Take a closer look at role of chambers

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


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