U.S. Chamber of Commerce: The baddest bully in Washington

How the U.S. Chamber of Commerce became the greatest (bumbling) enemy of America

Through lobbying and public statements, the Chamber implied that global warming was a lie peddled by the eco-effete. It fought the EPA's right to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions, and vandalized Washington's every attempt to tame the earth's heating.

"No organization in this country has done more to undermine such legislation," the New York Times editorialized.

The Chamber also did its best to keep Congress ignorant. In 2010, for example, more than 90 percent of the candidates it backed were climate-change deniers.

The U.S. Chamber wanted taxpayers to bail out BP after the Gulf oil spill
Kris Krug
The U.S. Chamber wanted taxpayers to bail out BP after the Gulf oil spill
U.S. Chamber CEO Tom Donohue believes in small government, except when it comes to corporate welfare
U.S. Chamber CEO Tom Donohue believes in small government, except when it comes to corporate welfare

Unfortunately, the organization began to believe its own press releases. That's when William Kovacs, the Chamber's senior vice president for environment, technology, and regulatory affairs, completely jumped the shark. In 2009, he asked the EPA to hold a grand public hearing, which would place the science of climate change on trial. There would be witnesses and a judge. Kovacs called it the "the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century," likening it to the famous 1925 hearing in which fundamentalist Christians tried to debunk the theory of evolution.

Scientifically speaking, it was like the American Medical Association wondering out loud whether leeches should be used to treat cancer. Kovacs's buffoonery backfired.

Apple dumped its membership. Nike left the Chamber board. Even old-line energy companies like Exelon, PNM, and Pacific Gas & Electric chose to bail, as did local chambers as far away as Homer, Alaska.

"Extreme rhetoric and obstructionist tactics seem to increasingly mark the Chamber's public stance on this issue," Pacific CEO Peter Darbee wrote to the Chamber. "These reflect neither the true range of views among members nor, in many cases, an honest view of the economic and environmental realities at hand."

The U.S. Chamber found itself in a familiar place: While such gibberish raised hosannas in D.C., it was more commonly regarded as "talking like a moron" in the rest of the country.

Yet the Chamber has nonetheless built an anti-science faction in Congress capable of stalling any change. Laugh as people might, the Big Gorilla still owns the best fortifications money can buy.

"They're basically one of the most effective anti-climate organizations in the world," says the Aspen Skiing Company's Schendler.

His firm operates one of the largest ski resorts in America, employing 3,400 people. Global warming is its greatest threat. "We're not going to be able to fix climate until we get money out of politics," Schendler says. "And the U.S. Chamber is that problem writ large."

IX. You didn't actually believe what we were saying, did you?

Last year, the Chamber's bulwark began to erode. It neglected to factor in the one unavoidable downside of extremism: In the end, the crazy train always leaves the rails.

Since the turn of the century, the Chamber has spent hundreds of millions of dollars buying a government-is-the-Antichrist Congress. It hasn't seemed to notice that its candidates have gone from centrist businessmen to bomb-throwers of uncertain mental hygiene.

The centrists of the past understood that all of that small-government bluster was merely theater for red-meat voters. They never really wanted to burn down Washington. After all, the Chamber's benefactors — and the Republican Party's — get too much welfare, too many special laws, too many exemptions, and too many sweetheart deals to upend the golden trough.

But the Chamber's new breed of Tea Party candidates appear unable to grasp such nuances. They're more interested in busting out the water cannons. And they've forgotten to stay bought.

The Tea Partiers have repeatedly threatened to shut down the government. They've refused to take up immigration reform, preventing Big Ag, Silicon Valley, and the restaurant industry from getting their mitts on cheap labor. And they've attacked the Chamber's most loyal footmen, like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, for their insufficient vigor in setting Washington aflame.

Donohue's frustration is clear. After a recent breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, a reporter asked him about Ted Cruz, noting that businesspeople might prefer that the Texas senator sit down and shut up. "That might be one thing we could work on," Donohue responded.

These days, the Chamber looks like an organization with buyer's remorse. In the 2012 election, it spent tens of millions tarring Democrats, only to find its message too archaic for modern sensibilities. Most of those Democrats were re-elected.

It spent millions more electing jihadists like Cruz, people who don't seem to care how many fights they pick — or how often they lose — as long as their heroics are nationally televised.

All of these train wrecks have led the Chamber to undergo a reluctant self-examination.

"The Tea Party has become so radical and so polarizing that the Chamber doesn't want to be seen looking like that," says the AFL-CIO's Silvers.

This new self-reflection was evident in November, when another mutant appeared on the horizon. His name was Dean Young. He was a real-estate developer running in the Republican primary for Mobile, Alabama's congressional seat. Only a year before, Young would have been the ideal Chamber candidate: a gay-baiting, shutdown-backing conservative who still believed Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

But this time, the Chamber dumped $200,000 on his mild-mannered opponent, lawyer Bradley Byrne, who won.

After a century of playing with gasoline, it seems the Chamber has finally discovered that moderation is less prone to accidental explosion.

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5 comments
g8way
g8way

This article perfectly sums up why my business avoids joining the Chamber. If you mssed the ugly ads during election season, you were sleeping. The US Chamber is definitely destroying the country with its support for candidates that would rather push dogmatic, ideologic drivel than actually run the country (if that doesn't bring a certain someone to mind, I don't know what would). The local Chambers claim they are not associated with that, but some of the local Chambers push right-wing local policies too. We are going to avoid them until they change their name to [local] Business Network or something, and show they really are not part of the Chamber's Big Business wolf in sheeps clothing.

kmchale61
kmchale61

So Pete can you write an article without being the typical left wing generalizer, let us lump all that do not believe in my views into the Sean Hannity group? You lose readers when you start an article with your political tribe.

Shaun Mason
Shaun Mason

ugh. It's like looking at the world thru a toilet paper roll tube.

jk001
jk001

@g8way This is why business people, particularly small business people have formed Independent Business Alliances.    A  number of area independent businesses formed one called the Metro Independent Business Alliance [ Metro IBA ]    and has done many very good things for the businesses,  the economy and the people of the twin cities area.      I do want to say that I am constantly horrified to see the US Chamber claim they are supporting small independent business with their extremist,  Mega Corporation positions.    If they ever support something that is good for small independent business, it is by coincidence, but they support it because it is good for  Mega Multi National Corporations.    I get regular emails from the US Chamber expressing how much they are working for Small business.   This is pure propaganda since they have no interest in small business,   just those companies that give them obscene amounts of money.       Just for clarity,  readers should know that Small Independent Business provides over 50% of all employment in America and in the last Minnesota House Research study Small Biz provided 90% of new jobs.     So the real job Creators and real job Providers are small business.   The Multi National Corps are only job creators in  third and fourth world countries and the bribed the Congress to give them a tax break for exporting our Jobs and our economy.                               John Kolstad/President, Mill City Music for  30 years.

drlolipop2
drlolipop2

@kmchale61  You haven't effectively refuted any of the points in the article. When you Bagger wingnuts can't attack the substance, you inevitably attack the style. Only the very stupid and gullible fall for your ploy.

 
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