Opposing the Chamber of Commerce’s harmful agenda

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What group has spent more undisclosed, “dark money” than any other on 2016 congressional races? What same group lobbies, campaigns and sues to block efforts to combat climate change?

{mosads}What same group fiercely opposes raising the minimum wage and stronger protections for workers? What same group fights laws and regulations designed to minimize the risk posed by large financial institutions and prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis? What same group seeks to keep consumers from being able to sue companies in court when they’ve been harmed? What same group fights to preserve huge tax loopholes for Big Business, such as corporate inversions that facilitate tax avoidance?

If you said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, then you’re right. While the Chamber is well known in Washington as a big-spending mouthpiece for Big Business, even seasoned observers of the D.C. political scene might be surprised at just how far and wide the Chamber has spread its tentacles.

The Chamber’s ubiquity, combined with the central role it plays in corrupting our political system through more than $1 billion in lobbying and more than $100 million in election spending, is what has led a broad coalition of almost 30 groups to decide to step forward and publicly oppose the Chamber and its harmful agenda by endorsing the U.S. Chamber Watch project’s “Statement of Principles.”

Business groups. Consumer groups. Religious groups. Environmental groups. Labor groups. Progressive groups. All agree that the Chamber’s agenda is bad for America and bad for Americans.

What can the Chamber do to change? The U.S. Chamber Watch “Statement of Principles” lays out six commonsense solutions that will do much to ensure the trade association is actually working on behalf of the broad coalition of businesses it claims to represent:

1. Stop serving as a conduit for secret money from corporations seeking to influence policy and elections. The Chamber’s business model is akin to legalized money laundering. Deep-pocketed industries — think Wall Street, health insurers, Big Oil, Big Tobacco — don’t want the public to know about the millions they spend lobbying and on elections, and so they funnel the money to the Chamber so that the Chamber, which ostensibly represents a broad cross-section of American business, will do it for them without disclosing the sources of the money. Americans have a right to know the true sources of the billions of dollars spent on lobbying and elections, and the Chamber should make itself fully transparent in this regard.

2. Stop fighting efforts to combat climate change. Climate change not only poses an existential threat to humanity, but it also threatens business. Insurance, agriculture and tourism are just a few of the industries that could be decimated by climate change. What’s more, transitioning to a carbon-free economy offers American businesses an opportunity to do what they do best: innovate and develop new technologies that will create high-paying jobs and allow the U.S. to meet energy demand at home while exporting its renewable energy technologies around the world.

3. Stop fighting legislative and regulatory efforts to raise wages for working Americans. Henry Ford, one of America’s greatest entrepreneurs, understood that paying workers a living wage increased productivity and stimulated the economy. The Chamber should recognize that what’s good for workers is good for business.

4. Stop fighting efforts to reduce risk in the financial services sector and prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. Banks play an integral role in the economy, providing credit to millions of businesses of all sizes that allows them to hire, invest and grow. When banks engage in highly speculative activities, they mortgage their ability to fulfill the credit needs of the real economy. The Chamber should prioritize the real economy over casino capitalism.

5. Stop blocking consumers’ access to our civil justice system and fighting consumer, public health, worker safety and environmental protection laws and regulations. A healthy, prosperous middle class has long been the manifestation of the American dream. The Chamber should stop trying to undermine the middle class by attacking laws and regulations that protect and preserve it.

6. Stop defending corporate inversions and other tax avoidance schemes that unfairly advantage Big Business at the expense of small businesses and shift more of the tax burden onto individual taxpayers. Big corporations should pay their fair share just like everyone else.

Some people might respond that asking the Chamber to change is wishful thinking. “The Chamber’s job is to represent business and that’s what it’s doing,” goes this argument. But the Chamber isn’t consistently representing the best interests of business for all of the reasons mentioned above. Moreover, before the arrival of current President Tom Donohue, the Chamber pursued a much more nuanced policy agenda, as evidenced by its support for healthcare reform in the early 1990s.

Critically, business leaders themselves hold nuanced policy views. A recent survey showed that majorities of business leaders supported paid sick leave and increasing the minimum wage. Many also expressed a desire to move away from fossil fuels and more were concerned with the affordability of healthcare than wanted to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And yet the Chamber is opposed to raising the minimum wage and paid sick leave, champions fossil fuels, and doesn’t miss an opportunity to rail against the ACA.

American businesses deserve a Chamber of Commerce whose agenda reflects their interests — not those of a few deep-pocketed industries. If the Chamber under Donohue isn’t capable of doing this, then it should stop pretending to represent American business and own up to what it has become: a big-spending lobbyist with an extreme agenda that has little to do with business and a lot to do with politics.

Dudis is the director of Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch Program.

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