “prudent for Congress to revisit the existing $75 million liability cap,” but warns away from an “excessive” cap that would discourage oil exploration in the Gulf, “because companies would be unable to afford insurance to cover the liability risk.” The Chamber does not explain who it thinks should pay for the risk of drilling, if not the oil companies. But we know that when the BP oil rig exploded, Chamber CEO Tom Donohue quickly nominated the American taxpayer for clean up duty.

Prevent Workers & Widows from Recovering. The Chamber is also taking aim at liability caps that limit recovery for the widows and families of the workers who died in the April explosion. The SPILL Act, which the House passed and which the Senate may soon take up, remedies current disparities in the recovery that off-shore injured workers and their families are entitled to. The Chamber is fighting the bill, which would update laws written in 1920 and make BP fully liable for negligent actions that kill or injure its workers in deep water.

Hold onto Special Tax Treatments. The New York Times says that “no industry enjoys the array of tax breaks and subsidies that the oil and gas industry does” – more than $80 billion worth. As the Senate turns toward legislation to address climate change and energy security, proposals to limit these breaks have surfaced. The delayed climate bill could include more than $20 billion in tax credits for renewable energy and efficiency. These tax incentives could be offset by rescinding existing credits for the oil and gas industry. Even before the spill, the White House budget included a proposal to repeal about $36.5 billion in oil tax breaks. Although the Times also points out that “No industry needs the [tax breaks] less” than the oil industry, the Chamber calls proposals to eliminate credits on the oil industry’s existing tax burden  “extreme” and “excessive new energy taxes.”

Deny Global Warming and Oppose All Efforts to Limit Carbon Emissions. Last year, the U.S. Chamber came under fire after its extreme position on global warming caused some member companies to defect. Although the group has toned down its rhetoric, it still backs any effort to address climate change or fossil fuel-dependence. This week, even as it emerged that many of the more controversial elements of a climate change bill might not make it to a vote before the August recess, the Chamber and the oil industry maintained attack mode at potential provisions of a future bill. The Consumer Energy Alliance, which the Chamber backs, is launching a two-week “pre-emptive strike to prevent the low-carbon standard from gaining steam, complete with an advertising blitz in the Midwest.” The ads focus on costs to consumers, but the standards would impact oil producers by forcing refiners to use either fossil fuels with lower carbon contents or a higher percentage of alternative fuels.

When in Doubt, Use Scare Tactics about Jobs. U.S. Chamber Chairman, Thomas Bell, recently spoke at a the U.S. Chamber’s jobs summit in Washington, D.C. Bell had a long list of complaints against the White House, including health care and Wall Street reform efforts. But he also was sure to include “EPA regulations of carbon emissions,” “expanded liability[,] and higher taxes…” – the main threats to the oil industry’s bottom line agianst which the Chamber is unleasing its aresnal.


Suggested Talking Points for Don Blankenship

Chamber stalwart and Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship might be facing an FBI inquiry into its possible bribing of safety officials, investigations into the most deadly mining disaster in years, and allegations that his company might have encouraged practices that caused it, but that won’t stop him from being the poster boy for the coal industry. This week, Massey Energy Corp. CEO Don Blankenship will speak to the National Press Club on “the need to increase surface mining of coal in order to meet the nation’s energy requirements.”

While Blankenship recently left the board of the U.S. Chamber, his presence is still felt in the U.S. Chamber’s agenda. On July 13, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) held a hearing on H.R. 5663, the Mine Safety and Health Act, which would provide for 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.

Opposing the measure was Jonathan Snare, representing the Coalition for Workplace Safety. Snare called the Mine Safety and Health Act “harshly punitive” and – no doubt with Massey in mind – urged the committee to focus away from “new methods of punishment after the fact” of a mine accident.

The Coalition, it turns out, is not exactly concerned with workplace safety. It is an “Astroturf” front group, a “well-funded attempt by the National Association of Manufacturers, the US Chamber of Commerce, and more than 20 other industry groups to oppose fundamental improvements to the 40 year old OSHA law.”

