United States Chamber of Commerce

Lobbying in the United States ISSN (identifier) 501(c)(3)
United States Chamber of Commerce
US CoC Logo.png
FoundedApril 22, 1912; 108 years ago (1912-04-22)
FounderCharles Nagel
TypeAdvocacy group
Legal status501(c)(6)[1]
FocusBusiness advocacy
Coordinates38°54′02″N 77°02′16″W / 38.900606°N 77.037671°W / 38.900606; -77.037671Coordinates: 38°54′02″N 77°02′16″W / 38.900606°N 77.037671°W / 38.900606; -77.037671
Area served
United States industry
MethodPolitical lobbying, public relations
Suzanne P. Clark
SubsidiariesUS Chamber of Commerce Foundation 501(c)(3),
National Chamber Foundation 501(c)(3),
Center for International Private Enterprise 501(c)(3)[1]
Revenue (2015)
Expenses (2015)$175,893,100[1]
Employees (2015)

The United States Chamber of Commerce (USCC) is a business-oriented American lobbying group.

Politically, the Chamber usually supports Republican political candidates, though it has occasionally supported conservative Democrats.[2][3] The Chamber is the largest lobbying group in the U.S., spending more money than any other lobbying organization on a yearly basis.[4][5]


Charles Nagel, United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor and founder of the United States Chamber of Commerce

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was founded at a meeting of delegates on April 22, 1912.[6] An important catalyst for the creation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce were two prior business engagements between the U.S. and Japan - In 1908, Eiichi Shibusawa invited the first official, modern day U.S. business delegation to visit Japan. This delegation was led by the prominent banker/economist Frank A. Vanderlip accompanied by sixty business representatives from the West coast states of California, Oregon, and Washington - The goal was to bridge their nations diplomatically and to promote increased business and commerce.[7] In 1909, in appreciation for the fine cordiality shown to the 1908 Vanderlip business delegation during their visit to Japan, an invitation was now sent to Japanese business leaders to tour the U.S. This invitation came from the Associated Chambers of Commerce of the Pacific Coast, whose membership included eight principle cities from western coastal states of California, Oregon and Washington - Their gracious invitation was accepted by the Japanese, and in 1909, Shibusawa, accompanied by his delegation of over fifty of Japan’s most prominent business leaders and notables spent three months visiting 53 cities across America – Their travels were highlighted in many newspapers as they journeyed in a specially outfitted ‘Million Dollar Train,’ provided by the American industrial community. The U.S. government recognized the significance of their visit and sent U.S. representatives to accompany and assist them during their trip. Six representatives of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of the Pacific Coast also accompanied them, to help facilitate the events along the way.[8] Their meetings included many chambers of commerce, tours of factories, power plants, fire departments, port facilities, mines, farms, schools, universities, libraries, theaters, churches, hospitals, and many other facilities. Their main goals to develop friendship and familiarity between the two nations while encouraging bilateral trade and commerce. An important influence of their visit was that it connected chambers of commerce across U.S., which likely motivated them to recognize the benefits of becoming a national organization. President Taft was one of the U.S. leaders that Shibusawa and his delegates met with during their visit.[9][10]

The Chamber was created by President Taft as a counterbalance to the labor movement of the time.[3] John H. Fahey was the first chairman,[11] and Henry A. Wheeler was the first president[12] and Elliot Hersey Goodwin was the first secretary.[13] It opened its first office in the Evans Building.[11] In 1913, President Taft spoke at its first banquet at the Willard Hotel, where he called for the organization to lobby for comprehensive currency legislation and to support the Commission on Economy and Efficiency.[14] During its first year in existence, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's membership consisted of 297 commercial organizations and 165,000 firms and individuals.[15] The U.S. Chamber's staff grew drastically in just ten years of being created. In 1912, there were only four employees. However, by the time 1921 came along, the number of employees had risen to three hundred[16]

During the 1919 U.S. Chamber board meeting, Henry A. Wheeler proposed an idea that surprised many in the Chamber itself. The idea was to create a national headquarters. Wheeler stated during this proposal that the Board of Directors should take this vote very seriously in deciding whether or not to make a national headquarters due to having to pay for it with their own money. Nevertheless, the Board of Directors didn't hesitate with their answer and they began the process to create the headquarters. Wheeler and Edson already had a planned location for where they believed the headquarters should be. The location was facing the White House on the corner of Lafayette Square. The only thing that was stopping them from building were two 19th-century mansions: the Corcoran House and the Slidell house. Nevertheless, the mansions were purchased for $775,000. [17]

