LOBBYING:

U.S. Chamber executive urges members to stay put amid 'activist' uprising

Companies should ignore calls from "environmental extremists" and other adversaries to resign from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a senior official with the business association implored today.

In a letter to chamber members, the Washington, D.C.-based association's chief operating officer, David Chavern, said that some companies may have received e-mails, letters and other communications from third parties as the chamber lobbies Congress and the White House on climate change policy, health care, union voting rights and other contentious issues.

"Please note that these calls against the chamber are part of a broad-based, multi-source campaign against us being carried out by our normal adversaries -- trial lawyers, activist unions, environmental extremists, etc.," Chavern wrote. "It is a 'corporate campaign' in the classic sense, where groups are looking for public leverage to force us to do things against the best interests of the business community."

Chavern promised to send members additional information about what he dubbed the "scope and objectives" of the adversaries' campaign. Chamber spokesman J.P. Fielder declined to elaborate as to what Chavern meant.

Chavern wrote that the chamber will continue lobbying policymakers to ensure the "best possible outcomes" for the economy and job creation. He closed the letter by noting that he and other chamber staff members are available to provide background about the association's policy positions, as well as assistance crafting responses.

"We intend to continue being successful, so we expect the negative messages to your organization may continue," Chavern wrote, adding an apology for any "annoyance and inconvenience these efforts against us might cause you."

In the past month, PNM Resources Inc., Exelon Corp., PG&E Corp. and Apple Inc. have either resigned from the chamber or announced plans to do so over climate policy differences with the association. Nike Inc. resigned from the chamber's more than 100-member board of directors but vowed to remain a member company.

"Extreme rhetoric and obstructionist tactics seem to increasingly mark the chamber's stance on this issue," PG&E Chairman and CEO Peter Darbee noted in a Sept. 18 letter to chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue. "These reflect neither the true range of views among members nor, in many cases, an honest view of the economic and environmental realities at hand."

In the wake of the defections, environmental and some investor groups have stepped up efforts to pressure the chamber and its member companies to support climate legislation pending in the Senate.

Donohue brushed off the member defections, suggesting in an interview with reporters last week that fewer than a dozen company executives have urged him personally to alter the chamber's climate policy stance. He underscored that the chamber opposes U.S. EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions via the Clean Air Act but supports legislation on climate change at "the earliest possible time" (E&ENews PM, Oct. 8).

Critics charge that the chamber's stated support for greenhouse gas regulations is disingenuous, pointing to the business association's opposition to the House-passed cap-and-trade bill earlier this year.

The Environmental Defense Fund's lobbying arm sponsored advertisements in Washington, D.C., and Silicon Valley newspapers this week that urged the chamber to support a market-based cap on emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. If the chamber does not, "cutting-edge companies are likely to move forward without you," the ads warned.

Tony Kreindler, an EDF spokesman, responded coyly to today's letter to chamber members.

"Chavern's right that it's a corporate campaign -- it's led by some of the chamber's own members," Kreindler said.

Emily Stone, a shareholder advocate with Green Century Capital Management Inc., vowed to continue pressing the chamber and its members on climate policy issues.

On Wednesday, Green Century and 42 asset managers and allied groups urged Alcoa Inc., Whirlpool Corp. and a dozen other blue-chip companies to either withdraw from the chamber or the National Association of Manufacturers, publicly disclose climate policy differences, or refund the portion of their membership dues that is used to craft climate policy positions.

"As investors, we have a strong interest in the bottom line of these companies," said Stone, whose advocacy coalition has a combined $16 billion of assets under management. "These companies have sustainability reputations to protect."

Chamber spokesman Fielder said Chavern's letter is not related to the association's new "Campaign for Free Enterprise," a $100 million effort to create 20 million domestic jobs during the next decade by supporting open capital markets and free trade and opposing stiffer taxation and regulation (Greenwire, Oct. 14). The campaign will include national advertising, political lobbying and mobilizing the chamber's more than 3 million members -- a figure that reflects dues-paying executives and local chambers of commerce.