Late last month, for the first time in more than a decade, the US Chamber of Commerce changed the boilerplate language that appears at the bottom of its press releases. The nation’s largest business lobby no longer claims to be “representing more than 3 million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region.” Instead, it claims to be “representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses” (emphasis added). The smallness of the tweak masks its major significance: Representing somebody, which strongly implies a direct relationship, is very different from representing their interests. The Chamber is in effect acknowleging that the “3 million” businesses aren’t actually its members.
Since I began drawing attention to the Chamber’s inflated membership claims late last year, it has been under heavy fire from reporters and activists for routinely misrepresenting its true size. It was forced to admit that its true membership isn’t the 3 million businesses that it has claimed, but something on the order of 300,000. The New York Times and other large publications began using the smaller number in their stories. And yet the Chamber’s press releases went conspicuously unchanged.
Unfortunately, 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. And its new claim to speak for their “interests” (when there are only about 5 million US businesses with payroll) is deeply disingenuous given its staunch opposition to just about every item on the Democratic political agenda. It would be more accurate to say that the Chamber “represents the interests of a small number of big-business donors that profit from polluting the environment and exploiting their workers.” But that has a different ring, doesn’t it?