The Washington, D.C., headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce occupies land that was formerly the home of Daniel Webster.[18]

Throughout its history, the United States Chamber of Commerce promoted the nation's business and economy. The Chamber's first referendum in January 1913 called for the planning of a National Budget. This calling for a National Budget created The Budget and Accounting Act of 1921. From there, the Chamber worked to aid the U.S. Government during both World Wars and through the Great Depression. During the 1960s, the Chamber thought of the business community in a different way. They didn't have a World War to fight, however, a war against crime and poverty. During the oil crisis of 1973, the Chamber pushed for expanding domestic production. This entailed oil and gas exploration, as well as coal mining, and the Trans Alaska Pipeline. In 1981, the Chamber launched the Let's Rebuild America campaign to help support President Reagan's Economic Recovery and Tax Act. With increased globalization in the 1990s, the Chamber promoted expanding opportunities for the export of American goods and services in hopes of creating jobs for Americans.[19]

Although various chambers of commerce can work with all levels of government, they tend to concentrate their efforts on specific levels: Local chambers of commerce tend to focus on local issues, state chambers on state issues, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce focuses on national issues at the federal government level.[20] They also work closely with a number of youth organizations in the country about the value and role of business in our society today.[21][failed verification]

In 1993, the Chamber lost several members over its support for Clinton's healthcare reform efforts. The Chamber had chosen to support healthcare reform at that time due to the spiraling healthcare costs experienced by its members. However, House Republicans retaliated by urging boycotts of the organization. The Chamber operated its own cable television station, Biz-Net until 1997 in order to promote its policies. The Chamber shifted somewhat more to the right when Tom Donohue became head of the organization in 1997. By the time health care reform became a major issue again in 2010–2012, the organization opposed such efforts.[3]

United States Chamber of Commerce building at 1615 H Street, NW, in Washington, D.C. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In late 2011 it was revealed that the Chamber's computer system was breached from November 2009 to May 2010 by Chinese hackers. The purpose of the breach appeared to be gain information related to the Chamber's lobbying regarding Asian trade policy.[22]

Since a 1971 internal memo by Lewis Powell advocating a more active role in cases before United States Supreme Court, the Chamber has found increasing success in litigation. Under the Burger and Rehnquist Courts the Chamber was on the prevailing side 43% and 56% of the time, respectively, but under the Roberts Court, the Chamber's success rate rose to 68% as of June 21, 2012.[23]

Positions taken

Politically, the US Chamber of Commerce is considered to be on the political right, sometimes described as far right, but is known to take positions that many Republicans, particularly populists, do not support.[24]


Court cases

Lobbying expenditures

The Chamber has emerged as the largest lobbying organization in America. The Chamber's lobbying expenditures in 2018 were nearly 30 percent larger than those of the second-biggest spender, the National Association of Realtors at $72.8 million.

US Chamber Lobbying 2002-2018[59] [60]
Year US Cham. Rank US Cham. Spending Next Highest Spender Next Highest Amount
2018 1 $94,800,000 National Assn of Realtors $72,808,648
2017 1 $82,260,000 National Assn of Realtors $54,530,861
2016 1 $103,950,000 National Assn of Realtors $64,821,111
2015 1 $64,190,000 American Medical Assn $23,910,000
2014 1 $124,080,000 National Assn of Realtors $55,057,053
2013 1 $74,470,000 National Assn of Realtors $38,584,580
2012 1 $136,300,000 National Assn of Realtors $41,464,580
2011 1 $66,370,000 General Electric $26,340,000
2010 1 $157,187,500 PG&E Corp $45,510,000
2009 1 $144,606,000 Exxon Mobil $27,430,000
2008 1 $91,955,000 Exxon Mobil $29,000,000
2007 1 $53,082,500 Pharmaceutical Rsrch & Mfrs of America $22,733,400
2006 1 $72,995,000 AT&T Inc $27,445,497
2005 1 $39,805,000 AARP $36,302,064
2004 1 $53,380,000 American Medical Assn $18,820,000
2003 1 $34,602,640 AARP $20,880,000
2002 1 $41,560,000 Philip Morris $15,200,000

