Losing key members and facing political headwinds, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent a record $34.7 million in the third quarter lobbying against the Obama administration’s proposals to overhaul energy policy, financial regulation and health care.
The Chamber’s money paid for more than a dozen lobbyists to visit Congress, the White House and agencies from Agriculture to Treasury. Most of the Chamber’s positions — free trade, unfettered credit card lending, Cash for Clunkers rebates — enjoy broad support among the Chamber’s diverse corporate members.
The Chamber’s lobbying agenda encompasses virtually any issue that affects business — so the group has a stance on virtually every issue. Debates on far-reaching effects, like health care, often occupy the most attention. But the Chamber disclosure also shows the group devoted serious resources to issues important to a smaller number of members, at times when it is unclear what would be the “business” concern such as forcing children to speak English.
Yet, on one broad issue considered critical to the Obama administration’s success the Chamber’s anti-regulatory postures has created a rift. On the question of how to address climate change, the Chamber has seen a growing number of companies defect. They say the self-proclaimed “voice of business” doesn’t speak for them when it denies global warming and lobbies against climate change legislation.
Early and high-profile departures included Apple Inc., Exelon Corp., Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and the Public Service Company of New Mexico. On Tuesday, Mohawk Fine Paper, a privately-held paper manufacturer based in Cohoes, N.Y., joined them.
Last month, Nike Inc., one of the founders of a business coalition whose goal is to “pass meaningful energy and climate change legislation,” resigned from the chamber’s board of directors to protest its stance. But Nike said it remains a member so it can work from within to promote climate change legislation.
White House officials suggest that the exodus shows that the group is out of touch and unable to negotiate the new political climate. The tension led some observers to question whether the Chamber’s influence was waning.
Criticism of the chamber’s stance on climate change took an odd turn Monday when a group of pranksters called the Yes Men held a fake news conference, posing as chamber representatives at the National Press Club in Washington. They announced that the chamber had reversed its position on climate change and would stop lobbying against the Senate’s 800-page climate bill.
In a statement denouncing the hoax, the chamber said it “believes that strong climate legislation is compatible with the goals of improving our economy and creating jobs.”