U.S. Chamber of Commerce: What Are the Responsibilities of Board Membership?
By Holly Testa, Director, Shareowner Engagement
As the world's largest business federation, the US Chamber of Commerce is a persuasive voice in the public policymaking arena. As the voice of business, the Chamber's stated purpose is to “fight for free enterprise before Congress, the White House, regulatory agencies, the courts, the court of public opinion, and governments around the world.” The US Chamber wields tremendous influence on a wide range of issues, and has access to generous funding from its membership to launch campaigns that can dramatically alter the political and regulatory landscape. According to their website, the Chamber "maintains a professional staff of hundreds of the nation's top policy experts, lobbyists and lawyers, and communicators. Special initiatives covering energy, infrastructure, education and training, and workforce rules help drive the pro-business agenda."
In November of 2010, the Chamber announced a new initiative to raise millions of dollars from its members to start a new anti-regulatory campaign. The focus of this campaign is to weaken, delay or defeat new laws and policies, including those from the EPA that are designed to regulate greenhouse gases. The Chamber also plans to challenge regulations and policies designed to regulate financial markets and protect consumers that will be overseen by the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Last year we reported in the Leadership Blog that several large companies, including Apple, Pacific Gas and Electric, and Exelon, discontinued their memberships because of the Chamber’s position and actions regarding climate change. Other companies have stated publicly that the Chamber does not speak for them on critical issues or declared that their dues cannot be used for lobbying or political spending purposes. In fact, the agenda currently pursued by the Chamber often seems to be at cross purposes with the stated agenda of companies that make up the Board of Directors on key issues, including environment, health care reform, political spending and consumer financial protection.
The U.S. Chamber is fighting to dismantle many of the regulations recently passed to protect our environment and our financial system, yet deregulation was a major contributor to the financial crisis, as was lax regulation in the disastrous Deepwater Horizon blow out and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Although there can certainly be a wide range of opinion as to what constitutes effective and appropriate regulation, in the long run consistent regulation is essential to sustainable ecosystems, fully functioning financial markets, and the long term viability of companies.
First Affirmative has joined Walden Asset Management and a coalition of over 40 other investors with approximately $43 billion in assets to ask that 35 companies who are represented on board of the U.S. Chamber evaluate their role in developing, implementing and promoting U.S. Chamber policies and objectives. According to Adam Kanzer, General Counsel at Domini Social Investments, “The Chamber claims that its board members set policy, and yet the Chamber’s policies often directly contradict the policies of its board members. We’re asking companies to face these contradictions and address them. If they tell investors that a particular policy objective is important to the business, we think it is fair to ask why the Chamber is working to achieve the opposite outcome.”
Posted: February 11, 2011