International network

As of October 2010, the Chamber had a worldwide network of 115 American Chamber of Commerce affiliates located in 108 countries.[61] The US Chamber says that a relative handful of the Chamber's 300,000 members are "non-U.S.-based (foreign) companies." It claims that, "No foreign money is used to fund political activities." A US Chamber executive has said that the organization has had "foreign multinationals" (foreign companies) as members for "over a century, many for decades."[62] The US Chamber states that it receives approximately $100,000 annually in membership dues from its foreign affiliates, out of an annual budget of $200 million.[62][63]

Electoral activities

In the 2008 election cycle, aggressive ads paid for by the USCC attacked a number of Democratic congressional candidates (such as Minnesota's DFL Senate candidate Al Franken) and supported a number of Republican candidates including John Sununu, Gordon Smith, Roger Wicker, Saxby Chambliss and Elizabeth Dole.

During the 2010 campaign cycle, the Chamber spent $32 million, 93 percent of which was to help Republican candidates.[64] The Chamber's spending out of its general funds was criticized as illegal under campaign finance laws.[65][66][67][68] In a front-page article titled "Large Donations Aid U.S. Chamber in Election Drive", The New York Times reported that the Chamber used contributions in campaigns without separating foreign and domestic contributions, which if true would appear to contravene prohibitions on lobbying by foreign nations and groups. In question was the Chamber's international branches, "AmChams", whose funds are unaccounted for and perhaps mix into the general collection.[66][69][70][71] All branches, corporations, and members of the Chamber pay dues; the question is how they divide the money for expenses in national campaigns.

The truth of these allegations is unknown, as neither the Chamber nor its detractors can provide any concrete evidence to support or refute the allegations.[72] In reference to the matter, Tom Donohue wrote his council and members on October 12, 2010. He stated, "Let me be clear. The Chamber does not use any foreign money to fund voter education activities—period. We have strict financial controls in place to ensure this. The funds we receive from American Chambers of Commerce abroad, bilateral business councils, and non-U.S.-based global companies represent a small fraction of our more than $200 million annual revenues. Under our accounting system, these revenues are never used to support any political activities. We are in full compliance with all laws and regulations."[73][74][75] Organizations Moveon.org, Think Progress, and People for the American Way rallied against the Chamber at the Justice Department to start an injunction for a criminal investigation.[76][77] The Chamber is not required to produce fundraising records.[78]

President Barack Obama and other legislators asked the IRS and Federal Elections Commission to ensure that the foreign funds that the Chamber receives are not used for political activities.[79][80] Obama criticized the Chamber for not disclosing its contributors.[81] The Chamber has responded that "No foreign money is used to fund political activities." [62] After the election, the Chamber reiterated the nature of Obama's policy dictated action from the Chamber, however the conflict would not be made "personal".[82][83]

In addition to the expenditures from the Chamber's own funds, in 2010 its political action committee gave $29,000 (89 percent) to Republican candidates and $3,500 (11 percent) to Democratic candidates.[84] The Chamber's PAC received a total of 76 donations from individual donors ($200 or more donation) totaling $79,852 in 2007-2008, or an average of $1050 per donation, and three donations per month.[85]

Despite more than $33 million spent supporting candidates in the 2012 Congressional races, Chamber-backed candidates lost 36 out of the 50 elections in which the Chamber participated.[86]

In late 2013 the Chamber announced it would distribute campaign contributions in "10s" of Republican primary elections to oppose the Tea Party movement and create a "more governable Republican party."[87] In early 2014 Tom Donohue clarified that the push would be to elect "pro-business" members of Congress "who favor trade, energy development and immigration reform".[88]


As of the organization's website in 2019, executive leadership of the U.S. Chamber includes:[89]


In April 2009, the Chamber began an ad campaign against the proposed Employee Free Choice Act.[90] Critics such as the National Association of Manufacturers have contended that additional use of card check elections will lead to overt coercion on the part of union organizers. Opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act also claim, referring to perceived lack of access to a secret ballot, that the measure would not protect employee privacy. For this reason the Chamber argued the act would reduce workers' rights.[91]

In November 2009, the Chamber was reported to be seeking to spend $50,000 to hire a "respected economist" to produce a study that could be used to portray health-care legislation as a job killer and threat to the nation's economy.[92]

