The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has become a behemoth of political influence, making high-powered and well-funded attempts to reshape policies to fit its agenda. Thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and its trade association designation, the Chamber can leverage significant funds from its 501(c)(6) account — which includes donations solicited from foreign corporations — in campaign attacks against Democrats without ever having to disclose its donors. Despite significant scrutiny and criticism, the Chamber refuses to disclose how dues and other contributions are being spent.
But not all of the Chamber’s members are happy about its opaque political activities. Last week, a coalition of 275 institutional shareholders with $100 billion in assets under management from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) sent a letter to company directors who are members of the Chamber to express deep concern over the Chamber’s “extremely antagonistic position” on the Affordable Care Act. Concerned that the Chamber’s pursuit of an anti-health care agenda — especially with the possible use of “foreign monies” — may damage their reputation, these investors are demanding the Chamber reveal whether company dues are being used in this “ill-conceived strategy,” and that company directors withhold all dues or withdraw membership “until the Chamber refrains from further investment in negative advertising”:
The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and its members…are writing to express our profound concerns about our company’s potential role in furthering the highly politicized agenda of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the 2010 mid-term election and the Chamber’s continued hostile opposition to health care reform. [...]
The Chamber’s punitive campaign, a veritable “hit list” of health care supporters, is counter-productive and explicitly partisan. … As [our company]‘s board representative to the Chamber, it is vitally important to ensure that the company is not seen to be the unwitting supporter of this initiative. We strongly believe that the media attention this issue has generated, particularly surrounding allegations of the co-mingling of foreign monies, poses significant risk to our company’s reputation. Further, we fully expect that you will use your influence to encourage other Chamber members to abandon this ill-conceived strategy.
As concerned shareholders, many of us working in the health care industry, we ask that you take steps to eliminate any risks associated with this issue, and make available all information regarding the use of our membership dues to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for review no later than October 30th. Further, as we believe that dues to the Chamber support the infrastructure which coordinates this campaign, we request that you publicly declare your opposition by either withholding your dues until the Chamber refrains from further investment in negative advertising, or if necessary, withdraw your membership in protest.
This is the ICCR’s second appeal to Chamber members on health care reform. In November 2009, ICCR members “called on Chamber members with stated positions similar to ICCR’s Health Care Reform principles to challenge the Chamber’s lobbying efforts against the passage of health care legislation.”
While the ICCR issues final warnings, Chamber members like Apple have left the Chamber altogether. In a newly-released comprehensive investigative series, Harry Hanbury and GRITtv reveal the ubiquitous role the Chamber plays in American politics and why companies may blanche at its secretive activities.