Chamber Uses Republican Pollster To Fight Wall Street Reform

April 16, 2010 5:39 pm ET — Walid Zafar

The US Chamber of Commerce is a well-tuned political operation with unbridled access to the halls of Congress.  During the Bush administration, they effectively served their role as the loudest cheerleaders of the administration's market fundamentalist ideology.  In press release after press release, the group cheered anti-regulation initiatives.  In fact, their efforts to defeat consumer protection legislation, including in the derivatives market, greatly contributed to the financial meltdown.

Since President Obama was elected, though, the group has openly joined the opposition.  Its efforts to defeat health care reform are well-documented.  The Chamber played an important role in Sen. Scott Brown's victory in the Massachusetts special election and has promised to spend millions to elect Republicans in the mid-term elections.  Last year, the Chamber spent $123 million on lobbying, mainly on defeating Democratic proposals. They've thus far pledged more than $3 million in an ad campaign aimed at derailing Wall Street reform.

In recent days, the Chamber has been promoting a new poll it sponsored, which was conducted by Ayres, McHenry & Associates, an Alexandria, Virginia-based polling firm.  The poll shows that Americans are weary of comprehensive reform, oppose the creation of a new consumer protection agency, and would prefer that existing regulators to do their job.  The two polls in conservative-leaning states, Arkansas and Nebraska, show, according to the Chamber, that "voters want consumer protection without hurting jobs and Main Street." 

Ayres, McHenry & Associates, the group that conducted the poll, has a strong relationship with the Chamber and is politically aligned with their Republican policy positions. According to their website, they work mainly with "associations, corporations, and Republican candidates for elective office."  That by itself is not questionable, but their methodology seems to be.  In March, the New York Times refused to run a Chamber-sponsored poll by the firm because, "Instead of randomly selecting their respondents, the Chamber of Commerce sampled from voter lists, a practice The New York Times and many other media pollsters do not endorse because the lists are often outdated and are generally not representative - they do not include unlisted telephone numbers, for example."

Last year, the Chamber found itself in a controversy after it solicited contributions for an economic study that would be conducted with the conclusion - namely that health care reform legislation would kill jobs - already determined.  James Gelfand, the senior manager of health policy, explained the plan like this:

The economist will then circulate a sign-on letter to hundreds of other economists saying that the bill will kill jobs and hurt the economy. We will then be able to use this open letter to produce advertisements, and as a powerful lobbying and grass-roots document.