Lieberman and the Secret Chamber

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, through its front groups such as the Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) and Voters Education Committee (VEC), has been deeply involved in opposing or supporting hundreds of state and federal candidates for both legislative and judicial offices. (See “The Secret Chamber: The Inner Workings of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce..“)

Chamber CEO Tom Donohue bragged in 2004 about defeating Senator Tom Daschle (S.D.), the leader of the Democrats in the Senate.

A Chamber endorsement leads to more business campaign contributions and other supportive activities from mass mailings to phone calls and media strategies that have involved “dirty tricks” against their opponents.

Citizen groups that have contended with the Chamber’s agenda and lobbyists view this giant organization’s pursuit of corporate greed and power, at the expense of peoples’ economic well-being, health and safety, to be without peer in Washington, D.C. By a large margin, the Chamber is the worst of them all.

The Chamber demands that the federal government subsidize corporations, take the federal cop off the corporate crime, fraud and abuse beat, weaken its laws protecting the environment, workers, consumers and small taxpayers, keep enlarging the bloated, wasteful military contracting budget and generally accede to the Chamber’s ideology of becoming a corporate government.

This year, the Chamber endorsed many Republican Senators, but only two Democratic Senators – – Senator Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Senator Joseph Lieberman (Conn.).

In supporting Senator Lieberman, the Chamber wrote that “his cumulative voting score with the Chamber is the highest of any Democratic Senator in the Northeast.”

The Chamber praised Lieberman for supporting the latest globalization boondoggle – – CAFTA – – a cousin of NAFTA – – and for backing one of the Chamber’s top priorities – – so-called “class action reform.” This law allows corporate defendants to move most state class action lawsuits to federal courts in ways which place aggrieved consumers and workers under serious disadvantages.

Senator Lieberman is the Chamber’s favorite Democratic Senator east of the Mississippi. He voted with them for the notorious Cheney/Exxon energy bill, prompting one political observer to say “he cannot be both against global warming and for this energy bill.”

He supports every globalizing, outsourcing, pull-down trade agreement – – NAFTA, WTO and CAFTA – – notwithstanding their rejection of labor, consumer and environmental safeguards for the American people.

Senator Lieberman is waffling on asbestos legislation (pending) that would drastically reduce the financial liability of corporations for this long epidemic of cancer and lung disease and would create a large corporate bailout of liability, with costs to the taxpayers.

In 1998, he voted to give immunity to the tobacco industry in return for weak FDA regulatory authority. Eleven years ago he backed one of the Chamber’s top objectives – – weakening the litigation rights of defrauded investors and shielding accounting and law firms from proper accountability. Then he voted to over-ride President Clinton’s veto of the bill.

Although Senator Lieberman is straying from their “tort deform” stable on the medical malpractice legislation, Senator Lieberman has sided often with the Chamber’s relentless drive to weaken the civil justice system’s ability to recognize the rights of wrongfully injured plaintiffs and federally pre-empt the common law of Connecticut and the other 49 states. In 1996, for example, he voted three times to federalize and weaken the law of product (defect) liability.

The Chamber also likes what Senator Lieberman does not do. He has not met a weapons system he doesn’t like, ignoring repeated, critical reports by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of the Congress. It is not for Senator Lieberman to be worried about what President Eisenhower warned Americans about – – the military-industrial complex. Such a background helps to explain his continuing support and cover for George W. Bush’s serial and costly war crimes invading and occupying Iraq.

Senator Lieberman has emitted many signals over his 18 year tenure that he can accommodate business lobbyists. He has been and is generously rewarded with contributions from corporate PACs and such powerful corporate groups as the Associated General Contractors of America which the New York Times reported “give 90 percent of its campaign contributions to Republicans.”

Other corporations – – insurance companies, nuclear electric utilities and corporate law firms, which give overwhelmingly to Republicans, have found money for Senator Lieberman.

All the foregoing and much more in the public record – – see, for example, the U.S. Chamber’s policy Priorities for 2006 (including positions that are anti-labor, anti-universal health care coverage, pro even more corporate tax cuts) raises a basic question for Senator Lieberman:

Are you going to repudiate publically the endorsement* and campaign support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its operating groups that are working overtime to undermine your Democratic Party and its more progressive candidates?

If not, are you going to explain why not?

* P.S. Senator Lieberman’s website does not list the Chamber as one of his supporters.



Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!