The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is an increasingly liberal and globalist organization beholden to big business that does little to create new jobs. Although historically the Chamber of Chamber was devoted to civic activism and economic growth in the community, like many organizations it has been taken over by a liberal-leaning agenda that benefits only a select few. The Chamber no longer truly represents "Main Street" as it once did, and an endorsement by the Chamber of a political candidate is often a sign that he has become a puppet for big business.
Typical political positions of the Chamber include support for amnesty for illegal immigrants (to keep wages down), high legal immigration levels, industrial and commercial development and expansion, and dealing with problems connected with agriculture, transportation, publicity, labor force upgrading and education, charity solicitation (community chests), regulation and promotion of trade, and commercial arbitration. They sponsor statistical surveys and run websites promoting the city as an ideal location for potential business relocation. The chamber is usually linked closely to local politics, with overlapping membership with other civic organizations such as Rotary. The chambers often work with state government on issues of taxation and revenue, as well as subsidies for businesses that relocate there (or remain there with a subsidy, such as reduced taxes). Above all the chamber is a booster for the community.
The Chamber of Commerce of New York is the oldest such organization in America; it was based on the British model and its original charter came from King George III in 1768. Most commercial cities around the world have one or more Chambers, often oriented to export trade.
In many older cities such as Boston, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Cincinnati, the chamber originated from a local Board of Trade. The boards began in the early 19th century with the goal of regulating or supervising trading activities.
In newer cities, the chamber was originally a group of taxpaying businessmen—a taxpayers' league or a Civic Association—united for defense against labor unions or some other threat, or to foster some civic interest.
The United States Chamber of Commerce (USCC) is a federation of local chapters, with a total of 3 million local businesses indirectly represented. Over 96% of its members are small businesses with 100 employees or fewer. In practice, it is dominated by large corporations.
The US Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1912, due primarily to the work of key government officials more than to the business community itself. The officials were concerned with expanding American trade overseas and sought a mechanism which might bring a closer working relationship between merchants and manufacturers and public authorities. In particular, these officials were located in the new Department of Commerce and Labor and its Bureau of Manufacturers, and were themselves engaged in a bureaucratic rivalry of their own with the State Department over control of the commercial attaché service and other overseas economic activities.
Established in 1912, the national body typically endorses Republican candidates that advocate a pro-business, pro-job growth agenda. It is dominated by large national corporations.
The local bodies represent locally owned businesses and are boosters for their cities.
During the Obama era, the Chamber has made an alliance with establishment Republicans in D.C. and big donor special interests. Once mostly low key in politics, their agenda now is advocating amnesty and more national debts. The Chamber planned on spending $50 million attacking the Tea Party and promoting RINO candidates for the 2014 Midterm Elections.
The Chamber opposed Donald Trump's America First trade policy, and though it supported establishment Republican Luther Strange, it refused to support conservative Republican Roy Moore after he defeated Strange in the 2017 Alabama special GOP Senate primary.
In April 2019, the Chamber of Commerce publicly announced its shift to the Left, declaring it would move away from the GOP and change its scoring of legislators.
The Chamber announced in early September 2020 that it would back many vulnerable House Democrats over their Republican challengers. A longtime strategist who served for the organization resigned on September 29, 2020 as the group was becoming increasingly liberal, and it was reported that he was forbidden from spending money to help vulnerable Republican senators the Chamber endorsed.
Boosters and job growth
A central role of local chambers is to boost the city and promote tourism. They work tirelessly to bring in new industries—for example, airports in the 1920s and 1930s.
Women play a major role in tourism and local chambers were one of the first business organizations to find a role for women.
The Atlanta Chamber of Commerce was deeply interested in the urbanization and industrialization of both Atlanta and Georgia. Henry Grady (1851–89) was their model, 'the spirit of Atlanta,' whom all southern businessmen sought to emulate in elevating the South. In an effort to attract northern capital and further industrialization, the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce boosted and published information about the labor force, particularly its skill, cleanliness, and docility, observing that the Blacks accepted segregation and were good workers. They also became interested in agricultural growth, improvement in productivity, in the cultural and economic value of the state education system, and the talent of its businessmen.
Sin is a big draw for men. The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce energetically promoted tourism in the 1930s, following the completion of Hoover Dam. They featured an image of Las Vegas as a 'last frontier.' Advertising brochures, newspaper publicity, and motion pictures celebrated Las Vegas for its hospitality, legal gambling, easy divorce laws, and local naughty attractions. It worked, as shown by the increasing number of tourists and visitors in the late 1930s. Completion of the El Rancho Vegas resort casino in 1941 foreshadowed the postwar boom in resort hotels.
The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, begun in 1888, promoted the attractions of Southern California's sunny climate, cheap land, and agricultural opportunities. In 1915, it opened an Industrial Bureau to advertise the city's manufacturing and industrial possibilities. The chamber supported the establishing of the All-Year Club to promote tourism, an attraction also advertised by the Auto Club of Southern California and the Southern Pacific. In the 1920s, the heyday of boosterism, the chamber developed a photographic file of 50,000 pictures illustrating the area's attractions, while ignoring unions, minorities, and other potential drawbacks. The decades of promotion yielded enormous growth for Los Angeles, as the city increased from 11,000 in 1880 to 1,238,000 by 1930.