The U.S. Chamber’s specialty lies in protecting the biggest contributors to its massive lobbying and election budgets. It has shown a remarkable soft spot for dirty energy companies, including Massey Energy. So, when it came time to oppose a law that might interfere with how the safety-violation-prone Massey operates its mines, the Chamber sent in a trusted voice. Snare is not just a spokesman for the Coalition for Workplace Safety, which the Chamber funds; he is also a member of the Chamber’s Labor Relations Committee and OSHA Subcommittee.

In fact, Snare had already testified about many of the issues he discussed in opposing the Mine Safety and Health Act. Back in March, he testified before the Subcommittee on Workforce Protection on behalf of the U.S. Chamber. Despite the intervening mining accident that claimed twenty-nine lives and the BP oil rig explosion that took another eleven, Snare’s testimony didn’t change much. In fact he explained that, despite the accidents, his March testimony for the Chamber was still applicable, and incorporated those months-old statements into the record.

In sending Jonathan Snare to oppose safety regulations, the Chamber is doing what it does best. It is protecting Massey Energy’s interests, but allowing Massey to skip the public relations nightmare of opposing safety regulations after an accident in its mine killed 29 workers. While the Chamber launders Massey’s political agenda through the disarmingly named Coalition for Workplace Safety, Massey CEO Blankenship can begin the process of rehabbing the company’s tattered reputation.

But maybe that’s a topic Blankenship should address on Thursday.

TV Stations Refuse to run “False” US Chamber Ad

Just in time for the 2010 election cycle ramp up, the US Chamber is at again, sponsoring misleading political attack ads and standing by their false claims.   This time, the “non-partisan” Chamber took on Pennsylvania Congressman and US Senate hopeful Joe Sestak, claiming that he votes with Nancy Pelosi “100% of the time.”

According to reports by the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette and the Associated Press, two television stations in Pennsylvania have pulled the ad, concluding that the Chamber’s claims were simply not true:

Responding to charges of inaccuracy from Rep. Joe Sestak’s Senate campaign, two Pittsburgh-area television stations have agreed to stop airing a commercial, sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which sharply attacks the Democrat’s voting record…The commercial, which began airing Monday across the state, contends that the Senate nominee “voted with Nancy Pelosi 100 percent of the time” and that he voted for “a government takeover of health care.”

In letters of complaint to television stations, the Democrat’s campaign charges that both statements are false. Jonathan Dworkin, a spokesman for the Sestak campaign, noted that Mr. Sestak voted against House Speaker Pelosi’s position last month on a controversial amendment that would exempt certain lobbying groups from the provisions of the DISCLOSE Act, a proposal to regulate campaign financing. Mr. Sestak’s counsel also maintained that the ad falsely characterizes the Obama administration’s health care legislation as “a government takeover of health care.”

Two TV stations agreed, telling the campaign in a letter:

“At this time, our two stations, WPGH and WPMY, will discontinue airing the Chamber of Commerce commercial. It appears that the ad is false because it is not true that Sestak voted with Pelosi 100 percent of the time.”

Misleading attack ads are nothing new for the US Chamber of Commerce and in the wake of the Citizens United decision and their steep opposition to campaign finance reform, the Chamber just upped its political spending this cycle to $75 million from $50 million. If the past few decades are any indication of what’s in store for the Chamber’s ads this time around, why then, the games have only just begun:

