US Chamber Reveals Policy-Making Process. Sort of.

Yesterday, I noted that the Times picked up a terrific Greenwire story by Anne Mulkern on how the Chamber makes policy decisions.

Looks like the Chamber decided to try to put this one to rest by posting their policies online later that day.

"There seems to be some confusion on how the U.S. Chamber establishes policy. So we pdf-icated our internal booklet "Policymaking Process: Roles and Responsibilities of Committees, Committee Chairpersons, Staff, and the Board of Directors." Enjoy!"

Now the interesting thing about this is the extent to which the process explained therein differs from the process observed out in the real world.

For example, the introduction on page 3 of the booklet explains that

"Largely because of the committee system, the U.S. Chamber reflects the grassroots views of the entire business community when the organization testifies before Congress or regulatory agencies, disseminates reports or statements to the media, or sends comments or letters to Capitol Hill and to policymakers."

That's an interesting claim, in light of the fact that companies have been leaving and criticizing the Chamber recently for failing to reflect the views of the entire business community. As Brad Figel at Nike explained in the Times story,

"We just weren't clear in how decisions on climate and energy were being made," said Brad Figel, Nike's director of government relations. "They're not being made at the board-of-director level, because we're a member of the board of directors. We were not consulted. We're convinced that's not really where the action on climate change is being made."

And said further that

"They told us these decisions were made by staff," Figel said. He said that Nike was told that "this is a longstanding chamber policy," and that "once the policy is established, a lot of these decisions can be made at the staff level."

Here's another one 'principle' from the Chamber's booklet, page 4:

"Everyone involved in the process must help develop positions that benefit the entire business community, rather than any given narrow interest."

Which seems to be a lofty ideal that the Chamber isn't tall enough to reach, given that the Chamber's position on climate policy is much closer to the views of the few coal companies on its board than it is to the views of the many companies on its board that do support developing serious federal climate policy.

And here's the kicker:

"Maintaining the integrity of the process is essential for both moral and practical reasons. Very few members resign from the U.S. Chamber because of policy disagreements. This record can be maintained if members know that their views receive a fair hearing and that the Chamber takes positions through a democratic process."

Which also isn't how Nike's experience went:

"Last spring, Figel said, Nike told the chamber that it wanted to be consulted on climate issues. After that, he said, "there were several decisions that were made by the chamber that we weren't consulted on." One of those was the chamber's decision to file its petition opposing EPA's proposed decision to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act."

Nor was it PNM Resources', whose Jeanette Pablo told Roll Call in May that the Chamber was not hearing views nor using a democratic process:

"In my opinion it is inaccurate to call it a debate, and it is especially inaccurate to say that there was no call for changes to the policy when there were a number of members who stated the chamber policy did not represent their corporate position and they were therefore interested in how to change that policy."

Which might explain why more than a few companies have resigned from the Chamber. Not just recently - it turns out that Levi Strauss & Co. left in 2001and PSEG left last year, both due to differences over climate policy, according to the Times' story.

Throw in Apple's departure this week, Exelon's last week, PNM Resources and PG&E the week before that and it seems fair to wonder whether the Chamber is, in fact, maintaining the integrity of the process.

But companies don't have to leave the Chamber just to say it doesn't speak for them on climate. Nike resigned from the board. Some companies are simply stating for all to hear that the Chamber doesn't speak for them on climate, like GE, Alcoa, Duke, Entergy, and Johnson&Johnson.

Now, I have been saying recently that the Chamber has lost its credibility as a voice on climate change because of the many defections and criticisms from its own members. Some might think that's going out on a limb, but I say its true, and I'm not the only one.

In a fine summary of the evolving crisis, Fortune Contributing Editor Marc Gunther points out that

"What matters is that the chamber can't any longer pretend to be the voice of  business on the climate change issue-the biggest business controversy of the decade. Now that's embarassing."

Yes it is. Even more embarrassing is that there's another voice out there that backs me up on this: the US Chamber.

As the Chamber itself states on page 4:

"The ability to develop policy positions through a democratic process not only permits the Chamber to arrive at a consensus on important issues, but it also gives the organization credibility and respectability that carries substantial weight in the nation's public policy arena."

Uh-huh. And what does the inability "to develop policy positions through a democratic process" give the Chamber?"  

If nothing else, the opportunity for Chamber President Tom Donohue to throw adult-sized tantrums at companies that disagree with the Chamber on climate.


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Running tab of the Chamber's climate crisis:

Quit US Chamber over climate:  Apple, Exelon, PNM Resources, PG&E, PSEG, Levi Strauss & Co.*

Quit US Chamber Board over climate: Nike.

Say Chamber doesn't represent their views on climate: Johnson&Johnson, General Electric, San Jose Chamber of Commerce, Alcoa, Duke, Entergy.

* UPDATE 11/12/09: Levi-Strauss informed us that the company did not leave the US Chamber over climate concerns, as Greenwire had reported.