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The Chamber and U.S. Business
The United States Chamber of Commerce building in Washington, seen in August 2009. (AP)

The United States Chamber of Commerce building in Washington, seen in August 2009. (AP)

Apple Inc. reported an incredible 47 percent jump in quarterly profits yesterday, making it — by a long shot — one of the most successful corporations in America.

What Apple is not is a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It’s quit. Pulled out.

The Chamber sounds boring, but it is hot as a pistol right now as an issue in Washington. The biggest lobbying voice in the nation, set dead against much of the Obama agenda. And now, losing high-profile members.

This hour, On Point: The heavyweight battle over the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — and who speaks for American business.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Joining us from Washington is Lisa Lerer, a staff writer at Politico covering the Chamber of Commerce story. Earlier this week she wrote about White House strategy and the Chamber.

Also from Washington, we’re joined by David C. Chavern, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

And from San Francisco we’re joined by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor at Harvard Business School and Chair and Director of the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard University. Her book “SuperCorp: How Vangaurd Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good” was published in August. (Read more about it here.)

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  • roger

    the raison d’être for the chamber of commerce: lobby for the interest of business over the interest of people. like the two aren’t interconnected.

    what is a business without employees?

    and what is a business without customers?

    very flawed logic by the chamber of commerce.

    if the people ever wake up, the chamber of commerce will disappear.

    we no longer mind, because you no longer matter.

  • roger

    oh, and i run a business with no help … thank you very much … from the death chamber of commerce.

  • Nick

    American Banks stopped lending to small businesses 20 years ago. As a result, we are left with only the five large block stores and even if you could get an order from them, they control the prices and pay so little that no one can make any money – except the large block store. Gone are all the small stores and the medium chains – the Bradles, Caldors, Rich’s, Zayres, Ames etc.

    If I walked into a bank ten years ago and told them I wanted to start a business to sell “X”, they would turn me down. But if walked in and said I wanted to start of chain of shops in the Malls selling “X”, they would raise the money even though that chain was destined to fail.

    How this effects America and the consumer is that NEW IDEAS don’t start at the top, they start at the bottom in the smaller and medium size retail outlets because a start-up company can not afford to process an order for the large block companies and exist under their out rageous terms.

    Seen any new ideas lately in the toy world, shoes? Hardware?

    Except for electronics – and most of that is just a new case on an old technology – there is nothing new and the electronics are made in Asia.

    Selling out the Middle Class like the US has damaged us severely and I worry if we can rebuild it.


  • Ellen Dibble

    Roger, sourpuss, without knowing what your business is, I might concur (on a very grand scale) but discount your perspective nonetheless. What does he know. What did I hear lately that made me think the same, that the CoC has to redirect? What has it done to me? They offered health insurance to members once upon a time, insurance that was not cost-competitive, especially considering the membership fee. The local CoC offers consultations, but what is on offer would be mainly references for loans if I wanted to expand (I deduce). They “do” businesses whose trajectory they pretty much know, I think, whose place in the commercial fabric is easy to recognize.
    They offer open get-togethers/get-to-know-each-others for businesses, but when I ask about attending, they scale back; now you need to be a guest.
    I asked another small business person about the difficulties of being a small business, she agreed. I think she was supporting a sort of mentoring service for self-starters on her own, separate from the CoC.

  • Joe

    Looking forward to the conversation and hoping it goes a little deeper (as Tom always does) than the mainstream media stories which have essentially taken the shape of: “big company leaves Chamber, what is the Chamber doing?”

    The fact is that MOST of their members have not left. Nike did not leave, they just surrendered their board position. The Chamber is not taking a self-immolating position. There are major Chamber interests who 1) don’t want a climate bill, or 2) wouldn’t mind one but don’t want it to be in the form that Waxcman-Markey took because they weren’t one of the industries/companies who made it to the table to pull cash out. (http://redgreenandblue.org/2009/09/29/utilities-divided-as-exelon-quits-chamber-over-climate-change/) *disclaimer – link is to a story I wrote).

    In either case, they want the Chamber to wear that objection for them. From a competitive perspective they don’t want to wear the “climate change denier” cloak. IN that respect, the Chamber is serving its function.

    Can’t wait for the show!

  • Brian

    The US Chamber of Commerce is for big business ONLY!

    If you are a small business do not give them your money they work against you.

  • ray

    One of the last bastions of the Good Old Boy Network. We are in a generational power-shift. This is like the church during the time of Martin Luther.

  • Moira

    I hope they touch upon the value of the international side to the US Chamber of Commerce.

