Everyone's Mad at the Chamber of Commerce

The lobbying group for American businesses has been taking a lot of heat lately

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The last month hasn't been a good one for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce--a massive lobbying organization representing hundreds of thousands of American businesses. The Chamber lost the membership of Nike and Apple for ramping up opposition to climate change legislation, while the public outcry has heated up over the last few weeks. Why? Attackers are annoyed by its ham-fisted handling of criticism, clumsy representation of clients' interests, and oppositional stance on climate change legislation.

  • Republican Stooge, Misrepresenting the Washington Post  Tuesday, the Washington Post editorial board accused the Chamber of misrepresenting the Post's views on the transportation plans of Virginian gubernatorial candidates. An ad funded by the Chamber portrayed the Post as supporting the Republican candidate's policies. "What is most astonishing," write the editors,
about the Chamber's ads is ... that they are at odds with the interests of business itself--supposedly, its own constituents ... [A] coalition of 17 of the biggest business groups in Northern Virginia explicitly embraced new taxes as the only rational means of getting roads built; in other words, it echoed [the Democratic nominee's] own stance ... So not only is the Chamber of Commerce indifferent to the truth; it's also hostile to the business community in the most populous and economically dynamic part of the state. In positioning itself as an arm for the Republican Party, the Chamber has cast doubt on its own credibility.
  • Heavy-Handed Strategy With Opposition When a group called the "Yes Men" hosted a fake press briefing announcing the Chamber was changing positions on climate change policy, the Chamber promptly sued the group for trademark infringement. "[T]his is a really dumb move," writes Techdirt's Mike Masnick. "[Y]ou know what gets [the Yes Men] a lot of attention? Getting sued. Of course," he adds, "given how backwards the Chamber's views on intellectual property are, perhaps it's no surprise that they wouldn't realize how such a plan would backfire."
  • 'Doesn't Have Much to Offer' "For generations," writes Slate's Daniel Gross, "the Chamber of Commerce has held itself out as the sensible, we-know-better voice of business: Follow the policies we--i.e. American business--approve and advocate, and the nation will grow and prosper. We'll have more jobs, higher wages, rising asset values, and widely shared prosperity." But between 2001 and 2008, Gross argues, Chamber-friendly policies were pursued, with little positive effect. The Chamber is a little behind the times, he suggests, quoting CEO Thomas Donahue as saying "This is a great place. If you walk on our lawn, we're going to turn on the sprinklers." Gross's response: "Because nothing indicates with-it-ness so much as a 71-year-old guy telling the kids to stay off the lawn?"
  • Too Much Spin Josh Harkinson at the liberal Mother Jones unsurprisingly takes issue with many of the Chamber's facts. For example: He's tired of hearing how the Chamber represents small businesses. "Fewer than 10 percent of the companies represented on the Chamber's 118-member board of directors represent small businesses or local chambers," he says. "The rest represent large regional, national, and multinational corporations."
  • Climate Change Position Just Stupid   Calling the Chamber "out to lunch," green business guru Andrew Winston argues that "tackling climate change is good for business and improves the competitiveness of our industries and the country as a whole." Sadly, he says, "the Chamber is waging a campaign to make it seem like the entire business community is against climate policy. That's absurd. A growing number of large companies have actually joined groups ... to lobby specifically for more environmental legislation."

If it's unsurprising that green pundits anti-Chamber, it's equally unsurprising that the famously pro-business Wall Street Journal editorial page is pro-Chamber. Here are some counterarguments from the Journal:

  • Getting Attacked by White House The White House, writes Kimberley Strassel, is going after the Chamber of Commerce CEO Donahue as if he were a "right-wing ideologue." He's not, argues Strassel. The Chamber is not purely Republican: "If anything, the Chamber has irked conservatives with support of key aspects of the Obama agenda."
  • Apple, Nike, and Other Green Defectors Wrong Those companies that left the Chamber after it refused to endorse climate change-countering policy, contends the Wall Street Journal editorial board, "are putting green political correctness above the long-term interests of their own shareholders." They point to Al Gore being a member of the Apple board.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.