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The Chamber, Made

November 1, 2009

In a move seemingly designed to keep its utter humiliation in the news for awhile longer, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has filed suit against the activist group the Yes Men, claiming “commercial identity theft” for the prankster group’s National Press Club press conference announcing that the Chamber had reversed its “troglodytic” stand against any action addressing climate change. As a result of the Chamber’s threat, the Yes Men’s website, and websites of 400 other organizations, were briefly shuttered.

In response, the Yes Men noted that they had prevailed in previous similar legal complaints after stunts targeting the New York Times, Exxon, DeBeers, Dow Chemical and even George W. Bush. Even the generally conservative St. Louis Post Dispatch opined that the Chamber’s suit against the Yes Men was “obtuse” and seemed hypocritical given the Chamber’s role as “an aggressive proponent of tort reform — and ferocious opponent of ‘lawsuit abuse.”

Interestingly, three days before the Yes Men’s press conference, Washington Post Business Columnist Steven Pearlstein ripped the veil off of even more of the Chamber’s “dirty little secrets.” Citing its “rabidly free-market agenda,” Pearlstein noted the Chamber’s awkward “$100 million propaganda campaign” to convince Americans that unregulated corporate greed will get us out of the financial mess created by, well, unregulated corporate greed. He also reveals that:

  • While claiming to represent 3 million businesses, paid membership in the Chamber is in fact about 300,000.
  • The Chamber’s undemocratic structure allows it to work under the radar on behalf of a few corporations with special interests to protect.
  • The Chamber acts as a fundraiser for purportedly “independent” advocacy groups that are really no more than front groups that corporations can use to conduct hardball and dirty tricks campaigns without being directly associated with them.

Corporations that dominate the Chamber include “oil companies, pharmaceutical giants, automakers and other polluting industries,” according to James Carter of the Green Chamber of Commerce. In 2006, Public Citizen filed an IRS complaint against the Chamber and its affiliated Institute for Legal Reform, charging the groups with engaging in fraudulent accounting in order to hide income and flout nonprofit laws on electioneering. In “Bank-Rolling Congress,” a report Public Citizen released earlier this year, the group noted that banks receiving the most federal bailout money had scheduled 70 Congressional fundraisers since Election Day; Chamber PAC and Chamber financial services lobbyists were behind 35 of them.

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