The Real Red Herring

In recent weeks, the public and its leaders have been closely scrutinizing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is the target of an investigation into the possible use of charitable funds for political purposes, and now many are calling on the Chamber to prove the foreign funds it collects and deposits in its general accounts aren’t used to influence our elections.

Pretty serious stuff, and it would be nice if the U.S. Chamber would take it seriously.

But rather than shed light on its top-secret activities, the Chamber pulls out the tried-and-true “attack” playbook. Let’s take a look.

The U.S. Chamber’s M.O.

1. Attack the Messenger – Preferably by describing it as a left-wing bogeyman.

- U.S. Chamber Watch, which filed the IRS complaint raising questions about possible tax abuses, is “a front group that “oppose[s] free enterprise.”

- Think Progress, which reported on the Chamber’s solicitation of foreign funds, is “a George Soros-funded, anti-business blog.”

2. Claim that Any and All Investigations are Attempts to Distract the Feeble-minded Voter (Who should just be lapping up the millions of dollars worth of political ads the Chamber is feeding him).

- Calls for certification of campaign funds are “an attempt by some Washington politicians to distract, dodge, and deny their records.”


- Allegations are “unfounded, deceitful, and completely erroneous,”  and “a diversion by people upset about their grim prospects in the upcoming election.” 

3. Play the “Poor Me” Card. That’s a tough sell for the nation’s single largest private lobby, which outspends the next greatest group on the hill by a factor of five (and that group is Exxon Mobil – no slouch itself in the lobbying department). But the Chamber loves to label itself an underdog.

-          Though its ties to conservative media powerhouse News Corp may afford it some leeway in the press, when confronted with allegations of wrong doing, the Chamber is a victim of “a smear campaign aided and abetted by the media.”

-          Questions into the Chamber’s top-secret organization are designed to “intimidate the voice of free enterprise by making baseless allegations.”

-          Legislation that would require groups to disclose the funders of political activity – answering the questions groups are asking about the Chamber’s financing once and for all -  is an attempt to “take business and its representative organizations out of the advocacy process.”

4. Blame the Media

-          Reiterate the false narrative that there is a “common view in the media that business is inherently suspect.” 

-          Though its ties to conservative media powerhouse News Corp may afford it some leeway in the press, when confronted with allegations of wrong doing, the Chamber is a victim of “a smear campaign aided and abetted by the media.”

  1. 5.       Failing that, Blame the Big, Bad Unions.

- Claim that labor outspends business in elections. In fact, this election cycle, conservative groups wield a seven-to-one cash advantage against progressive groups. In 2008, the pattern held, with business groups far and away outspending other voices in election ads.

6. Spend More Money.

-          Don’t let a little thing like serious ethical and legal questions interfere with your goal of taking power in Congress from continuing “full speed ahead.”

-          Get “[y]our guys together and say ‘OK, we’re going to put more money in.’”

-          Roll out unprecedented ad blitzes. The Chamber’s October plans are staggering -  “in a year of big buys from outside groups, this one is the biggest one-week rollout yet.”

-          Basically, drown out your opponents with wads of anonymous cash. Today, a Chamber said of the candidates it opposes, "If they didn't like this week, they're really going to hate the rest of October.”

7. Do Not, Repeat, Do Not Take the Concerns of Citizens Seriously.

-          “Feel no obligation” to prove yourself “to ThinkProgress or anybody else.”

-          Without answering questions about your foreign funders, hold a meeting with them, as the Chamber planned to do with Bahraini bankers today.



Just In

Whose opportunity does U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue talk about when he talks about opportunity?

The Chamber’s policies might give the largest corporations the opportunity to grow, but that is often not the same thing as growth and opportunity for the American people. After-tax corporate profits in the third quarter topped 11 percent of GDP for the first time since the records started in 1947. But everyday Americans aren’t doing so well, with real median household income declining 4.4 percent since 2009.

When the Chamber opposes increasing minimum wages to coincide with growth in productivity and the economy overall, one must ask whose growth and opportunity the Chamber is pushing for.