In December 2009, activist group Velvet Revolution, under the name StopTheChamber, posted a $200,000 reward for "information leading to the arrest and conviction of Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donahue."[93]

Some in the business community have criticized the Chamber's approach to public issues as overly aggressive. Hilary Rosen, former CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, added that "Their aggressive ways are out of step with a new generation of business leadership who are looking for more cooperative relationship with Washington."[94]

Climate change

The climate campaign organization 350.org estimates that 94% of US Chamber of Commerce electoral contributions went to candidates denying the scientific consensus on climate change.[95]

The Chamber's senior vice president for environment, technology, and regulatory affairs William L. Kovacs threatened to sue the Environmental Protection Agency in order to have what he termed "the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century" on climate science before any federal climate regulation was passed in October 2009.[96] Chamber CEO Tom Donohue disavowed the comment, but the Chamber strongly opposed the American Clean Energy and Security Act.[97] In response to this position, several companies quit the Chamber, including Exelon Corp, PG&E Corp, PNM Resources, and Apple Inc.[98] Nike, Inc resigned from their board of directors position, but continued their membership. Nike stated that they believe they can better influence the policy by being part of the conversation.[99] Peter Darbee, CEO of former chamber member PG&E (a natural gas and electric utility company in California), said, "We find it dismaying that the Chamber neglects the indisputable fact that a decisive majority of experts have said the data on global warming are compelling... In our view, an intellectually honest argument over the best policy response to the challenges of climate change is one thing; disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort the reality of these challenges are quite another."[100] In response to an online campaign of Prius owners organized by Moveon.org, Toyota stated that it would not leave the Chamber.[101] The Aspen Chamber Resort Association of Aspen, Colorado left the U.S. Chamber because of its views on climate change, in light of how climate change could hurt Aspen's winter tourism industry.[102]

In 2010, U.S. Chamber president Tom Donohue agreed to work with Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman as they crafted legislation to address climate change; the effort fell apart and failed to produce a bill.[103]

In October 2017, Karen Harbert, CEO of the U.S. Chamber's Global Energy Institute, published an op-ed in USA Today criticizing the EPA's Clean Power Plan, saying, "The plan’s fundamental flaw was that it would have intentionally raised the cost of energy without regard to the impact on families and businesses." Harbert added, "To be clear, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce believes that the climate is changing, and that man is contributing to these changes. We also believe that technology and innovation, rather than sweeping federal mandates, offer the best approach for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the impacts of climate change."[104]

In 2019 the U.S. Chamber adopted the following policy addressing climate change: "The climate is changing and humans are contributing to these changes. We believe that there is much common ground on which all sides of this discussion could come together to address climate change with policies that are practical, flexible, predictable, and durable. We believe in a policy approach that acknowledges the costs of action and inaction and the competitiveness of the U.S. economy.[105]"  They summarized that an effective climate policy should:

The Chamber concluded with this important admonition: "Inaction is not an option. We call on policymakers to seize on an approach that rises to the challenge of climate change, leveraging business leadership and expertise, America’s energy edge and our ability to innovate."[106]

Immigration reform

The U.S. Chamber opposed President Donald Trump's executive order ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The U.S. Chamber's Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley said, "With approximately 700,000 DACA recipients working for all sorts of businesses across the country, terminating their employment eligibility runs contrary to the president’s goal of growing the U.S. economy."[107]

The Chamber of Commerce has come under attack by populist conservatives and others for its support of "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.[108][109] In 2014, Tom Donohue stated the Chamber will "pull out all stops" for the passage of immigration reform in Congress.[110] According to The Washington Post, Donohue did not offer specifics with regard to provisions or bills on the matter, speaking generally about the impact immigration would have on the U.S. economy.[citation needed]


Several organizations have attacked the Chamber for its advocacy, including Chamber Watch (a campaign of Public Citizen). Advocates for independent business, like the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) and "green businesses," like the American Sustainable Business Council, have fought the Chamber on multiple issues. Among major divisions between the Chamber and these business advocates is allowing corporations to engage in electioneering.[111] Oliver E. Diaz says one example of this was when the Chamber spent $1,000,000+ to fund negative campaign ads against him and have judicial candidate Keith Starrett elected instead.[112]

Affiliate organizations

See also


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