DON’T Support Your Local Chamber of Commerce

One afternoon back in the early 1990s, while I was toiling away in the old Organic Foods Express warehouse, a gentleman carrying a clipboard came walking in and asked me if I’d like to become a member of the local Chamber of Commerce chapter.  I thought, “Sure!  I would like to get to know some like-minded business folks in the area.”  I didn’t know a lot about the Chamber, but generally had a good impression of them.

But then the man ranted about stopping Ted Kennedy from stealing a variety of our rights.  I was surprised by the blatant partisanship, so decided to opt out on becoming a member.

I’ve been keeping a close eye on the Chamber and, even though the Chamber has a reputation for being a wholesome, small-town, all-American apple pie organization, I have come to realize that it is a group that knee-jerkingly opposes just about everything I support.

I have a dear friend who is about as passionate about protecting and restoring the environment as anyone I know.  Being a businessman, he belongs to a couple of local Chamber chapters.  I recently told him he should withdraw his membership, but he pushed back commenting on how the local Montgomery County chapters were different (more progressive) than typical chapters.  That is probably true, but I don’t think the members realize that they are financially supporting an organization that is doing harm.

I was just recently reading an article in Rolling Stone Magazine about global warming.  This particular excerpt is very telling…

In 2009, for the first time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce surpassed both the Republican and Democratic National Committees on political spending; the following year, more than 90 percent of the Chamber’s cash went to GOP candidates, many of whom deny the existence of global warming. Not long ago, the Chamber even filed a brief with the EPA urging the agency not to regulate carbon – should the world’s scientists turn out to be right and the planet heats up, the Chamber advised, “populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological and technological adaptations.” As radical goes, demanding that we change our physiology seems right up there.

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18 Responses to DON’T Support Your Local Chamber of Commerce

  1. Catherine Turner says:

    Thank you for this, Scott. Not enough people pay attention to where their money goes.

  2. Ellen says:

    I just got back from Moms in College Park – where I was able to recycle my Light bulbs, and batteries and make my purchase of superior vegetables and other wonderful goodies. Scott you point out important facts about The Chamber of Commerce. While I am not suggesting that you personally join unless you are motivated to do so – I do think however that we need good business people like yourself to join organizations like these and turn the ship – as it were- while at the same time being innovative and staying true to your mission statement. Thank you for all that you do for your communities. We love Moms and support it. Perhaps we should all be encouraged to write to our local Chamber of Commerce members or call them to voice our concerns.
    Take Care

    • Michael says:

      It is important to know that there is a distinct difference between the National Chamber of Commerce and local Chamber of Commerces. It is an undeniable fact that the National Chamber is a tool for the interests of multinational corporations. It funds evil politicians and liars like Karl Rove.

      The Local Chambers are not neccesarily as regressive as the National Chamber. But I think Scott’s experience with the local Chamber is not unusual. Many small businessman have been conned into thinking that their interests are the same as the mega corporations that are doing things such as denying climate change and promoting the military industrial complex.

      So Ellen’s suggestion is not so naive as you might think. It is not easy to change the minds of people who get their information from the proganda machine ironically named Fox News.

      To learn more about the National Chamber watch the 2 part YouTube video GritTV: The Loaded Chamber.

      • John Tomlin says:

        Not too long ago I had a conversation with a small business owner who was ranting about his “enemy” the Federal government. I asked him how many small businesses had been put out of business by “Big Government” and how many by “Big Business.” He couldn’t identify any put out of business by the government.

  3. John Tomlin says:

    A new business alliance is needed; one that puts social justice and environmental awareness way out in front of profit-oriented “bottom line” thinking. Scott, if you are interested I’d be more than willing to volunteer some time to help you.

  4. Scott says:

    Thanks for the replies, Catherine and Ellen.

    John- thanks for the offer. Years ago, a friend and I started a business group called The Clean Energy Partnership. We billed it as a “green chamber of commerce.”. We had a great board of directors with Seth Goldman (founder of Honest Tea), Doug Duncan (former Montgomery County Executive), Jeff black from Black’s Restaurant Group, among a few others- but I just couldn’t find the time to runit and it fizzled.

    Now, I just try to grow MOM’s, leading by example, and increasing our influence over other businesses.

