Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Unmasking the Crooks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

These are not the "glory days" for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And that should be good news for U.S. citizens.

First, came reports that a number of urban chambers and prominent companies are distancing themselves from the "mother ship" because of its right-wing stance on policy issues.

Then came word that the progressive advocacy group Velvet Revolution had launched a campaign called stopthechamber.com. The folks at VR mince no words, calling the U.S. Chamber exactly what it is--a criminal front group.

It hasn't always been that way. Our guess is that the national chamber, and its many local affiliates, once played an important role in promoting business interests--and responsible business practices. But that was before Tom Donohue came along. Writes VR:

The Chamber of Commerce, under the leadership of Tom Donohue, has gone from a well respected trade organization to an extremist political organization dedicated to corrupting American democracy by elevating the profits of big corporations over the well being of the citizens they serve. The most recent example of this corrupt behavior is the Chamber's announcement that it is spending more than $100 million to defeat initiatives to protect the environment and provide affordable health care to everyone.

The Chamber is the biggest lobbying operation in the United States, spending billions of dollars on behalf of big business over the past decade to corrupt the political system. Polluters like Big Coal, Big Asbestos, and Big Oil only need call the Chamber to stop any accountability for their toxic destruction. Wall Street banks and CEOs need only make sure that they have paid their Chamber dues to ensure that they can continue to rip off the taxpayers. And killers like Big Tobacco need only form a partnership with the Chamber to ensure that they will be given immunity from lawsuits that seek accountability for the death and sickness of millions of Americans.

As a resident of Alabama, I've seen firsthand the corrupting influence the U.S. Chamber can have. With the help of Karl Rove, the U.S. Chamber turned our state courts into a Republican playground. Those corporate-protectionist judges overturned most of a $3.6 billion fraud verdict for the state of Alabama and against oil giant ExxonMobil. That money certainly would helped the state deal with the ravages of the Bush recession. But big business must be protected.

VR says a criminal investigation should be launched into the U.S. chamber's electoral activities:

The Chamber was found to have committed fraud and campaign finance violations in Ohio by creating a front group called Citizens for a Strong Ohio and funneling millions of dollars through it to defeat Supreme Court Justice Alice Resnick because she could not be bought. This Chamber practice is widespread and was also used against Karl Rove targeted Mississippi Justice Oliver Diaz, and in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, Michigan, West Virginia, and Arkansas. We are asking the Department of Justice to investigate these illegal practices under RICO and to review whether the Chamber is actually a political action committee rather than a trade association.

Eliot Spitzer, former attorney general of New York, cut to the chase about Donohue and his corporate buddies:

''Tom Donohue has never once found a crime that he couldn't justify, as long as it was committed by one of his dues-paying members."

Some good news has surfaced about the U.S. Chamber. Mother Jones reports that its influence, and membership, appear to be dwindling.

Will Congress and the U.S. Justice Department look into the chamber's unsavory side? Velvet Revolution is pushing for just that.

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