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US Chamber of Commerce Is Big Business Masquerading as Mom and Pop Shops: Report

"Instead of representing the interests of Main Street, the Chamber represents the interests of Silicon Valley and Wall Street," said a government watchdog.

A Wednesday report on who funds the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reveals that the vast majority of donors to the powerful business lobbying group remain anonymous on government forms—but the number of large donations received by the Chamber annually raises serious questions about whether the group truly represents the interests of small businesses, considering that nearly half the money donated in 2021 came from just 46 contributors who gave $1 million or more.

The Chamber "boldly claims to represent the interests of over 3 million businesses across the country," said consumer advocacy watchdog Public Citizen in its report, The Interests of the Few.

But just 3% of the nearly $198 million in donations received in 2021 amounted to less than $5,000 each. The rest appeared on the Chamber's 990 Internal Revenue Service (IRS) form as itemized contributions with redacted donor names.

Over $93 million of the money raised in 2021 came from donors who gave at least $1 million, and "the very top of the Chamber's donor base reveals an even more startling picture," Public Citizen wrote, with the top 1.4% of donors providing "more than a quarter of the Chamber's itemized contributions.

On average, the Chamber received $146,000 from each donor.

"How many dry cleaners, pizzerias, or mom and pops shops can afford to give the Chamber hundreds of thousands of dollars? It's not happening," Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of Public Citizen, toldCNBC.

Research from the JPMorgan Chase Institute released in February showed that the average small business is surviving on a month-to-month basis and has only enough cash reserves to stay afloat for 27 days without additional income.

Judging from the Chamber's 2021 IRS forms, Gilbert said, "we expect its top donors are among a who's who of Big Tech, Big Oil, and other highly consolidated industries."

"Instead of representing the interests of Main Street, the Chamber represents the interests of Silicon Valley and Wall Street," she added.

Eighteen donors who gave between $2 million and $4 million each were behind more than a quarter of the money donations given to the group. Roughly $54 million came from these contributors, the report states.

The top three "mystery donors," said Public Citizen, provided the Chamber with 8.3% of its contributions in 2021, giving an average donation of more than $5 million.

"We believe it's reasonable to assume that these three mystery donors wield a significant influence on the Chamber's actions and activities," said the watchdog.

The Chamber has lobbied aggressively against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's funding structure, Build Back Better agenda, antitrust and environmental regulations, and the Inflation Reduction Act.

Despite its donations overwhelmingly coming from contributors that can afford spending thousands of dollars to back a group that helps them avoid complying with protections for public health, workers', and the environment, said Public Citizen President Robert Weissman, "the U.S. Chamber of Commerce likes to make a big deal about how it represents small business."

"The narrow donor base casts serious doubts on the Chamber's repeated claims that it represents such a broad range of business," said Gilbert in a statement.

Public Citizen called on the Chamber to "begin freely disclosing the identity of its donors," end its support for fossil fuel projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, "reverse course and begin encouraging more thorough and robust antitrust enforcement," and "focus its efforts overall on policies and actions that benefit the whole of the business landscape, rather than just the largest corporations."

"The Chamber's mission statement claims, 'For all of the people across the businesses we represent, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a trusted advocate, partner, and network, helping them improve society and people's lives," the watchdog noted. "It's time for the Chamber's actions to match its mission."

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