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US Chamber's Influence and Credibility on the Decline

Pete Altman

Posted October 20, 2009 in Solving Global Warming

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The US Chamber's Credibility Crisis deepened Monday as the federation's extremist position on climate change further eroded its credibility and influence, made it the object of a prank news event and highlighted the US Chamber's hypocrisy on the climate issue.

The day started with an in-depth Politico report discussing White House plans to

"go around the group and [deal] directly with the CEOs of major U.S. corporations,"

because

"We prefer the approach - particularly in this climate - where the actual people who are on the front lines, running businesses, trying to create jobs, come and advise us on policy," senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett told POLITICO in a not-so-subtle effort to portray the Chamber as out of touch with business reality.

What effect is this having on the Chamber's influence? As Politico continues,

"And even some lobbyists are distancing themselves from the business group, opting not to sign on to letters put out by the Chamber or participate in joint advocacy efforts.

"They've taken a real hit this year," said a prominent Democratic lobbyist who spoke on background because he has associates at the group. "In the White House and on the Hill, among the people who run things, they are radioactive."

And its not just businesses. We've raised the question about the US Chamber's representation of local Chamber before. Looks like we're not the only ones. As Politico reported,

"They are totally disconnected from the local chambers in my district," said California Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman. "They're blissfully unaware of any position taken by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce."

Even one of the Chamber's top lobbyists, Bruce Josten, told the Washington post that "he has less real access to Obama's chief aides than he had during any previous administration."

One reason for the Chamber's decline may be the result of what the Chamber's positioning communicates to businesses and lawmakers alike. As Patrick Griffin, a former lobbyist and current director for the Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute in the School of Government at American University told NPR this morning 

What the chamber represents and  how they do business in Washington [represents] a kind of status quo old style."

In contrast, the identities of the corporations leaving the Chamber and criticizing its position on climate change identities are

"inextricably linked to what's possible through American enterprise as opposed to let's just kind of protect our own."

The Chamber's recalcitrant attitude on climate policy hasn't made it a target only for forward-looking companies, lawmakers and the executive branch. Yesterday an activist group known for staging theatrical stunts to highlight corporate conduct issues staged a fake news conference, pretending to be the US Chamber issuing a mea culpa on climate and stating that would henceforth support the Boxer-Kerry bill starting to work its way through the Senate. TPM, Watthead, GetEnergySmartNow, ThinkProgress HuffPo has the story and some video, including the clash between the fake and real Chamber.

The Chamber's widely-reported statement about the incident sniffed "Public relations hoaxes undermine the genuine effort to find solutions on the challenge of climate change."

That's an odd complaint for the US Chamber to make, since it has a rich history of using misinformation to undermine genuine efforts to find solutions. You don't have to take my word for it - just read the letter PG&E sent to the Chamber decrying its "obstructionist tactics", "extreme rhetoric" and "disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort the reality of these challenges."

PG&E isn't making anything up. For example the US Chamber is guilty of

Hey, if the Chamber is saying it is ready to stop using hoaxes, misinformation and deception to wage its war against clean energy for the US, well that would be a big turnaround. One that we'd all like to see. And that's no joke.

US Chamber's Climate Credibilty Crisis Counter:

Quit US Chamber over climate:  Apple, Exelon, PNM Resources, PG&E, PSEG, Levi Strauss & Co*, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

Quit US Chamber Board over climate: Nike.

Companies that say the US Chamber doesn't represent their views on climate: Johnson&Johnson, General Electric, Alcoa, Duke, Entergy, Microsoft, Toyota(?), Royal Dutch Shell,.Seventh Generation

Editorials and columns noting that the US Chamber is damaging its reputation and credibility: BusinessWeek, PRWeek, Fortune Magazine's Marc Gunther, Newsweek, LA Times, Washington Post.   

Local Chambers distancing themselves from the US Chamber: San Jose Chamber of Commerce, Greater New York Chamber of Commerce.

* UPDATE 11/12/09: Levi-Strauss informed us that the company did not leave the US Chamber over climate concerns, as Greenwire had reported. 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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