One of the admirable things about Tom Donohue, the president of the US Chamber of Commerce, is that he can be frighteningly honest about what he does. On Charlie Rose this past Friday, he described the mission of the nation's largest lobbying organization like this:
We said, 'We're going to be the reinsurance salesmen. Now, we're never going to sell insurance, but we we're the people that you could come to us, and when you were in trouble, and you're another association, you couldn't get something passed, we were the reinsurance people. You come in, and if you were our members, you were our supporters, we were going to be there for you.'
The "reinsurance" metaphor is apt in that the nation's dirtiest industries certainly see the Chamber as too big to fail. As I explain in the January/February issue, Donohue has transformed the group from a staid business association to Washington's most ruthless political mercenary. The Chamber allows its biggest donors to set its positions on key issues such as climate change, and it will set up a campaign promoting a company's pet cause if it donates at least $1 million annually. In October, Donohue told the Wall Street Journal: "People have criticized us for helping industries or individual companies. What the hell do you think we do? That's our business!"