Chamber Says Misleading Membership Claims “Hardly Our Fault.” Really?

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


In a story today in E&E News, a respected environmental news service that is often reprinted in the New York Times, the US Chamber of Commerce remained on the defensive about its claim to represent “3 million” members. E&E reported (sub req’d) the Chamber’s recent assertion that it has always used two membership numbers: its 300,000 direct members and its 3 million “federation members” (a number that includes members of local chambers who have no direct ties to the national group). “This often does get reported in the press as 3 million members without qualification,” Chamber blogger Brad Peck told E&E. “That is hardly our fault.”

But Peck’s statement appears to be contradicted by a recent quote from the Chamber’s spokesman. “We have over 3 million members, and we don’t comment on the comings and goings of our membership,” spokesman Eric Wholschlegel told the New York Times last month in a story about the utility PG&E’s departure from the Chamber over its climate policy. The Chamber also does not cite the smaller membership number on its website or many (if not all) of its press releases. And its written materials typically do not explain the meaning of the “3 million” number, failing to use the term “federation members,” let alone clarify what it means.

In the E&E piece, the Chamber also lashed out at my reporting of the issue, saying that it “has crossed into advocacy and should be treated as such.” E&E published its piece a day after I sent an open letter to one of its reporters questioning his continued citation of the Chamber’s “3 million members.” If advocacy is the same thing as requesting that other media outlets report the facts,  then I am guilty as charged. Or maybe Peck considers the choice of which number to use an ideological issue. If that’s the case, then E&E and the Associated Press are to the right of the Wall Street Journal, which reports the Chamber’s membership as 300,000.

UPDATE: Today, James Surowiecki of the New Yorker strongly sided with my assertion that the correct membership number is around 300,000.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate