Last year the Chamber of Commerce’s long-time head Tom Donahue put in his three-years notice, around the same time that the Chamber changed the climate language on its website to claim that “inaction is not an option.” At the time, we suggested that if they were serious about being seen as a good actor on climate, they should explain their past efforts to stall climate action and actually take steps to become a good actor.
Thirteen months later, and the Chamber is no closer to conversion. And according to a recent Daily Beast headline, the organization has “gone MIA in 2020.” But has it? Or has its focus simply shifted from obvious electoral politics to more subtle issue advocacy?
The story answers those questions, and in doing so basically debunks its own premise -- that the Chamber is laying low because it disagrees with Trump and down ballot candidates.
But just because the Chamber has good reasons for not spending on candidates like it has in the past (because of the chaos that coronavirus has brought to campaigns, as well as the need to retain plausible “no, we didn’t support that racist agenda!” deniability) doesn’t mean they’re not “right on track” when it comes to advertising on issues.
That’s what their political strategist Scott Reed told the Daily Beast, that they “believe issue ads are best for our target constituents-- college educated suburban women that believe in the free enterprise system and need added reasons to support Chamber friendly candidates.”
Now, if this whole routine of a powerful conservative lobby group supposedly stepping back from politics because of disagreements with an administration that still largely, though not universally, mirrors its own priorities sounds familiar, it should. Because the Koch network has been running the exact same playbook, cutting back on electoral spending to instead use their money and power to focus on specific issues, which allows them to continue pushing the same sorts of policies, but without being associated directly with the toxic rhetoric and racist policies of the Trump administration.
Fortunately, it doesn’t seem like the Chamber’s ploy is going to work on activists as well as it apparently did on the Daily Beast, as there’s a new student-led group campaigning to Change the Chamber’s position on climate. Explicitly building on past efforts, their approach is to focus on the major corporations that are members of the Chamber, and point out that the Chamber’s anti-climate lobbying is in conflict with the companies' sustainability commitments.
Because companies like Pepsi and Coke are responsive to customers in ways that the Chamber doesn’t have to be, the biweekly twitter storms are a clever way of holding corporations and the Chamber accountable.
What isn’t going to help hold them accountable, though, is another overly credulous story downplaying how their still-massive spending influences the political landscape.