  • Bob Johnson

    I’ve owned a small business for 20 years and the Chamber has never represented me. They represent fatcats and rich owners. If there was ever a neo-facist organization it is the US Chamber.

  • wright gregson

    the chamber, even at the local level, has never been a very imaginative group!!!
    here in new england, i watched in horror as the chamber sided unquestioningly with the proponents of urban destruction in the name of modernization.
    broadly speaking, the cities that gave into their siren song are to this day, shadows of their former selves—boring, bland 60s and 70s architecture, cold and uninviting.
    those that took a more thoughtful approach kept much of the old architecture and seem to have been able to rejuvenate their towns by keeping some of the charm and unity and layering of history

  • ToTheCleaners

    Re Chamber: How democratic is it? Do they poll members and then follow their agenda? Or does the leadership make the agenda?

  • Joe Walsh

    Super Corps author just made a great point. Its about the brand and competitive positioning. The Chamber probably is not the place for companies looking to push for a progressive brand ID. But, others will stay because the Chamber will continue to deliver in DC on nitty-gritty.

  • Soren

    Ask if he thinks the Chamber is perfect. Because that’s how it sounds. Ask if we should let the scientists argue whether or not the world is flat or round.

  • Tom Reitano

    I’ll be plain and to the point,
    The Chamber of Commerce sucks from this American Worker’s point of view. Down with the Chamber of Commerce! Protect and Defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights of the United States of America.

  • Declan Sheehy

    Good morning,

    I just heard David Chavern say in relation to the banking crisis that it would have been wrong to speak out about it in the mist of a crisis, yet his organization denies global warming, which is without doubt the biggest crisis we will face this century. Outside of the US many companies are already working with governments to make the necessary changes. The arragance and ignorance of the US Chamber is astounding.


  • Tim

    I’ve been involved in conservation and environmental issues as a professional advocate and organizer for the last 20 years, from air and water issues to energy and climate to public lands. The U.S. Chamber has more often than not adopted and advocated positions that are very anti-environmental with little regard for long term health and welfare of the environment, business employees, and sustainable business practices. Their position on climate today is like everything else, clearly stuck in the mid-20th century with no forward thinking. I know many business owners who will have nothing to do with this organization.

  • Peter

    Climate change is “cyclical deals with the sun?!” Tom, come on!

  • Julian Cole

    The corporation has been astonishingly successful at its most important function: to separate human activity from the human conscience, from humanity’s understanding of its long-term interests. Indeed, the fundamental mechanism is the moral hazard of freeing a corporation from the long-term consequences of its debt: bankruptcy was designed explicitly as a “get of of jail free” card. It is no wonder that the principal representatives of business in public life – the Chamber and the Republican Party have recently displayed themselves as utterly without conscience, indeed as enemies of humanity: of course the quarterly bottom line dictates that business is in favour of a hand-out, is against regulation. But that is simply how stupid the corporation is – necessarily, given its nature.

    We human beings are very proud that we have been able to influence a few important corporations to reconnect with human values. Let no-one mistake: people in general are becoming aware that our most significant enemy is not terrorism, not economic crisis, but the unbridalled consumerism promoted and performed by the corporate world, resulting in utterly disastrous changes in the planet, becoming completely obvious during this coming century. We’ve known about this for a hundred years (swedish thermodynamicist Arrhenius wrote about this in 1903).

    The biggest war ever is starting; people are taking sides; those who are hoodwinked by corporate culture will lose (even if they win, they will lose as the planet becomes uninhabitable), and those who stand on the side of humanity, on the side of the future, must prevail, or we are truly doomed.

    – Julian Cole, Lexington, MA

  • Ellen Dibble

    Wright, who says the Massachusetts cities that followed the siren call of the Chamber denuded themselves of their character in favor of ’60s and ’70s architecture — I know exactly. The Chamber would be an arm of whoever has the most money locally, and they organize to be Great Benefactors. So help us if they are wrong about this or that.

  • Jim

    I’m a small business owner and I find that the Chamber (both nationally and locally) often pursues policies directly counter to my interests.

    Without question the Chamber has an organizational focus in favor of large businesses. They seem to follow the old adage that “what’s good for GM is good for America” — thinking that big business is what drives our economy.

    In doing so they ignore the reality that so many small business owners innately know — that the success of our businesses really on the well-being of our communities and our clients.

    Whatever issue it involves — land-use, environmental policy, climate change, business ethics, regulation of financial institutions and their lending practices, health care reform, consumer financial protection, fair wages, protection of creative work, anti-trust policy, or countless others — my business, my employees, my customers and my community all have interests that run counter to the policies advocated by the Chamber.

    My business is thriving (even in this economy) because we have adopted practices and policies that address a broader and more progressive view of how to succeed instead of the narrow and anti-community views all too often advocated by the Chamber.

  • Joe

    Be interesting to see how P&G, Nike, other progressive leaders cited would react to Chamber’s positions on issues that have more of an impact on companies that rely heavily on overseas labor.

    Cap-and-trade (as embodied by Waxman-Markey) hits coal-heavy domestic industry very hard…guess what, they are opposed to quick action there.

    If there were proposals for sweeping reform to tariffs that would internalize the social and other costs of products that domestic corps like Nike are making overseas, would not we see them similarly entrenched?

  • David

    There is a misconception that the chamber represents small business. ASCII is a 1000 member independant computer dealer association that aligned with the chamber a few years ago. When I started receiving the chamber magazine with an article clearly advocating that members not buy from small independant computer dealers and they should spend their computer dollars with large companies like Dell, one of their biggest advertisers, I lost all faith in the national chamber. At that point, I personally weighed in to get our organization to disassociate with the chamber. We have done so and are better off for it. As far as I can see, the chamber is in there for the largest dollar contributor.

  • Tom Reitano

    Of course it does not matter what party is in power to the Chamber of Commerce. Because both parties are full of ‘ neo-con ‘ types with the globalist agenda. The chamber of commerce will have us all slaves to a few rich people around the world before it’s done doing it’s damage to the middle class and working poor.

  • rob

    Rosebeth responding to the branding email -

    Having worked in advertising and product for major US brands let me just say, it is all about the marketing and branding.

    The frequency and quantity of the communications, the brand expression in the product design, etc. is what builds a brand and it is the visionaries that push these companies (nike and apple) forward and the lack of visionaries in other companies that allow them to push forward and that vision is purely an instinctual anticipation of the market and what drives the consumer.

    In mass communications the push for green is just the latest way to pander to a segment of public concern where they think they can see juicing a few more dollars out of a given demographic. Companies are not and cannot be truly altruistic as Rosebeth suggest because like species that do not exist or compete in a moral structured environment. Competition forces the lowest common effective denominator.

  • laura smith

    Thanks for the hour long ad for those bastions of enlightened thinking and decency NIke, Proctor and Gamble, Apple, IBM! And of course the book “Supercorps”. Just because your show’s paradigm was to present the Chamber of Commerce and then criticize it (justifiably, in my view) doesn’t mean your critic shouldn’t be criticized, meaning made to prove her conclusions (bloated encomiums to several huge corporations, some of which I have read very different opinions of). Oh, and also to be asked what her financial relationship is with those corporations.

  • Frank the Underemployed Professional

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the “U.S.” Chamber of Commerce a staunch advocate of Global Labor Arbitrage–the economic force that is impoverishing America? Doesn’t the Chamber support foreign outsourcing, foreign work visas such as the H-1B and L-1, and mass immigration, both legal and illegal?

    If so, then the Chamber is a traitorous organization and is the enemy of the American people.

  • Ellen Dibble

    “Competition forces the lowest common effective denominator,” says Rob. I guess we all are doomed then. Capitalism will be extinct.
    Was it ever thus? Look back to the 1950s and 1960s, that was a time when companies could be responsible and survive. Then something happened. Now someone will say, no, the ’50s were just as bad. Or that good companies are coming up, “under the radar,” and good initiatives are coming up in great companies like Apple.
    I really question Rosebeth Moss Kanter’s assertion that employees speaking up is real effective. However, employees NOT speaking up probably caused the corporate dysfunction we see today. No one wants to risk a “good job” with benefits in order to make an issue. There is too much at stake. Change will have to come from the voices of those less sheltered, with less at risk — Dick Cheney would call us “dead-enders.”

  • Kobe

    If I were a member of the US Chamber and I heard this buffoon represent me today on Tom’s show, I’d turn in my membership card and run for the hills. This guy was inarticulate, spoke in generalities and failed to directly answer a question. Embarrassing.

  • Brian Sandridge

    The “debate” between the professor and the who-ever of The Chamber of Commerce was most obnoxious. 1. The professor’s statement about how employees are pushing for more “smart” progressive policies was unanswered by the Chamber. The Chamber has been castrated and doesn’t have the stones to say the obvious: that employees are employed by the corporation whose fiduciary responsibility is to produce PROFIT for its shareholders. The professor also mentioned how many companies want to be seen as good “citizens” responsible for the suppliers’ suppliers, and the purchasers’ purchasers! Is this not Corporatist Statism ala Fascism, Mussolini-style?
    Why does the Chamber play into the anti-capitalist’s hands? By accepting their definitions of what a corporation’s function is, is to accept the implicit dismissal of profit-seeking as an end in itself!
    But who needs to make a profit, if you are publicly funded? Like NPR. And this is the direction of every vector in this nation; the delegitimization of the profit motive; and every dissent on principle, is denigrated as “just greed-driven”.
    When you NPRistas and Obamacytes succeed in killing the goose that lays the golden eggs which you believe is all public property to be allocated by politics to those with political in from those without; how will you continue to gather either public money, from taxes that will no longer be collected because there will be less and less income, and donations from elitist contributors who believe that by agreeing to class suicide they themselves will be treated kindly by the sans-culottes? Only recourse to getting labor in a profitless world is through slavery whether disguised as “Volunteerism” or not.

  • Ellen Dibble

    We are learning that some capitalists don’t know the difference between a “profit,” which is great for everybody, and a “killing,” which at the end of the day is only good for the predator.

  • http://www.stopthechamber.org Kyle F. Hence

    If you share the concerns of Apple, other corporations taking a principled position alongside millions of Americans please join the campaign to stop and expose the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at stopthechamber.org [http://www.stopthechamber.org]. The folks there have found the email addresses of all the members of the Board of the Chamber and when you sign up they each get an email asking them to follow Apple’s lead and resign.

    Please take action now to reclaim the country for the people, not for the big corporations.

    Thank you.

    Supporter of stopthechamber.org

    Kyle F. Hence

  • fabian

    “Free enterprise” has got us into our current mess.(Has the Chamber ever endorsed a Democrat?) No to new taxes, no to cap and trade, no to consumer protection…Sounds like the current Republican party. Awarding “Carl’s Jr. “reading awards” is hardly positive education reform.

    It’s wonderful news that companies are leaving the Chamber!

  • Betty Massot

    At a planning/zoning meeting the discussion was to apply emminant domain and close businesses that have been in existance for decades. When the chamber rep got up to speak, I thought he was going to support the
    merchants. But he stood up for the developers and endorsed emminant domain. That opened my eyes to the priorities and values of the chamber of commerce.

  • ruralcounsel

    I thought the program was very interesting, and incredibly frustrating.

    First, I reject the concept advocated by Prof. Kanter that “progressive” is good. She blathered a lot about “change”, but seemed incapable of accepting that change can be both good and bad. What she seemed to be saying was that she wanted the Chamber to be ancillary to the DNC, the Obama administration policy positions, or the CPUSA. If the Chamber can help keep our government from dragging us over the precipice, I say they need to be MORE obstructionist, not less.

    Secondly, her continual referral to Nike and Apple corporate policies as being driven from the employees up is absurd. Nike and Apple and their ilk have the bulk of their manufacturing operations overseas, and will be thus insulated from the impact of climate legislation in this country. This is nothing more than self-interest, pure and simple. If a Harvard Business School prof can’t figure that out…it’s no wonder their endowment has tanked $11 billion so far.

    As for the Chamber, I’m sure Mr. Chavern was correct in saying that the Chamber seeks support from both sides of the aisle in Congress. Business interests, particularly at the national level, are whorish in their pursuit of favoritism wherever they can find it.

    The caller who wondered why local Chambers almost always seem to support Republicans had the cause-and-effect all backwards. The support goes to whomever seems the least likely to pick the pockets of small businesspersons, and that just happens to usually be the Republican candidates. Not always though. Business plays the odds. Ideologically, the Chamber needs to be more consistent and less fluid, and realize that BOTH parties are trying to behave in a confiscatory manner. Politicians are struggling with how to pluck and roast the Golden Goose of American enterprise without killing it. Neither party is the friend of business. Particularly at the national level.

    A smarter Chamber would realize that some issues are too divisive for them to be taking positions about, if they really want to be advocates for their members. There are too many conflicts of interest. Climate change is a loser for them. Health care might be a winner, since a super-majority of their members have similar interests there.

  • Janet

    It’s sad to see the USA feed on itself.

  • ruralcounsel

    Most of this country has been feeding off of the small businesses for decades. Especially the politicians. It’s nothing new.

  • Peter Maloney

    It’s about time the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was exposed for its efforts to subvert the electoral process and export American jobs. Thankfully Tom Donahue himself has admitted his organization’s loathsome agenda and his admonishment to American workers to “stop whining” about lost U.S. jobs may incite the backlash it so richly deserves.

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