  • March 2010: Media Matters Reports that the “Chamber Of Commerce Couldn’t ‘Afford’ To Buy Any Facts For Their New Ad” on Health Care Reform. “The Chamber of Commerce’s health care group, Employers for a Healthy Economy, has created a new anti-health care reform ad.  Titled “Afford,” the Chamber of Commerce clearly didn’t pony up the dough for any actual facts in the short spot.” Full Article
  • January 2010: Reports a “False” Chamber Ad on Lawsuits.  “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is running a false ad claiming that “52 percent of all lawsuits” target small businesses.” Full Article
  • November 2009: Media Matters Reports that the Chamber “Forgot The Facts” in an Ad Attacking Dina Titus for Supporting Health Care Reform. “On November 11, 2009, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Employers for a Healthy Economy coalition released new anti-reform ads.  Their “Titus” ad attacks Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-NV) for her pro-reform vote, but because the Chamber’s attacks are based on faulty information, the ad’s message is just a few seconds of fear mongering.” Full Article
  • August 2006: Reports that Chamber Ad Falsely Thanks Four Lawmakers for Voting for Medicare Part D. “The Chamber of Commerce rolled out a $10 million campaign to support 20 members of Congress (3 Democrats and 17 Republicans) for having  ‘supported the Medicare Part D law, giving seniors a quality drug plan.’ However, the group has had to change the ad for three members who were not in Congress at the time of the vote, and pulled the ad for a fourth member who voted for the bill the first time around, but against it the second. That’s a 20 percent error rate.” Full Article
  • September 2004: US Chamber Sham Group Ad, Attacking Washington State AG Candidate Deborah Senn, “Yanked” from the Air After Disclosure Debacle. “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $1.5 million [on ads] to thwart Deborah Senn’s bid for state attorney general because of an ‘anti-business’ agenda revealed during her tenure as insurance commissioner, the group’s lawyer said… The ads were yanked from television stations…” Full Article
  • December 2000: US Chamber Ad Against Indiana Dem Attorney General Caused Indiana Election Commission Investigation. “State election officials said Wednesday that they will review a series of hard-hitting TV ads Democrats say unfairly targeted their party’s candidate for attorney general. The Indiana Election Commission soon will begin investigating the $200,000 ad campaign that the Indiana Democratic Party said cost Attorney General Karen Freeman-Wilson the November election. The ads, paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, accused Freeman-Wilson of being corrupt. They ran for a week and a half on Indianapolis’ major TV stations before the November election. Under Indiana law, the U.S. Chamber could not have donated more than $5,000 total to all state candidates. But by calling the ads “issue advocacy,” it avoided that limit. Democrats say the ads were too skewed against Freeman-Wilson to be considered issue-oriented. Instead, they said, the commercials amounted to free advertising for Freeman-Wilson’s opponent, Republican Steve Carter.” [Indianapolis Star, 12/7/00]

Window Dressing …

Do we really need an half-day summit to know that the US Chamber opposes regulations to curb Wall Street excesses or step up safety practices of its members like BP or Massey Energy?  Now at least we know that they also want to go back to the Bush-era tax cuts.  In fact, strip away the heated rhetoric and posturing against the White House and today’s summit is really just window dressing for the US Chamber’s effort to go back to the policies that caused the biggest economic downturn since the great depression.

New Details Emerge on The Chamber’s “Views for Dues” Scheme

This month’s Washington Monthly has a smart article detailing exactly how the U.S. Chamber in DC came to be an organization dominated by a few of the country’s biggest corporations; in the process abandoning the interests of small businesses  that previously were the group’s foundation.

In an impressively sourced piece that quotes former U.S. Chamber employees, heads of local chambers of Commerce and even former executives of the US Chamber, James Verini points out that the end result of Donohue’s tenure has been to drive away many of the grassroots supporters and local Chambers that the group claims to represent.

Stan Kosciuszko, president of the Butler County, Pennsylvania, Chamber of Commerce, said that his organization left the U.S. Chamber because, “They’ve abandoned the interests of smaller chambers like mine for their larger corporate members.”

The piece goes on to describe how local Chambers from Mississippi to Washington State began to find themselves on the outside looking in as Donohue shifted the organization from an advocate for small businesses to a money-driven machine.  A former U.S. Chamber lobbyist notes:

“I used to get strong complaints and resentment from local officials and politicians. They’d say, ‘You have no business here, you don’t know what you’re doing,’ … But the complaints were rebuffed. The real test was whether we were making money off the effort, and we were.

Almost overnight the U.S. Chamber’s motto went from “the voice of American business” to “show me the money” as Donohue overtly and aggressively reoriented the organization to “do the bidding” of its biggest contributors.

“Donohue was much more hands-on than Lesher in terms of pursuing issues he thought were important—important to making money,” a former Chamber lobbyist told me. Inside the Chamber, this strategy was known colloquially as “views for dues.” According to the former lobbyist, “a large company before [Donohue] arrived would be paying maybe ten to twenty thousand, and overnight would be paying a million dollars. The message was to go after these major companies and get money from as many different funding sources as we could. In return they got greater influence and we did more of their bidding, if you will, on the Hill.

