Political Correction

Chamber of Commerce Clarifies But Questions Remain

February 16, 2010 3:27 pm ET - by Walid Zafar

The US Chamber of Commerce is certainly a force to be reckoned with.  Last year, it spent $144 million lobbying Congress on a myriad of legislative issues, the first time that any lobbying effort surpassed $100 million in a single year.  The Chamber's efforts towards institutionalizing corporate greed and misfeasance were successful, if only temporarily, in stalling many of President Obama's bold domestic initiatives. 

But the tactics the Chamber pursued in their effort to win came with the loss of something more important: the group's legitimacy.  Its efforts against health care and financial regulatory reform and its contrarian stance on climate change forced many to ask if the "world's largest business federation" truly represented American business or merely shilled for large corporations.

Part of the Chamber's authority had always been that it portended to represent more than 3 million American businesses, a seeming truism that went largely unchallenged until last October when Mother Jones investigative reporter Josh Harkinson crunched the numbers and figured out that the group's membership was dramatically inflated.  The real number was closer to 300,000.

For months afterwards, however, the group continued to boast its 3 million members.  Sometime last month, it officially changed its position, though only slightly.  Now, the 'About Us' section of the group's site notes that it is "representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses."  The new figure is honest, though not entirely so.  As Harkinson observes, "the Chamber's belated move to correct the record just further muddies the waters. It still doesn't explain exactly who these '3 million businesses' are." 

The group still maintains that 96% of its members are small businesses.  However, its own tax returns don't jibe with that narrative.  In 2008, for example, 1,439 contributions accounted for 90% of Chamber's total revenue of more than $139 million.


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