Monday, October 19, 2009

How big is the U.S. Chamber, really?

Amidst all of the high-profile exiting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by major companies opposed to the trade association's climate change stance, the Chamber's president, Tom Donahue, has consistently pointed to the more than 3 million members still left.

Evidently he has created some invisible friends.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that, in fact, the Chamber has nowhere near the 3 million members it claims to have. Instead, about 1/10th of that number actually claim membership and many of those do not do it proudly. (From Mother Jones via WaPo):
the chamber acknowledged that its actual paid membership is only 300,000, including several thousand local chambers of commerce whose own membership was used in calculating the inflated 3 million figure.

Moreover, when Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones contacted some of those local chambers, their leaders took pains to distance themselves from the national organization, whose policies, they said, they had no hand in shaping and with which they frequently disagree.

"They don't represent me," said Mark Jaffe, chief executive of the Greater New York Chamber.
And the Chamber has had no trouble perpetuating the lie and hiding the truth. Also from Mother Jones, by way of the Huffington Post:
Since 1997, the "3 million" figure has appeared in print more than 200 times in newspapers and broadcast outlets of all sizes…

By contrast, the 300,000 figure, which appears nowhere on the Chamber's website, is cited in the news database Lexis-Nexis only three times -- infrequently enough to be mistaken for a typo.”
So that means that 90 percent of the members Donahue claimed the Chamber proudly had do not actually exist and that many of the real ones wish they didn't. Maybe the CEO's of the companies that left were just tired of Donahue's nose hitting them at the board meetings.

Watch out, it's about to get longer. The Post continued:
To hear it from Donohue and his minions, it's not that the business community opposes financial regulation, or universal health care or controlling greenhouse gases -- it's just opposed to every credible idea for doing something about them. And rather than focus on working constructively to improve legislation, the Chamber's default strategy is to try to kill it outright through exaggeration, misrepresentation and outright lies.
Even more damning may be these comments, from a different Washington Post story, showing that really, this is all about money:
"Donohue said the chamber board did not vote whether to support or oppose the House-passed emissions cap-and-trade bill. He said that opposing the legislation was a staff decision because it did not meet the principles that the chamber already had approved through its committee and board process."
But two paragraphs later, a source detailed what that really means:
"'Companies with the largest contributions tend to hold more sway with chamber staff on setting final policy positions,' the official added."
Eventually the lying has to stop, or we might just have to give the Chamber a name suitable to its actions: "Big Oil".

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