The end result, according to a former U.S. Chamber membership head: Membership down, revenue up.

“Donohue told the membership department to shift away from smaller companies to larger ones who could pay larger dues and get more involved. Member numbers were reduced, but revenue increased,” says Hank Kopcial, who was head of membership services for Fortune 1000 companies when he left the Chamber in 2000.

As money took over, the actual role of the U.S. Chamber in trying to solve small business problems decreased, and doing the “dirty work” of big corporations took center stage.

“Donohue brought in generalist lobbyists who knew about the politics but not the substance of the issues,” says Willard Workman, a Chamber vice president from 1988 to 2004. “They couldn’t go to the Hill and talk about an export-control regime, because they couldn’t spell ‘regime.’”

After all, what good is it to solve a problem that is driving money into the U.S. Chamber?

 “The worst thing to happen to Tom is to have an issue resolved, even to his own favor, because then he can’t raise any more funds on it,” says John Schulz, a former editor at the trade journal Traffic World, who’s covered Donohue for twenty-five years. “There’s nothing he can’t make a dollar on.”

Remember that the next time the U.S. Chamber insists that it supports reform, but just wants to see it “done right.

Despite the reorientation of the U.S. Chamber, the group’s financial status worries many insiders, who see it teetering on the brink.  The U.S. Chamber even is renting out space in its building.

“[A]s fast as the money came in under Donohue, it seemed to go out even faster. According to Mohammed Babah, who was director of the Chamber’s finance department until 2000, the Chamber held significant savings when Donohue took over in 1997 (a fact corroborated by Richard Lesher). Within two years, however, Donohue had spent the sum in its entirety, claims Babah, much of it going to salary increases for his inner circle, his travel expenses, and his lavish parties, thrown in rented spaces such as Union Station and the Air and Space Museum. “By the time I left I was scared. He was just spending and spending,” Babah says. … By 2001, the Chamber was low enough on cash that it took out a $30 million line of credit on its building on H Street. …  For extra income the Chamber now rents its roof to Fox News for the network’s White House remotes. In 2008, the last year for which records are available, the Chamber posted operating losses of over $2.5 million and a net asset loss of over $29 million.

It has worked out fine for Tom Donohue though, with Donohue’s salary increasing in part because of the increased emphasis on bringing in big-dollar contributions at the expense of small businesses.

“Donohue’s salary, the lion’s share of it a revenue-based bonus, has more than tripled since he started.”

After all, Donohue told Verini: “You can never have enough money.”

BP Uses Chamber Front to Break Ethics Rules

Today the Washington Post reported that BP used a Chamber-connected front group to avoid global ethics rules.  According to the Post, records show that BP has been quietly, but actively playing politics in direct violation of one of the company’s own codes of conduct.  And BP’s “largest known single” political contribution went to a group run by the President and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce.  (The California Chamber was also a contributor to the group.)

The Post’s report could just be the tip of the iceberg because as a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, their undisclosed contributions to the Chamber could have also been covertly used to engage in political activity.

Here’s why:

BP is a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but its contributions to the group have been kept under wraps.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber has engaged in directly contributing to candidates, spending money on electioneering ads, backing ballot initiatives, and funding third party groups that have backed political campaigns – all presumably against the BP code of conduct.

BP of course could have instructed that their contributions only go to activities within the company’s global code of conduct, but theres no record of them doing so.

The issue can be easily settled.  If BP intends to live up to its promises of transparency the company could release details about its contributions to and political activities with to the U.S. Chamber.

The Chamber’s Million-Dollar Man and Wall Street Reform

With the clock ticking, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has one more chance to kill Wall Street Reform. This time, Sen. Scott Brown, who voted for the bill when it went through the Senate the first time, is waffling and now signaling that he could vote no on the next time it comes up for a vote.  Wall Street and big banks would be happy with that vote.  So would the Chamber who spent more than $1 million running ads supporting him in his Senate race – more than any other outside group.