  5. Thanks for the post, Scott. I couldn’t agree more. Likewise the Farm Bureau, which supports much of the same agenda as the Chamber of Commerce. I hope you’ll continue to support green business (instead of greenwashing) and the small local farmers.

  6. WDCgardener says:

    Great post, Scott. I find the same thing here with the local Silver Spring, MD CoC — I’d love to join, but have to say their opposition to several initiatives my neighbors and I have been fighting for is bewildering and hurtful to all local business in our area. The old-school thinking is not getting us anywhere.

  7. Doug Wendt says:

    Scott is right on that you need to know your local chamber’s policies, positions and affiliations. One should be aware, however, that individual, local or regional chambers are not *necessarily* affiliates of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is by far the most politically involved, issues-driven (and thus controversial) chamber entity. It’s also true that any group of like-minded business people can form a chamber of a particular type — a green chamber, for instance, or perhaps a chamber consisting only of Triple Bottom-Line businesses. We’d be interested in being a part of either or both! For more information on how chambers do and don’t operate, I suggest consulting the ACCE website. Here’s a link to their discussion titled “What is a Chamber?”:

  8. Suzanne says:

    From the Center for Responsive Politics:

    [The Chamber] has repeatedly clashed with environmentalists and others pushing for Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency to act on climate change by setting stricter greenhouse gas emissions limits. Though it hasn’t denied that the planet is warming, the Chamber warns that new limits would hurt the economy and drive jobless rates up.

    Obama’s June 25 speech laying out an ambitious climate change agenda for the remainder of his second term brought immediate pushback from the group. “The president’s plan runs a serious risk of punishing Americans with higher energy bills, fewer jobs, and a weaker economy, while delivering negligible benefits to the environment,” Donohue said in a statement.

    Still, climate change has presented unique complications for the Chamber.

    According to Adam Kolton, executive director for advocacy at the National Wildlife Federation, many of the Chamber’s member organizations are actually in favor of emissions regulations and climate change legislation. But, said Kolton, a few corporations that heavily bankroll the lobby group’s operations — “pocketed interests” that are able to fund Chamber initiatives — have dictated the organization’s position on this issue.

    “The Chamber’s really putting at risk its credibility representing the future of American business, if it’s going to pass the hat and get money from the Koch brothers and coal interests to defend the status quo…. Some of these positions are representing a small, well-heeled group of their members,” Kolton said.

    Some very public clashes have resulted. In 2009, a number of companies, including Apple and Nike, moved against the Chamber in the face of its controversial opposition to emissions limits being considered by Congress; Apple terminated its membership, while Nike left the board. And just last year, the Aspen, Colo., Chamber of Commerce elected to leave the national group, citing the Washington-based organization’s opposition to changes in energy laws.

    The withdrawals continue. Less than two weeks ago, Skanska USA, an affiliate of the Swedish large-scale construction company, announced that it would leave the Chamber due to the group’s lobbying against U.S. Green Building Council environmental standards — yet another example of internal conflict created by the Chamber’s environmental policy.

  9. Robert says:

    As someone else has pointed out, your local Chamber is not “a chapter” of the US Chamber. Chambers of Commerce are local self funded organizations. Some partner with local governments to administer things like tourism or economic development contracts but they are not a governmental entity. They are membership organizations of mostly businesses trying to connect fellow businesses. A business association. A volunteer tried to sell you a membership. I’d urge ALL of you on this thread to visit your local Chamber and ask to speak to their CEO. They’ll tell you what the Chamber does. All in all Chambers are not partisan. They want their communities to thrive and businesses to succeed. Please investigate for yourself before jumping to conclusions. Scott’s compost pile is a platform of manure for publishing this garbage in the first place.

  10. Chamber Exec says:

    What you said is actually a very misinformed statement. No chamber is the same. There are some chambers that refuse to get involved politically. There are other chambers that are highly involved due to their members requesting that. Most chambers are pro-business and provide legislative advocacy for small business owners who don’t have the time to fight for legislation that helps their business. A good chamber always informs their members of issues that are going on and seeks the members Input. When people don’t support the chamber, then their voice isn’t being heard.

  11. John Tomlin says:

    I have often said, and will continue to say that the principal enemy of small business is big business. For gosh sakes, look at the likes of Walmart, et al. Chambers of Commerce generally function as the mouthpiece/lobbyist for big business. That’s where the money goes. We need a real sea change in this country to take the big moneyed interest out of controlling our future.

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