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New materials provided to the Center for Media and Democracy/PRWatch reveal that a top GOP polling firm instructed state Chamber of Commerce lobbyists how to try to defeat popular measures like increasing the minimum wage, despite polling data from business leaders that shows overwhelming support for such progressive workplace policies. (Image: PR Watch)

Revealed: The Chamber of Commerce Strategy to Kill Empathy of Its Members

'Rather than listening to its members and crafting a policy agenda that reflects their priorities, Chamber lobbyists pick their policy positions behind closed doors and then figure out how to convince their members to fall in line.'

Jon Queally

Did you know that a high percentage of powerful business executives represented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or its more local affiliates actually support an increased minimum wage, paid sick days for employees, extended maternity and paternity leave, and other progressive policies that benefit workers and families?

If you didn't, there's a reason for that.

Newly leaked materials—including results from internal polling of members and a webinar explaining how the results should be spun publicly—reveal just how far the business lobby group goes in order to hide that fact that many of the people and businesses it claims to represent don't actually agree with the regressive policies the Chamber pushes on local, state, and national governments.

"It think it is outrageous how the public and the press have been misled that businesses oppose these policies, by chamber lobbyists trotting out some business leader aligned with their anti-worker agenda even though most people—including most of their business members—support these policies, like increasing the minimum wage and paid sick leave." —Lisa Graves, Center for Media and DemocracyObtained by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and released publicly on Monday, the results of the poll—conducted by LuntzGlobal, the prominent firm run by Republican pollster Frank Luntz—were accompanied by a revealing online presentation which explained to state Chamber of Commerce lobbyists how to "manipulate the public debate over those policies rather than implement the views of the business executives who were polled."

The poll, commissioned by Council of State Chambers (COSC), targeted 1,000 C-level executives (CEOs, CFOs, or COOs) who were members of their local chamber (46%), state chamber (28%), or the U.S. Chamber (16%).  According to the results, there was lop-sided support for various pro-worker positions. Of those asked, 80% supported raising the state minimum wage, compared to only 8% who didn't. Meanwhile, paid sick time was supported by a margin of 73% to 16%. And asked about "more time off to take care of sick children or relatives," the executives supported it 83% to 5%.

However, as CMD notes, there is no force in America in recent years that has "spent more time and effort to keep wages low than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the state chambers that aggressively lobby against increasing the minimum wage."

During the webinar, Luntz himself explained to the participants the reasoning behind the results and how they could potentially be combated. "So what do these results all have in common?" he asks. "Well quite frankly they are all empathetic. If you ask about them in isolation, of course we want to give folks more benefits, or more leave, or more income..." But then, exposing the real purpose of the presentation, he adds, "So what we'll try and do is actually give you a few helpful hints on how to actually combat these in your states."

In other words, how to suppress the "empathy" of your members or distract them with other issues.

"With their internal polls showing that business owners and executives support raising the minimum wage by an overwhelming 80-to-8 percent, it's unconscionable that the U.S. Chamber and state chambers continue to fight the wage increases that America's workers and our economy need," said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.

Here's a clip from the actual online presentation:

The Washington Post, which received an advanced look at the leaked documents, notes how the "materials shed light on how some business trade associations operate, and why they’ve continued to oppose minimum wage increases even as the rest of the public thaws towards them."

CMD executive director Lisa Graves says that this kind of behavior is exactly what people should expect from the Chamber of Commerce and its various affiliates. "They are pushing a national agenda that ignores the concerns of the overwhelming majority of Americans and of their own business members in the states," Graves told Common Dreams in an email. "The state business lobby has aggressively fought crucial workplace improvements that ordinary people and CEOs strongly support, and they are being taught by GOP pollsters how to spin words to try to overcome support for these popular policies."

"It think it is outrageous," she continued, "how the public and the press have been misled that businesses oppose these policies, by chamber lobbyists trotting out some business leader aligned with their anti-worker agenda even though most people—including most of their business members--support these policies, like increasing the minimum wage and paid sick leave."

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