But perhaps saying the vote would pay off for both the Chamber and Wall Street is redundant.  None of the sources of this million dollar advertising blitz were disclosed by the Chamber, so nobody outside the Chamber knows the source of the money that went to help Brown.

However, it’s clear what the Chamber’s strategy was in opposing Wall Street Reform: Hide the real sources of the opposition and the funding.  As reported by the Wall Street Journal,

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is launching an advertising campaign of at least $2 million aimed at defeating a central plank of the Obama administration’s financial-regulation overhaul. But there won’t be any mention of banks or Wall Street or insurance companies. … The Chamber’s goal is twofold: move the spotlight off the unpopular commercial banks and mortgage lenders that are the target of the legislation and muster a roster of more sympathetic opponents.”

The Chamber’s investment in the Massachusetts Senate election really was just one more step in that strategy:  Spend a million dollars on ads, but don’t risk hurting your candidate by revealing the unpopular sources of money behind them.

Cynical? Yes.  But will it work?  The Chamber did a virtual end-zone celebration after Brown’s victory, believing that his election spelled the end of health care reform.  The Chamber’s blog trumpeted:

Hell has frozen over and pigs are flying. In the biggest upset since David beat Goliath, Republican Scott Brown has defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in the bluest of blue states, in the safest of safe Senate seats, one that has been held by a Kennedy since 1952. A Republican hasn’t been elected from the Bay State since 1972.

So maybe the Chamber’s million dollar investment in Scott Brown didn’t pay off.

Not yet anyway.

Chamber of Convicts: USCC Wins One for Enron Exec—And Corrupt Pols Everywhere

The Chamber won a big victory yesterday as Jeffery Skilling, the chief mastermind of the Enron collapse, had a portion of his sentence overturned by the Supreme CourtIn December 2009, the Chamber wrote a brief for the Court on Skilling’s behalf, urging the Justices to overturn the law on which the former Enron President’s conviction was based.  A jury convicted Skilling in 2006 of multiple felony charges, sentenced him to more than 24 years in prison, and fined him $45 million for his role in bilking Enron investors out of billions.  Thousands of workers lost their jobs and 401k accounts in the collapse of the energy giant.

But it’s not just Skilling that the Chamber’s argument helped.  Roll Call reports that overturning the law stands to benefit all manner of convicted corrupt politicians, and specifically those involved in the far-reaching Jack Abramoff scandals:

Several former Capitol Hill aides caught in the influence-peddling scandal centered on ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff could see their guilty pleas undone after the Supreme Court narrowed the scope of a pubic corruption statute Thursday.

In particular, prosecutors obtained numerous plea deals in connection with the Abramoff investigation in which individuals agreed to charges of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.

Shortly after the Enron debacle, Chamber CEO Tom Donohue had harsh words for those involved saying, Enron was NOT a failure of the market—it was the failure of a relatively few unscrupulous individuals.  Maybe we should be surprised when the Chamber defends these “unscrupulous individuals” all the way to the Supreme Court.  But how can you be, given the Chamber’s (admittedly impressive) record in helping former Enron executives avoid responsibility.  In the process, the Chamber has also reduced the likelihood that prosecutors are able to hold corporate wrongdoers from accountable for similar violations in the future.

In 2005, the Chamber filed a brief, in a criminal case, on behalf of a Merrill Lynch executive convicted of conspiring with Enron executives to finance transactions, the real purpose of which was to manipulate earnings. According to the Washington Post‘s Steven Pearlstein, “[t]he Chamber’s logic is that the executive should get a light sentence because the sham accounting didn’t really hurt investors because Enron had already gone bankrupt by the time it all came out.”

In February 2005, the Chamber filed a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the criminal conviction against Arthur Andersen for obstructing justice when it destroyed Enron documents while on notice of a federal investigation. That conviction, argued the Chamber, criminalized acts committed by people who clearly lacked criminal intent.  The Supreme Court subsequently overturned the conviction in May 2005, leading the Bush Administration’s Acting Assistant Attorney General to affirm that prosecutors “remained convinced that even the most powerful corporations have the responsibility of adhering to the rule of law.”

