Unbeknownst to most casual observers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is no friend of American small business. In fact, odds are that your local Chamber is not even a member of the national organization, or if they are, they often butt heads along Main Street v. Wall Street lines. The U.S. Chamber is largely funded by a handful of Fortune 100 companies whose positions frequently clash with the best interests of small business owners and entrepreneurs.
The Gilded Chamber
On its website, The Chamber says it represents “the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions. Our members range from mom-and-pop shops and local chambers to leading industry associations and large corporations.” But in 2012, only 1,500 entities provided 94 percent of its contributions, and more than half of its contributions came from just 64 donors. So the bulk of The Chamber’s funding seems to come from a small number of large, well-funded corporate concerns.
One can only assume that when the CEO of one of those 64 companies calls for Chamber action, the interests of the other 2,999,936 members are given short shrift.
BP is on the line!
Apparently BP has The Chamber’s number, as earlier this month The Chamber filed what’s known as an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting BP’s bid to renege on the Settlement Agreement the company signed with hundreds of thousands of businesses throughout the Gulf. This filing has set up the conflict to end all conflicts, as The Chamber has chosen to support one very large, very foreign, and very convicted corporate felon, over the interests of hundreds of thousands of not so well heeled local Chamber of Commerce members and small business owners.
Fortunately, local Chambers are starting to take notice. Many Gulf Coast Chambers of Commerce have sent letters to the U.S. Chamber expressing disgust. Others tell me that they have or soon will cancel their membership in the national organization. And the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce has passed a resolution condemning the hypocrisy of The Chamber.
Greater Pensacola said in its resolution that it “fundamentally disagrees with the United States Chamber of Commerce” and that “the appropriate role of the United States Chamber of Commerce is to support all businesses of the United States, not just large businesses or businesses in the petroleum industry.” The Pensacola Chamber continued, saying that “the United States Chamber is actively seeking to harm Greater Pensacola Chamber members” and “the filing is in direct conflict with the interests of … the business community of Northwest Florida.” Finally, the resolution concludes “the Greater Pensacola Chamber wishes to express its strong condemnation of the filing of the United States Chamber of Commerce in supporting the efforts of a foreign company – who plead guilty to multiple felonies in regard to the 2010 oil spill – to evade responsibility for its conduct.”
The criticism did not stop in North Florida. Ben Johnson, President & CEO of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce said in response to a member’s email inquiry on the subject:
“I can assure you that the New Orleans Chamber, with all of the other Chambers along the Gulf Coast, have stated their frustration and disagreement with the National US Chamber position with the BP settlement. Local Chambers were not contacted concerning the national Chamber’s position concerning the BP issues. Every Chamber that I know along the Gulf coast has called, emailed and written their opposition to the national Chamber concerning its position on the BP issue. It has been and is a frustrating experience.” – Ben Johnson, President & CEO of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce
And from the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce in Florida:
“The BP Oil Spill Settlement, announced nearly two years ago, was designed to compensate those who were financially impacted by the spill. The settlement laid out, in the clearest of terms, who was eligible to make a claim and receive compensation for their injuries. Payments under the settlement were uncapped, ensuring that all those who qualified under its terms would be paid for their damages. BP promised that it would use this settlement to help make things right in the Gulf, and indeed, many of our local businesses took BP at its word and submitted claims.
“BP, however, seems to have decided that it is no longer happy with the deal it struck, and has filed multiple appeals in federal court attacking its own settlement in an attempt to change how claims are being paid. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has inexplicably chosen to stand with BP and support the oil giant’s efforts to alter the settlement, and has urged a federal appeals court to make changes to the settlement that will ultimately work to the detriment of businesses throughout the Gulf Coast.
“While it is not clear why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has chosen to support a multi-billion dollar foreign corporation over thousands of American businesses, we want you to know that the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce stands with its local community. The Gulf County Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to supporting local businesses in their efforts to build a healthy economy and improve the quality of life in our community. We believe that everyone harmed by the BP oil spill should receive compensation for their injuries, and do not support BP’s efforts to back out of the settlement to which it agreed. We know that many of you are still hurting from the spill, and it is on your behalf that we urge BP to honor its commitments. After all, a deal’s a deal.” – Gulf County Chamber of Commerce Letter to BP, The U.S. Chamber & local members
Deal? What deal?
Particularly frustrating to local Chamber members and Gulf small businesses are BP’s seemingly bald faced lies told in order to win judicial approval of the Settlement Agreement and to induce as many people as possible into participating in same. By choosing to pursue a claim under the terms of the Settlement, claimants had to waive their rights to sue BP the conventional way. Natuarally, the more people BP could convince to opt for the Settlement claims program, the less the company would have to face in a court of law.
BP’s rosy misstatements about the claimant-friendly and non-contentious Settlement claims process were numerous:
“The settlement is placing large sums of money today and tomorrow and next week into the hands and the communities of the Gulf, the victims of this tragic event. We believe that it’s fair, just and reasonable, and that this process should not be interrupted or stopped based upon the objections of the few for the purpose of injuring the many who need to be compensated now.” – BP Lead Attorney, Richard Godfrey
“BP made a commitment to help economic and environmental restoration efforts in the Gulf Coast, and this settlement provides the framework for us to continue delivering on that promise, offering those affected full and fair compensation, without waiting for the outcome of a lengthy trial process.” – BP CEO, Bob Dudley
“Like any settlement, the settlement that has been reached to resolve this litigation is a compromise, a yielding of the highest hopes in exchange for certainty and resolution. The settlement stands alone, however, in its substantive generosity to the class members and in its procedural fairness.” – BP Lead Attorney, Richard Godfrey
BP’s disingenuous change of heart was not lost on Judge Barbier, who has overseen this litigation from the start:
“BP not only took the position that causation under the Settlement was determined exclusively through [the formulas in] Exhibit 4B, it promoted Exhibit 4B as providing a benefit to claimants in that it was ‘more than reasonable,’ ‘more than fair,’ ‘objective,’ ‘transparent,’ ‘standardized,’ ‘economically appropriate,’ ‘consistent with . . . economic reality,’ and an ‘efficient’ method of establishing causation. Such attributes, BP claimed, were part of the reason the Settlement deserved Court approval. … This Court accepted BP’s previous position when it certified the Settlement Class and approved the Settlement on December 21, 2012. The Court further finds that BP’s change of position was not inadvertent.” – Judge Carl Barbier, Order & Reasons, December 24, 2013
“BP accuses the Claims Administrator of ‘rewriting’ and ‘systematically disregarding’ the Settlement Agreement. To the contrary, when it talks about causation, if anyone is attempting to rewrite or disregard the unambiguous terms of the Settlement Agreement, it is counsel for BP.
“Frankly, it is surprising that the same counsel who represented BP during the settlement negotiations, participated in drafting the final Settlement Agreement, and then strenuously advocated for approval of the settlement before this Court, now come to this Court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and contradict everything they have previously done or said on this issue. Such actions are deeply disappointing.” – Judge Carl Barbier, Order, November 22, 2013
It is not hard to understand why the business community of the Gulf of Mexico is up in arms furious with The U.S. Chamber of Commerce for supporting such an obviously dishonest organization as British Petroleum.