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- 2010 Score Card: Who the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Really Represents
After a historically bad year for the Chamber last year, 2010 did nothing but further tarnish its credibility as the voice for American business. The Chamber’s record this year shows that its agenda has been dictated by CEOs who write it the biggest checks, even when that places it at odds with the interests the small businesses that it claims make up 96% of its membership. On issue after issue in the first half of 2010, the Chamber clearly sided with big business and big CEOs.
Protecting Big CEOs
The Chamber seems to have trouble empathizing with anyone other than the biggest players. CEO Tom Donohue explained, a lá Joe Barton, the distressing plight of big business: "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.” The Chamber puts its money where its mouth is. In December 2009, the Chamber filed a brief on behalf of Jeffrey Skilling, the disgraced Enron President at the center of Skilling vs. United States, urging justices to overturn the law on which his conviction was based. On June 25, the Supreme Court found the law to be unconstitutionally vague and sent Skilling’s case back for consideration.
Protecting Big Oil
The Chamber has urged Congress not to “over regulate” BP and has promised to push Congress to maintain liability caps for companies responsible for oil spills. Further, the Chamber is lobbying Louisiana state legislature to pass a bill that would require the state to pay hourly fees to attorneys in lawsuits against BP. That could significantly increase costs for the state and make it harder to pursue a lawsuit to a just outcome. Finally, the Chamber proved who it really looks out for when CEO Tom Donohue said the American taxpayer should chip in to help pay for cleanup costs of the spill.
Protecting Big Insurance
In 2009 the Chamber spent more than $24 million over a 30-day period on ads that distorted the healthcare bill. One ad said, "Washington wants 600 billion in new borrowing for their health care bill," despite the fact that the Congressional Budget Office projects the bill will reduce the federal deficit over the next 20 years. The National Journal later revealed that big insurance, including Aetna, Cigna, UnitedHealth Group and WellPoint, who had publicly supported health care reform, had secretly funded the Chamber’s ad campaign. After its campaign opposing health care was defeated, the U.S. Chamber began raising money to thwart implementation. Its centerpiece will be a $50 million fall ad blitz to “sway election outcomes around the issue,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
Protecting Big Banks
The U.S. Chamber launched a multimillion dollar ad campaign to defeat the small business protections in proposed financial reform legislation. While it worked to defeat consumer protections, it also worked to protect big banks from restrictions on speculative derivatives trading. With Wall Street so unpopular, it flew in dozens of corporate leaders from outside Wall Street to make the banks’ cases for them. These were only two of the many tactics the Chamber used, and it opposed the bill that came out of Conference despite significant weakening. As Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Neil Wolin said, “Th[e Chamber’s] campaign is not designed to improve the House and Senate bills. It is designed to defeat them. It is designed to delay reform until the memory of the crisis fades and the political will for change dies out.”
The U.S. Chamber consistently casts the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that requires funders of political ads to disclose their contributors, as a partisan, incumbent-protection measure. This although 80% of Americans oppose corporate dominance in elections. The U.S. Chamber is vehemently fighting the act because, as it explained in its Citizens United brief, “[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.” To avoid losing the support of its million-dollar-plus contributors, the Chamber has launched a campaign against the Act (which passed the House June 24, 2010) that distorts the bill’s intent, its provisions and its impact on the Chamber’s activities.