Tom Donohue’s Joe Barton Moment

“I am personally troubled about the way we have been treating not only business leaders but – let’s go there – bankers, people that run health-care companies, people that run oil companies. They are being hauled up to the Congress … and beat up like unruly children for the TV cameras.”

Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue, speaking to reporters

Stop me if youve heard this one:

Tom Donohue, the President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, goes in front of a roomful of reporters at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast last month and really steps in it. Says something so outrageous, tone-deaf and revealing of where his bread is buttered, it sounds like a parody.

No, not the quote about how he’s going to “find out a way” to get the government to pay for the BP oil spill clean-up. And not the one about how Congress should not raise the liability cap against BP.

If you can believe it, the third-most insulting thing Donohue said at the breakfast is the quote above. He’s “personally troubled.”  But not, say, for the shrimp boaters and fishermen in the Gulf who’ve lost their livelihoods.  Apparently what keeps Donohue up at nights is the way the Wall Street bankers who crashed our economy, the insurance companies who have jacked up rates and denied coverage indiscriminately, and- let’s just go there- “people that run oil companies” have been forced to explain their behavior toward the U.S. taxpayers in front of their elected representatives.

So if you wondered who in the world Joe Barton and others on Capitol Hill are speaking for when they apologize to BP for asking them to pay to clean up their mess, now you know.

Republican Former FEC Chair Fact Checks US Chamber

The former Republican top dog at the Federal Election Commission is backing efforts to smoke out the anonymous campaign contributors who finance massive advertising buys by groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In a letter to, Trevor Potter,  FEC commissioner from 1991 to 1995, wrote:

“The bill’s point is not needless disclosure of small donors but to capture the large money behind independent campaign advertising.  Based on the legislative language’s equality of treatment, claims of union favoritism seem to be unsupported efforts to discredit the bill and stave off its primary goal: disclosure of those underwriting the massive independent expenditure campaigns that are coming to dominate our elections.”

The U.S. Chamber and its chief lobbyist Bruce Josten have claimed that requiring advertising campaigns to disclose their major donors would “plac(e) more restrictions on business than on unions.”

The US Chamber vs the First Amendment

More than any other group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce serves as the poster child for why we need more disclosure of corporate spending on politics.  If the average person gives a substantial amount of money to a Congressional candidate (or for that matter, political party, PAC or just about any group involved in advocating the election of members of Congress) it must be disclosed.  That’s only fair, because, as the Justice Kennedy recently wrote for the U.S. Supreme Court, disclosure and the First Amendment go hand in hand:

The First Amendment protects political speech; and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.

So why should corporations be able to use the U.S. Chamber to spend millions without disclosing a dime?

In 2008 a single contributor gave the Chamber $15 million.  Two more combined for an additional $11 million — a total of $26 million from just three contributors.  Those three combined for enough to finance more than half the budget of the Chamber’s entire political program.

Who are they?  We don’t know.  The Chamber consistently refuses to provide any disclosure about the identity of its funders.  And with Republican lawyers saying that this year will “open the floodgates” for contributions from the Chamber from corporations, you can bet there’s even more spending on the way this year.  Even Tom Donohue has promised that this will be the Chamber’s biggest-spending year on record.

The Chamber recently claimed that it has “nothing to hide.”  So why is it hiding so much?  And why is it leading to fight to keep the facts on political spending by its corporate donors away from the public?  Corporations aren’t people, they don’t vote and they shouldn’t be allowed to anonymously pump millions into our electoral system.

Chamber President Says His Group Will Find Way to Get Government to Share Cost of Gulf Coast Clean-Up

ABC News’ Teddy Davis reports:

The head of the United States Chamber of Commerce said Friday that his group is not yet lobbying against legislative efforts to raise BP’s liability cap, viewing the issue as not yet “ripe.”

He signaled, however, that his group would figure out a way to get the government to share in the cost of cleaning up the Gulf Coast.

“It is generally not the practice of this country to change the laws after the game,” said Tom Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “. . . Everybody is going to contribute to this clean up. We are all going to have to do it.  We are going to have to get the money from the government and from the companies and we will figure out a way to do that.” …

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