The U.S. Chamber vs the Facts

It’s not often that a high-ranking official in any administration or political party feels compelled to single out a lobbying organization for lying. But earlier this year, Deputy Treasurer Secretary Neal S. Wolin strode into a U.S. Chamber luncheon and condemned his host for its $3-million campaign to defeat financial reform.“The Chamber has every right to oppose those policies with which its members disagree,” Wolin said, “but the chamber also has an obligation to be honest with you, its members, and with the American people.”

Citing the U.S. Chamber’s multi-million-dollar scare campaign claiming small businesses like the local butcher who offered store credit would be overwhelmed with new regulations, Wolin charged the U.S. Chamber with deliberately misrepresenting the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency. “Opponents have painted a terrifying picture where every corner store is subject to the long arm of the consumer financial regulator,” he said. “That is not true.”

Stop the CFPA

Despite this high profile plea for restraint, U.S. Chamber CEO Tom Donohue was back in the public square a few weeks later with new distortions of Wall Street reform. He claimed in a USA Today op-ed column that “small business” was being asked to “bail out Wall Street again” by a Congress that “wants to prop up failing businesses with a $50 billion fund.” The nation’s largest newspaper called such statements “Orwellian doublespeak.” “No taxpayer money would be involved,” the editorial said. The Chamber aslo vigorously opposed the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA), launching a "grassroots" campaign to "Stop the CFPA," which it called a "big, new, expensive government bureaucracy."

After mischaracterizing health care reform during the debate,  the U.S. Chamber compounded its errors after the bill  was signed into law. Beforehand, the U.S. Chamber ran ads claiming the legislation would add over a half trillion dollars to the U.S. deficit. Not so, said the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Public Policy’s, which pointed to the Congressional Budget Office study showing the legislation would actually reduce the deficit by $138 billion over ten years.

To whip up support for the U.S. Chamber’s $50 million campaign to weaken health care reform after its enactment, CEO Tom Donohue sent a letter to his entire executive board warning that the legislation would result in 16,500 new IRS agents prying into every small business’ books to ensure compliance. “Wildly inaccurate,” said, “a partisan analysis based on guesswork and false assumptions, and compounded by outright misrepresentation.”

In distancing themselves from the truth, U.S. Chamber officials in unguarded moments sometimes blurt out the most outlandish things. In August 2009, U.S. Chamber senior vice president William Kovacs called on the Environmental Protection Agency to stage a “Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century” on the science of global warming, which has been embraced as conclusive by every mainstream climate scientist. "It would be evolution versus creationism," said Kovacs, "it would be the science of climate change on trial."

Within days, the U.S. Chamber was forced to disavow those comments, but not its opposition to the EPA regulating carbon. Noting that “the availability of air conditioning is expected to continue to increase,” the U.S. Chamber’s lobbyists asserted that climate change might even be a good thing.