The whole truth requires that people know the ”other side’” of the Chamber of Commerce, so I write in response to the Oct. 19 letter to the forum, “Chambers help everyone in Hawaii,” from the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, Sherry Menor- McNamara.
Granted there are many good people who have been involved with the chamber but let’s look at their foundation and actions past and present and some of the reasons state chambers across the country have been disassociating from the U.S. Chamber in recent years.
Menor-McNamara states in her letter that “85 percent of the chamber’s membership consists of small businesses.” But most of their funding comes from a small percentage of big donors. The U.S. Chamber is dominated by oil companies, pharmaceutical giants, and other polluting industries.
And big money calls the shots. Even though most of the CEOs on local chambers voted to support raising the minimum raise, 48 state chambers have publicly opposed minimum wage increases and paid sick leave policies. Both measures are explicitly opposed in the U.S. Chamber’s 2016 policy platform.
Corporate interests are influencing the priorities of the state chambers of commerce even when that agenda contradicts the opinions of their local business members, rather than giving them voice, as Menor-McNamara touts in her letter.
She writes that the chamber works to “reduce the over-regulation that consumes time, adds cost and threatens entrepreneurship …” This is code for making profit priority over the health and welfare of the community.
In 2009, the Chamber of Commerce lobbied against climate change legislation introduced by Congress, as it might be ”economically disruptive of business and industry activities.” A number of companies left the chamber because of its stance on climate change regulations, including Apple who stated, “We would prefer that the chamber take a more progressive stance on this critical issue and play a constructive role in addressing the climate crisis.”
Nike also criticized the chamber’s challenge of the US EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions as air pollution by stepping down from their board of directors. The chamber spent considerable resources in 2010 getting over 100,000 books about the potential perils of government regulation of fossil fuel into the classrooms across the country.
The chamber has been anti-union and opposed legislation that would make it easier for people to join unions. Working with corporate front groups like the Coalition for Democratic Work Place, they have spent more than 30 million on a TV advertising campaign attacking the Employee Free Choice Act supported by unions.
The U. S. Chamber has created the RECORD, a multimillion-dollar media weapon in its campaign against lawyers who file individual’s suits against big businesses.
In 2010 two national watchdog groups filed complaints with the U.S. IRS asking the agency to investigate the Chamber for criminal fraud and money laundering. The groups alleged that the chamber illegally funneled donations from a wealthy charitable foundation into its political battles.
In 2010 there were charges that six of the largest health insurance companies in the US had been secretly funneling millions of dollars to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to oppose health reform. A chamber official in a deposition acknowledged that the chamber had collaborated with at least six outside groups to advance its agenda to avoid garnering unwanted critical attention.
The chamber has longstanding ties to the tobacco industry. U.S. Chamber has worked to block anti-smoking efforts worldwide. The New York Times documented in a 2015 story, “From Ukraine to Uruguay, Moldova to the Philippines, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its foreign affiliates have become the hammer for the tobacco industry, engaging in a worldwide effort to fight anti-smoking laws of all kinds according to government ministers, lobbyists, lawmakers …”
Currently, the chamber spends more money on lobbying than any other interest group. The U.S. Chamber has close ties to American Crossroads and other right-wing groups. They are not bipartisan. In 2010, 93 percent of reported expenditures went to support Republicans. The 6 percent spent to support Democrats was spent on generic, non-candidate specific ads.
“The U.S. Chamber is one of the largest conduits of dark money in the country, but it refuses to disclose its donors,” says Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.
Frank Knapp, who leads the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce which has declined to affiliate with the national group, states, “They get the majority of their funding from big businesses. That’s who drives their decisions.”
His group has supported the health care bill and financial reform and favors legislation to curb global warming.
In lieu of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s opposition to Climate Action, and obstruction to important public health issues and issues of economic and social justice, we’d like to know ask the members the Hawaii state and local chapters of the chamber to question their affiliation and if the chamber is representative of their priorities and values. Then we can have a clearer picture if they truly ”help everyone in Hawaii’” and not just big business interest. And current members may want to question if the chamber is representative of their priorities and values.
Laurel Brier and Pamela Burrell for Apollo Kaua`i Climate Action Group