06.14.16

Senators Issue Report on U.S. Chamber of Commerce Lobbying

Whitehouse, Warren, Boxer, Sanders, Brown, Merkley, Blumenthal, Markey investigation finds that Chamber Board do not stand with the Chamber on tobacco, climate lobbying

Washington, D.C. – Tonight, a group of Senators led by Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and joined by Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Edward Markey (D-MA) released findings of an investigation into the lobbying activities of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—the purported voice of America’s business community and the largest lobbying force in the country.  In their report, the Senators examine whether the Chamber actually represents the views of its Board of Directors and their companies on two major public health issues: tobacco use and climate change. 

Through extensive research and correspondence with Board members, the Senators’ investigation reveals a dramatic split between the Chamber’s lobbying positions on tobacco and climate change and the actions and views of its members.  The report shows that not one of the 108 Board members questioned during the course of the investigation openly endorses the Chamber’s lobbying activities on these issues, and that roughly half – if not more – of the companies represented on the Chamber’s Board have adopted anti-tobacco and pro-climate positions that contrast sharply with the Chamber’s activities.  In addition, Board members revealed that they have had no knowledge of or input into the Chamber’s lobbying activities on tobacco or climate issues, betraying a critical lack of transparency in the Chamber’s internal operations. 

In a letter accompanying the report to be sent to Board members, the Senators write, “We found a corporate America far more concerned about public health and the environment than the Chamber’s efforts would suggest.  We identified dozens of companies investing heavily to get their employees to stop smoking because they realize a healthy workforce is a productive one.  We identified companies from all corners of the economy working to reduce their carbon footprints and affirmatively supporting the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan and its international efforts at the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris. 

“Chamber members, many of whom act commendably on their own, undermine their own efforts by affiliating with an organization that actively and aggressively undermines efforts to reduce tobacco use and tries to prevent action to address climate change.  By lending tacit support to an organization that has spearheaded a decades-long effort against policies to address both problems, member companies become de facto promoters of tobacco and adversaries of climate action.”

The report can be accessed HERE.

The cover letter to Chamber Board members accompanying the report is included below.

June 15, 2016

Dear Chamber Board Member,

Last year, following a New York Times investigation into the United States Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to promote tobacco use abroad and to undermine President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, we wrote to you and other members of the Board of Directors asking whether your companies support the Chamber in these endeavors.  Enclosed is a new report summarizing our findings.  The report raises serious questions about the Chamber’s credibility and its actions on tobacco and climate policy, and indicates that the Chamber does not accurately represent the positions, input, and knowledge of its membership.   

The Chamber is the largest lobbying organization in the country.  In Washington, when the Chamber speaks, many elected officials listen.  Presumably, your company is a member of the Chamber because it values the influence that the Chamber has with policymakers in Washington and believes the Chamber represents its interests.

When it comes to two of the most significant public health issues of our day—tobacco use and climate change—we found the Chamber’s activities to be starkly out of step with the stated interests or actions of its board member corporations.  Based on the responses to our letters and our own additional research, we found no Chamber Board members willing to wholeheartedly support the Chamber’s efforts on tobacco and climate change.  In fact, our research shows that nearly half of the Chamber’s Board member companies have adopted policies that are inconsistent with the Chamber’s efforts on these issues. 

Our methodology was straightforward.  First, we asked the 108 companies with representatives on the Chamber’s Board whether they support the Chamber’s efforts on climate and tobacco.  Then, we augmented the responses we received with research of publicly available information company positions on tobacco and climate change, comparing those with the Chamber’s activities. 

We found a corporate America far more concerned about public health and the environment than the Chamber’s efforts would suggest.  We identified dozens of companies investing heavily to get their employees to stop smoking because they realize a healthy workforce is a productive one.  We identified companies from all corners of the economy working to reduce their carbon footprints and affirmatively supporting the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan and its international efforts at the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris. 

Chamber members, many of whom act commendably on their own, undermine their own efforts by affiliating with an organization that actively and aggressively undermines efforts to reduce tobacco use and tries to prevent action to address climate change.  By lending tacit support to an organization that has spearheaded a decades-long effort against policies to address both problems, member companies become de facto promoters of tobacco and adversaries of climate action.

We were disappointed that so many Board members declined to respond to our letters.  Many who did respond either claimed ignorance of the Chamber’s efforts, or sought to align their membership with other issues on which the Chamber lobbies.   Iconic American companies, such as Apple and CVS, left the Chamber when it became clear that membership was working against their corporate goals.  When these companies promote their environmental and public health initiatives, we can have confidence that they mean what they say. 

We hope this report will cause you to take a close look at the Chamber’s positions on tobacco and climate, and at the effects in Congress of your continued affiliation with the Chamber on these issues.  It claims to be a membership-driven, representative organization, but our research suggests it is neither.  

Sincerely,

cc: Tom Donahue, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce