A new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that two Missouri paycheck deception bills are not necessary to protect workers and they would limit the free speech and political spending of unions and organized workers, while allowing unlimited corporate spending on political causes.
Both federal and state laws already protect the political rights of private- and public-sector employees who join or are represented by unions. Paycheck deception supporters say their new bills are necessary to stop workers from being forced to pay to support a political cause they oppose, but current law already does that. S.B. 29 and H.B. 64, the bills in question, are not designed to enhance individual rights but instead make it harder for employees to authorize payroll deductions for union use—even if the uses are not political. And, the bills are designed to foster conflicts between workers and unions. Not surprisingly, the bills, supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Federation of Independent Business and the American Legislative Exchange Council, would do nothing to change the current legal prerogatives of corporations and their lobbyists to freely spend on politics without complying with any particular process whatsoever.
From the EPI report:
“These ‘paycheck protection’ proposals reflect corporate lobbies’ unabashed attempts to enact a broad corporate economic agenda by crippling the ability of workers to participate in the political process,” said Gordon Lafer of the EPI. “Because the labor movement is the only vehicle through which millions of working Americans collectively pool sufficient resources—in the form of both financial contributions and organized volunteer efforts—to serve as an effective political counterweight to this agenda, eliminating union political activity promises to leave the corporate lobbies with an increasingly free hand to shape economic policy at the expense of workers.”
The Senate committee in charge of the issue, the Revenue Laws Study Committee, voted to move the proposal forward on Tuesday. It will come to the General Assembly for a vote when they reconvene on January 30.
The proposal cuts the weekly maximum benefit by 35 percent, (even though the statewide average benefit is much less). It also reduces the number of benefit to a sliding scale between 12 and 20 weeks, even though the average length of unemployment is at an all-time high of 40 weeks.
“No state has ever cut their maximum benefit so severely,” said George Wentworth, senior attorney at the National Employment Law Project. Bill Rowe of the N.C. Justice Center called it “one of the most radical, if not the most radical [unemployment] proposals in the country.”
Republican legislators say the cuts are needed to retire North Carolina’s $2.4 billion debt to the federal government. But if North Carolina employers paid unemployment taxes at roughly the national average, there would be no debt – and no need for cuts. Despite claims that the plan is “balanced,” the responsibility for paying down this debt falls almost completely on unemployed workers, the majority of whom lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
The real reason legislators are pushing this plan? They are doing the bidding of the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, the state arm of the national right-wing lobbying group. The Chamber cooked the plan up last year, and their political action committee donated to the campaigns of 17 out of the 20 members of the Revenue Laws Study Committee.
The most absurd moment of the public comment period came when the lobbyist for the N.C. Chamber of Commerce addressed the committee to praise the plan, a plan that he helped write in the backrooms over the last few weeks. Funny he didn’t mention the secret meetings in his remarks.
Contrary to what has been said by some of our lawmakers, the proposed changes to our insurance system are dramatically out of line with our neighboring states, and would in fact move North Carolina toward the bottom of state rankings.
Here are more details of the proposal in question, via the News-Observer.
How low would the Chamber of Commerce and its representatives go to ensure their domination of American politics? Check this out: a lobbying firm that represents the Chamber asked private security firms to find ways to hurt unions and progressive groups.
ThinkProgress finds that their proposals included:
an entrapment project. The proposal called for first creating a “false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information,” to give to a progressive group opposing the Chamber, and then to subsequently expose the document as a fake to undermine the credibility of the Chamber’s opponents. In addition, the group proposed creating a “fake insider persona” to “generate communications” with Change to Win.
One of the targets was Mike Gehrke, a former staffer with Change to Win. Among the information circulated about Gehrke was the specific “Jewish church” he attended and a link to pictures of his wife and two children.
One thing that even the dim bulbs in the media should understand by now is that there is in fact a class war going on, and it is the rich and powerful who are waging it. Anyone who does anything that empowers the little people or that threatens the wealth and power of the plutocracy must be destroyed…
You have to understand the mindset- they are playing for keeps. The vast majority of the wealth isn’t enough. They want it all. Anything that gets in their way must be destroyed…
And they are well financed, have a strong infrastructure, a sympathetic media, and entire organizations dedicated to running cover for them.
It’s hard not to notice the tidal wave of money the Chamber of Commerce has poured into influencing elections and policy decisions. But that’s not all—they’ve also significantly influenced the Supreme Court to favor corporate interests in its decisions.
On the center’s 30th anniversary in 2007, Carter G. Phillips, who often represents the chamber and has argued more Supreme Court cases than any active lawyer in private practice, reflected on its influence. “I know from personal experience that the chamber’s support carries significant weight with the justices,” he wrote. “Except for the solicitor general representing the United States, no single entity has more influence on what cases the Supreme Court decides and how it decides them than the National Chamber Litigation Center.”
A study prepared by the Constitutional Accountability Center, a liberal group, examined the center’s success rate in the Supreme Court. It found that the positions supported by the chamber prevailed 68 percent of the time in the Roberts court, compared with 56 percent in the last 11 years of the Rehnquist court, a period without changes in the court’s membership.
Doug Kendall, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, drew a different conclusion, saying the numbers proved that the Roberts court increasingly sided with corporate interests. He also said the study documented “a sharp ideological divide that did not exist before 2005.” In the last 11 terms of the Rehnquist court, the five more conservative justices voted for the chamber’s position 61 percent of the time, while the four more liberal justices voted for it 48 percent of the time
In the first five terms of the Roberts court, the corresponding bloc of five more conservative justices voted for the chamber’s position 74 percent of the time, and the four more liberal justices 43 percent of the time.
The Chamber, naturally, thinks this overstates its influence. You know, when it’s being covered in the New York Times, as opposed to in 2007 when doing a victory lap.
Want an in-depth look at how the Chamber of Commerce operates? Grittv has it:
Meanwhile, Think Progress details some of the tactics the Chamber has used to push back against criticism:
– Manipulating Google And Blogs: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce retains public relations giant Fleishman-Hillard for much of their online communications work. Fleishman-Hillard VP Pat Cleary posts on the Chamber’s blog, and says he works closely with conservative bloggers through RedState. Other Chamber lobbyists collaborateroutinely with conservative bloggers through the Heritage Foundation’s Bloggers Briefing to help get the message out for business lobbyists. As Cleary has told conferences of business lobbyists, he helps trade associations like the Chamber buy AdWords to promote the business lobby’s message. For example, when anyone Googles the words “US Chamber” and “foreign,” they see a link to the Chamber’s false response that it receives only $100,000 from foreign affiliates.
– Paying For Television Pundits: GOP lobbyist John Feehery has appeared on cable television to attack ThinkProgress’ reporting, taken to Twitter call President Obama a “business-hating socialist” for calling attention to this story, and even penned an article in The Hill newspaper to defend the Chamber and lie about our investigation. Feehery never mentioned the foreign corporate direct donations to the Chamber’s 501(c)(6). But more importantly, neither The Hill nor any of television outlets Feehery appears on disclosed the fact that Feehery’s public relations firm, The Feehery Group, counts the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as one of its clients. Shortly after our story broke, Feehery was hired by another public relations/lobbying firm, Quinn Gillespie, which is also a client of the Chamber. Moreover, Fox News’ parent company is an active member of the Chamber, and hate-talker Glenn Beck met with the Chamber’s second in command earlier this year to plot the 2010 election. While Fox hosts and Beck have endlessly defended the Chamber’s secret money, there has been no disclosure of the network’s financial ties to Chamber lobbyists.
– The Chamber Owns Fake News Sites: As the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard reported, the Chamber owns a variety of news websites in West Virginia, Illinois, and elsewhere, while also maintaining a wire service called Legal Newsline. All of these websites posture as independently owned and objective journalism outfits, and do not disclose that they are fully owned subsidiaries of Chamber lobbyists.
Your local Chamber of Commerce does not necessarily agree with the political positions taken by and negative ads run by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – and increasingly, local Chambers want people to know that. AlterNet has a rundown.
“I now have a standard e-mail saying we’re not a chapter of the U.S. Chamber that I have to send out a couple of times a week,” Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce president Timothy Hulbert told Washington Monthly.
Earlier this month, the Greater Hudson Chamber of Commerce in New Hampshire disaffiliated from the U.S. Chamber. Executive vice-president Jerry Mayotte told the Nashua Telegraph, “We didn’t like the fact that the U.S. Chamber was supporting particular candidates. We don’t think it’s good business practice to do so.”
The nearby Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce has never been a member, telling the Telegraph, “We cover a very large area, and in our towns, there is a broad range of political viewpoints.”
“It’s a matter of practicality,” Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce executive director Dan Bookham told the Free Press, a Midcoast Maine newspaper. “We have a diverse membership of 600 people, from Tea-Partiers to Marxists. It would just cause disruptions and arguments in the business community.”
The more extreme the US Chamber of Commerce gets, the more its false claims to representing small business are stripped away. Remember that in 2008, just 19 contributors gave the Chamber a third of its revenue. Remember how it claimed to represent 3 million businesses, but it turned out the real number was more like 200,000. Remember how the Chamber’s position on climate change was too extreme for Exelon, Apple, Pacific Gas & Electric.
The Chamber represents the very biggest and greediest corporations. By contrast, the vice-president of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce says:
“This is just suspect,” says Pinto. “The whole activity of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is suspect, and their motives are suspect, and their donors are suspect. My donors are not suspect: my donors are Sabrina’s Cafe and Isgro’s Bakery. Our 5,000 members are concerned about trash and crime. That’s the stuff we have to deal with on a daily basis.”
Among the many lies told by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently, chief Chamber lobbyist Bruce Josten said that his organization’s foreign affiliates, called AmChams, are only “comprised of American companies doing business abroad in those countries.” In fact, the Chinese AmCham is comprised of Chinese firms like Northern Light Venture Capital; the AmCham in Russia is comprised of Russian state-run companies like VTB Bank; and, the AmCham of Abu Dhabi is comprised of UAE state-run oil companies.
The ties between the AmChams and the U.S. Chamber are deep. In addition to sharing staff members, the Chinese AmCham has worked closely with the U.S. Chamber and the Chinese government to sponsor a series of seminars in America to teach American businesses how to outsource jobs to China (called the China Grassroots Program).
Think Progress has a picture of an invitation to an event in Jacksonville, Florida to teach companies how to outsource to China. So far, the Job Tracker includes three companies that have exported jobs from the Jacksonville area, and 86 that have had mass layoffs.
Our Job Tracker has gotten a bunch of media coverage, and surprise, surprise—corporate types commenting about it don’t like it much.
In the Wall Street Journal:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in response to the AFL-CIO database, countered with a blog post by its vice president of International Policy, John Murphy, who described as a “myth” the argument that creating a job overseas automatically eliminates one in the U.S. “It’s plain that some hope to turn concern about offshoring of jobs into votes,” he wrote.
It’s true. We care about votes and the Job Tracker is intended to sway voters. Like, first and foremost, the voters in the Senate who blocked the Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act the other week. We think it would be great if those elected officials would look at Job Tracker data and realize what a negative effect outsourcing was having on their constituents.
Just as dealings with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats soured last summer, six of the nation’s biggest health insurers began quietly pumping big money into third-party television ads aimed at killing or significantly modifying the major health reform bills moving through Congress.
That money, between $10 million and $20 million, came from Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint, according to two health care lobbyists familiar with the transactions. The companies are all members of the powerful trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans.
The funds were solicited by AHIP and funneled to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to help underwrite tens of millions of dollars of television ads by two business coalitions set up and subsidized by the chamber. Each insurer kicked in at least $1 million and some gave multi-million dollar donations.
This was at the same time the insurers were claiming they supported reform.
For the record, that’s enough money to provide up to 3,000 families health insurance for a year, if the insurance companies had any interest in actually providing health care to people.
This reflects poorly on everyone involved. The Chamber of Commerce – ostensibly a principles interest group with its own constituency and goals – is revealed to be nothing more than a front group for hire. And the insurance companies and AHIP not only lied about their support for reform (as we’ve known all along), but lacked the courage of their convictions to put their money into their opposition publicly.
The nation’s largest business lobby may be much smaller than it appears. A review of archival press releases suggests that the US Chamber of Commerce—which will not disclose the names of its members—has vastly overstated its size in recent years, helping to make its controversial positions on health care and climate change look like a consensus of American businesses.
In testimony before Congress, statements to the press, and on its website, the Chamber claims to represent “3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions.” In reality, the number is probably closer to 200,000.
In February 1997, the Chamber’s membership figure mysteriously jumped from 200,000 to 3 million, where it has remained ever since.
Apparently, the Chamber’s claim to “represent” the 3 million individual members of local chambers is solely based on the fact that those local chambers are members of the national group—even though many of those chambers’ individual members do not have a direct relationship with the national body. To get an idea of the tenuousness of this connection, consider the American Highway Users Alliance. Like the Chamber, the AHUA has worked to undermine climate legislation, and counts the American Automobile Association as a member, which itself has 51 million members. The AHUA has never pretended to speak for those 51 million drivers.
A day after Mother Jones exposed the US Chamber of Commerce’s inflated membership number, the Chamber quietly backed off the figure in its public statements. At a Washington press conference Wednesday morning unveiling the Chamber’s Campaign for Free Enterprise, Chamber officials repeatedly cited a membership of 300,000. That’s a tenth as many members as the Chamber claimed a day earlier, when a press release for the Washington event said the Chamber represented “more than 3 million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region.”
Investigative journalism can really get things done…