Rethink 2: The Chamber's Not Powerful?

It's been a tough week for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. A "lousy" week, writes Pulitzer-Prize-winning business columnist Steven Pearlstein. The Chamber's honesty was called into question when Mother Jones revealed that the Chamber routinely used a figure of 3,000,000 to describe the organization's membership when a more accurate figure is roughly a tenth of that.  The Chamber's response is that, well,  Mother Jones inflates its numbers, but besides that, the Chamber has regularly used both numbers, and accurately. It has 300,000 members but about 3,000,000 organizations are affiliated with organizations that pay national Chamber dues. It represents both types -- direct members, and companies that are represented by direct members -- in its lobbying activities.  That's not an unfair point, although the Chamber is probably going to be quite careful about making the distinction in the future.

But the bad press the Chamber is getting lately isn't about its membership; it's about the group's priorities and its historical and functional links to the GOP.  The Chamber's bent is undeniable. The Chamber responds that, well, they regularly hear from Obama administration officials, too -- and that's true. But the Obama administration gets as much credit for reaching out to the Chamber as the Chamber does in reaching out to Obama; and besides, the an old Washington adage applies: what happens outside the Beltway stays outside the Beltway. The Chamber is a major Washington institution, and it would be foolish for it -- and foolish for the administration -- to totally ignore each other.

Has the Chamber been on the losing side of major policy battles?  The Chamber's response, again, speaks for itself: it doesn't argue with Pearlstein's interpretation but it does argue with Pearlstein's views on the particular issues.  One thing to those who believe that the Chamber doesn't have much clout: it was almost singlehandedly responsible for delaying, if not killing, the Employee Free Choice Act, thanks to its relationship with the administration and its power to pressure lawmakers in the Midwest and the South.  The Chamber can "astroturf" with the best of them.