Here’s an odd thing: the muscular US Chamber of Commerce, long a force for extreme big-business values, fighting off universal health insurance, minimum wage increases, global warming action and the like, is actually much smaller than it makes itself out to be. According to Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson, the Chamber, aided and abetted by news organizations, exaggerates its membership by a factor of ten—claiming 3 million members when it has only 300,000. The rest of the figure apparently includes members of local Chambers of Commerce, which are independent and don’t necessarily have anything to do with the policies of the Washington-based national entity…

Harkinson has penned an “open letter” to the New York Times about this:

“As you may be aware, on October 13th I noted that the US Chamber of Commerce does not have the 3 million members that it claims. At a press conference the next day, the Chamber admitted—as it has on a few other rare occasions—that it actually has 300,000 members. Even so, you have continued to report the 3 million number. On October 16th, in a story reprinted in theTimes, you wrote that the Chamber has “more than 3 million members—a figure that reflects dues-paying executives and local chambers of commerce.”

While I appreciate your effort to explain the meaning of the “3 million” claim, your clarification is unfortunately wrong and misleading. It would more accurately and cumbersomely read: “a figure that reflects dues-paying executives and non-dues-paying members of local chambers of commerce.” In other words, the US Chamber is dubiously claiming the members of local chambers as its own.”

Who cares about this case of extreme self-inflation? Everyone should. Accurately characterizing any entity that has so much influence in Washington immediately changes the power equation—and invites questions like: how many workers are there in America whose concerns Congress might also want to take into account?


  • Russ Baker

    Russ Baker is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. He is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in exploring power dynamics behind major events.

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