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Local Chapters Revolt as U.S. Chamber of Commerce Tries to Buy the Election for Republicans

The U.S. Chamber's rabidly partisan tone and top-down control are turning off some local chambers that do not want to be affiliated with right-wing politics.

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The U.S. Chamber’s increasing conservatism has alienated members before. In 2009, its energetic denial of climate change prompted Apple to disaffiliate. Nike and Johnson & Johnson wrote letters of protest. As the U.S. Chamber’s profile gets higher and its rhetoric uglier, more local chambers and members may decide to send their dues money elsewhere.

“This is the backbone of their credibility,” says U.S. Chamber Watch spokesperson Christy Setzer. ”They traffic off the good name of these local businesses and local chambers. But will it stop them from pursuing right-wing policies? I don’t imagine that it will. The U.S. Chamber has essentially become an extension of the extreme right-wing of the Republican Party.”

Companies and organizations interested in a more traditional trade association will be an increasingly awkward fit at the U.S. Chamber. For example, the American Public Transit Association (APTA), which represents public transit agencies nationwide, sits on the group’s Committee of 100. New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) are all APTA members and thus indirectly represented by the U.S. Chamber.

“Transportation is a bipartisan issue,” says APTA spokesperson Virginia Miller, who was not sure how much the organization paid in annual dues to the U.S. Chamber. “So we work with different organizations to move the transportation agenda forward.”

The MTA, SEPTA and the WMATA did not respond to requests for comment.

The U.S. Chamber does not seem to mind alienating local chambers of commerce. A major opponent of campaign finance reform, the U.S. Chamber operates much like the post- Citizen’s United political system: one dollar, one vote.

“The truth be told is that the American political system is a pay-to-play system,” says Jaffe. “The only thing we require is disclosure: who’s behind the issues advocated by the U.S. Chamber? Who’s influencing their voice? Is it good for planet earth, good for small business? Or is it only good for one company that’s paying a lot of money to influence it?”

Daniel Denvir is a journalist in Philadelphia.

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