Elections are just around the corner again and one thing is certain– we’ll be hearing plenty from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. After all it has a cozy, some might even call it incestuous, relationship with every mainstream media outlet. Big money buys big access and the Chamber is one of the biggest spenders on the planet. In fact it is the largest lobbying group in the U.S., spending more money than any other organization on a yearly basis. It is also one of the most conservative.
The Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1912 by Taft as a firewall against what was seen by business interests as an increasingly powerful federal government (remembering Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting administration) and a surging labor movement (Eugene Debs’ Socialist Party won 6 percent in the 1912 election). From the beginning the Chamber’s raison d’etre was to undermine organized labor. It schemed in concert with another extreme anti-union outfit called the National Association of Manufacturers, which opposed efforts to expand workers’ compensation and ban child labor. They were quite successful (with an assist from politicians and police who dutifully ginned-up the Red Scare in 1919), leading to previously unparalleled business prosperity in the roaring 20s. But the party came at the expense of the working classes, the fortunes were made by speculators, corporation owners and bankers, not by those who produced and bought goods. We all know how that ended, with the stock market crash and the Great Depression.
Unfazed after helping run the country aground, the Chamber then tried to block the rescue boats from entering the harbor. It despised the New Deal, accusing Franklin Roosevelt of attempting to ‘Sovietize’ America, lobbying heavily against the president’s entire legislative package. Later, with the onset of war in Europe, these folks were so wrapped in ideological hatred for FDR that, incredibly, they opposed the Lend-Lease program, designed to supply the allies with critical material to fight the Germans (and which ultimately made their business constituents millions). Here is a question worth asking: had it not been for the devastation of U.S. industry in the Depression, and had not so many of the nation’s factories been laying fallow, would the Chamber and its allies have allowed FDR to so easily transition the industrial base to create the “arsenal of democracy” to fight and win WWII?
In the 1940s, as the nation’s economy recovered, so did the Chamber of Commerce. In 1947 it was instrumental in passing the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act, the first major blow in the fight to emasculate a newly emboldened organized labor. In addition, the Chamber established itself as a permanent source of funds for America’s Cold Warriors. In the 1950s, learning from earlier successes, the Chamber was instrumental in bringing us the second Red Scare by lending critical financial and political support to Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch hunt to root out communists in the trade unions, schools and government, ruining countless innocent careers and lives in the process; in the 1960s it lobbied, unsuccessfully, for the killing of Medicare; in the 1980s it campaigned against regulations on nuclear plants and mine safety rules. The list goes on, and on, ad infinitum (ad nauseam). But that’s the price of doing business, right?
Throughout its existence the Chamber of Commerce has consistently fought against healthcare reform, unionization, living wages, workplace safety, progressive taxation, progressive education and environmental action. In the fight against global warming poll after poll shows that a large majority of Americans believe the climate science, they understand that the planet has never faced a bigger challenge, but nearly all attempts at remedial action have been completely blocked in Washington, and the U.S. Chamber is a major reason why. It has lobbied against every effort to cut carbon emissions, most recently celebrating a SCOTUS decision allowing coal plants to continue to foul the air with mercury. Enormous amounts of Chamber of Commerce electoral contributions go to climate change deniers. The NAFTA and TPP trade deals, bad news for American workers and the environment, were practically authored by Chamber lobbyists.
One agenda where the Chamber of Commerce has failed miserably at home in recent decades has been in its effort to support big tobacco. But has that stopped these assassins? Nope, the Chamber continues to see no evil in killing people for profit, it has just pointed its death-ray at new targets:
U.S. Chamber of Commerce Works Globally to Fight Anti-Smoking Measures
So next election season, when I see those campaign ads sponsored by the innocuous sounding Chamber of Commerce, it will be my tipoff to vote for the other candidate. Easy!
You can bet the farm it won’t be bankrolling Bernie Sanders….
Related: How the Chamber of Commerce Established Libertarianism and Milton Freidman