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ActivismBusinessClimate ChangeGlobal WarmingPolicies & Politics

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Doesn't Speak for Me — How About You?

I’ve been saving stories on 350.org’s “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Doesn’t Speak for Me” campaign in my “most important things to get to” box for awhile now — (yes, I’ve got quite a few things in there).

Anyway, we recently partnered with 350.org to get the word out more on this campaign – so, it seems like a perfect time to share my thoughts on it with you all (as well as a number of great comments from the 350.org crew and others).

As a starter, the basic point is: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce does not actually represent the interests of the numerous small businesses that are its members (or even the interests of many of its larger members). It represents the interests of a handful of major companies in a few industries.

Why?

Because these are the companies that have taken control of the Chamber’s decision-making and lobbying process.

As Bill McKibben writes:

On its webpage, the chamber brags that it’s the biggest lobby in Washington, “consistently leading the pack in lobbying expenditures.”

The group spent as much as $33 million trying to influence the 2010 midterm elections, and has announced that it will beat that in 2012.  That, of course, is its right, especially now that the Supreme Court, in its Citizens United ruling, opened the floodgates for corporate speech (as in “money talks”).

But the chamber does what it does with a twist.  It claims to represent “three million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions.” The organization, that is, seems to speak for a country full of barbers and florists, car dealers, restaurant owners, and insurance salesmen, not to mention the small entrepreneurs who make up local and state chambers of commerce across the country.

At least when it comes to energy and climate, though, that claim is, politely put, a fib.  The Chamber of Commerce doesn’t have to say where it gets its money, but last year a group called U.S. ChamberWatch used one of the last disclosure laws still in existence to uncover a single pertinent fact. They went to the headquarters of the chamber and asked to see its IRS 990 form. It showed that 55 percent of its funding came from just 16 companies, each of which gave more than a million dollars. It doesn’t have to say which companies, but by their deeds shall you know them.

The chamber has long opposed environmental standards.  In the 1980s, it fought a ban on the dumping of hazardous waste.  In the 1990s, it fought smog and soot standards.  On climate change, though, it’s gone pretty near berserk.

As Brad Johnson of Think Progress’ Wonk Room writes:

The Chamber, described by 350.org founder Bill McKibben as the “power plant” of “money pollution” in Washington, DC, has led lobbying efforts to block action on climate change for decades.

Because of its pro-pollution, anti-science stance, the Chamber is threatening American prosperity — its supposed mission. Several companies, including Apple, Exelon, and Pacific Gas & Energy, have quit the lobbying group over its climate denial.

Statements from these top corporations who have publicly spoken out against the Chamber, which I’ve covered in the past, will be the topic of another post on this campaign soon.

The Chamber, like Republican politicians, doesn’t speak for its constituents. It speaks for the richest of the rich. And with all the money the richest of the rich and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have, they can, unfortunately, easily throw enough money at advertisements that make it look otherwise and convince the American public and small business owners that they are for the people. But they are not. And it’s time to show that. The wealth gap in our country continues to grow. The attack on basic rights to clean air, clean water, a livable climate, the health of the American public, and a functioning economy are stronger now than perhaps at any time in U.S. history.

If you haven’t signed the petition above saying that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn’t speak for you yet, go ahead and do so now.

Much more important, as I’ve been discussing at length lately, it’s time more of us got out on the street and show the world that we are not going to sit back as our country and economy are hijacked any longer. Show the world that you really want to see change in the United States by organizing an event in your area now. You can get in touch with the new and improved 350.org to link that up with broader national and international actions as well.

If the people in charge aren’t speaking for us, maybe it’s time we let them know that we’ve noticed.




4 comments
  1. Stacie Shepp

    Great article. Thanks for posting. Check out the Green Chamber of Commerce! We have also partnered with 350.org on this campaign. We are the ALTERNATIVE to the US Chamber that does speak for all businesses!

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