Fact Checking the Chamber of Commerce

Leaders of the embattled US Chamber of Commerce went on a media blitz this weekend, granting lengthy interviews to Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the LA Times, and Politico. They repeatedly sought to portray the group as a moderate business association ambushed by a liberal White House, weaving a narrative that mostly went unchallenged. Here are six cases where a bit of fact checking would have revealed the Chamber’s spin:

Who is “raising cain”?

The Spin: “Let’s be clear: We haven’t raised up the cain,” Chamber lobbyist Bruce Josten told Fox. “It came from their side of the street.” In other words, the Chamber was just doing what it always does when it was attacked out of nowhere by environmental groups and the White House.

The Reality: The Chamber’s current predicament is at least partly the result of its own extreme rhetoric. After Chamber VP Bill Kovacs called for a “Scopes Monkey Trial of the 21st Century” on climate change, companies began leaving the group. The Chamber has also sponsored incendiary TV ads mocking cap and trade legislation, a health care public option, and the White House’s proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

Who is being unreasonable?

The Spin: The White House is engaged in a “name calling campaign” against the Chamber. “In their words, not mine, it’s again to try to neuter and marginalize us,” Josten told Fox.

The Reality: The term “neuter the Chamber” comes from a Politico headline. White House officials never used the term nor called the Chamber any other names. The President and his officials have only disagreed with some of the Chamber’s claims, questioned whether the group represents the US business community, and expressed a preference for bypassing its well-funded lobbyists in favor of speaking directly with corporate CEOs.

Who is ignoring their constituents?

The Spin: In ignoring the Chamber in favor of speaking directly with CEOs, the White House is missing the perspective of small businesses.

The Reality: Fewer than 10 percent of the companies represented on the Chamber’s 118-member board of directors represent small businesses or local chambers. The rest represent large regional, national, and multinational corporations. The only way to join the board, which controls the Chamber and its policies, is to be voted in by sitting board members. In contrast, the board of the National Small Business Association is elected by its 60,000 dues-paying members. Unlike the Chamber, the NSBA has not taken a position on climate legislation or the Consumer Financial Protection Agency because its members don’t agree on how the proposals will affect them.

What is the Chamber’s position on climate change?

The Spin: When the Chamber called for a “Scopes Monkey Trial” on climate change, the Wall Street Journal reported, “its goal was not to debate overall climate science, but to force the EPA to demonstrate, as a matter of law, that carbon is dangerous.”

The Reality: The question of whether carbon is dangerous goes to the heart of climate science. The Chamber has suggested that carbon dioxide could be beneficial because it helps plants grow, and that a warmer climate might be a good thing because fewer people die when winters are shorter. It has also defended Alan Carlin, calling this EPA economist who questions the scientific consensus around climate change a “whistleblower.” ThinkProgress has more.

Who supports the Chamber?

The Spin: Toyota has privately told the Chamber that it is as supportive as ever of the group.

The Reality: While it’s not possible to confirm of deny the claim (Toyota has not yet returned a call), Toyota has publicly distanced itself from the Chamber’s stance on climate change. UPDATE: Even so, the Chamber might be right on this one. Questioned by the Guardian today, a spokeswoman for Toyota did not deny the Chamber’s claim and said her company was not inclined to support a cap and trade system. “If there is a cap and trade system, we think it should be far upstream,” he said. She did not clarify what she meant by upstream. (So much for all those fired-up Prius owners).

Who does the Chamber represent?

The Spin: The US Chamber “can legally represent 3 million people,” Chamber president Tom Donohue told the Wall Street Journal.

The Reality: The Chamber often purports to “represent 3 million businesses” based on the fact that they’re enrolled in local chambers of commerce. But most of the businesses aren’t direct members of the US Chamber, nor do local chambers have any effective oversight of the national group. The Journal didn’t explain the legal basis of Donohue’s claim, and a Chamber spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.


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