The Alabama legislature passed the Cater Act in 1949 allowing cities and counties to set up industrial development boards (IDB) to issue municipal bonds as incentives to attract new industry into their local areas. The city of Mobile did not establish a Cater Act board until 1962. George E. McNally, Mobile's first Republican mayor since Reconstruction, was the driving force behind its creation. The existing Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, considering itself better qualified to attract new businesses and industry to the area, saw the new IDB as a serious rival. After several years of political squabbling, the Chamber of Commerce emerged victorious. While McNally's IDB prompted the Chamber of Commerce to become more proactive in attracting new industry, the chamber effectively shut Mobile city government out of economic development decisions.
The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) helped preserve urban manufacturing jobs as part of an industrial renewal effort during 1953-76. The PIDC, a nonprofit, quasi-public authority, was created in 1958 in a joint effort between Mayor Richardson H. Dilworth and the chamber of commerce to implement an industrial renewal project. Using industrial mortgages, funds were raised for the construction and renovation of small to medium-sized manufacturing plants on undeveloped land in and around Philadelphia. The PIDC is credited with having moderated the loss of industrial jobs in Philadelphia.
In 1908, the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce established a Flood Control Commission which developed a plan calling for nine reservoirs at the headwaters of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers. The plan was endorsed at the national level by Progressives who wanted centralized inland waterway development under a single authority. This approach was rejected by Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers. However, in the 1920s funds were appropriated for studies of the flood problem in the upper Ohio valley and the Corps was instructed to broaden its approach to flood control to include the use of reservoirs. On the eve of the great Pittsburgh flood of 1936, a bill providing for nine reservoirs above Pittsburgh had passed the House of Representatives and was being debated in the Senate Commerce Committee. The flood provided the necessary impetus to obtain funds for the first five reservoirs.
In the 1930s, Pittsburgh's efforts to obtain federal funds for flood control continued; however, the characteristic unified leadership of upper class individuals disintegrated. This earlier pattern of unified elite leadership reemerged in 1943 when the Allegheny Conference on Community Development (ACCD) assumed responsibility for the overall economic development of the area. The Chamber of Commerce, operating as an arm of the ACCD, continued to lead the campaign for additional federal flood control money. There was a continuing relation between efforts to attract private capital for Renaissance Pittsburgh and the flood control program. In 1960, construction began on the Allegheny Reservoir, the largest and last of nine dams.
Spurred by members of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, the city actively lobbied the Navy and the federal government to make San Diego a major location for naval, marine, and air bases. Its 'culture of accommodation' determined the way the city would grow and created a military-urban complex rather than a tourist and health resort. With the reduction in naval spending after 1990, the Chamber turned to tourism and conventions.
In the first half of the 20th century, business interests in San Francisco, organized into the Chamber of Commerce, asserted themselves as the only legitimate leaders of the community, asserting that labor unions were only a disruptive special interest. However, the voters and the overall political culture of the city were much more sympathetic to the working class and to labor unions as their representatives in civic decisionmaking. After conflicts between business and unions, including strikes, sometimes requiring federal troops, business finally accepted the legitimacy of labor unions after the bitter strike in 1934. The resulting business-labor partnership aided San Francisco's postwar expansion.
The Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939-40 boosted San Francisco. The exposition's board was dominated by members of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce who had the support of major area corporations, other western states, and federal agencies. The Exposition departed from the tradition of world fairs in its eclectic organization of exhibits, which included productions, displays, lectures, films, demonstrations, and bazaars. These exhibits reflected a transitional phase in American culture, characterized by the process of fragmentation and recombination. The tensions of American society on the eve of World War II were manifested in exhibitions expressing both desires for peace and simplicity, and fascination with expansion and technology.
Shreveport, Louisiana, weathered the Great Depression better than most towns. The city's civic improvement projects, begun in the 1920s and completed by 1930, helped to sustain the optimistic view that prosperous times awaited. Transportation and educational improvements, supported by federal dollars, continued even in hard times. The Chamber of Commerce waged a publicity campaign to boost retail sales and project optimism. The Chamber also established a farmer's market and lobbied for state road funds. Construction at Barksdale Field, at the time the largest airfield in the world, began in 1931. Barksdale provided jobs and injected cash into the local economy.
Springfield, Illinois, demonstrats how small cities nurtured the growth of commercial aviation during the 1920s. In the face of public apathy and legislative delay, the Chamber of Commerce took the lead in providing a temporary air field for airmail service and arranging for a permanent field for passenger service. It selected sites for airfields, raised funds for field construction and improvements, and publicized the services offered. By 1931 the value of commercial aviation was apparent to the people of Springfield, and the city, with help from the state and federal governments, was ready to assume responsibility for airfield development.
Tucson, Arizona, became an nationally famous winter tourist site during the 1920s. Troubled by economic stagnation, the Chamber of Commerce, the Tucson Sunshine-Climate Club, and the Arizona Polo Association did market surveys and inaugurated magnet events, like La Fiesta de los Vaqueros; they even built tourist facilities, like El Conquistador Hotel. The efforts were successful and tourism became a mainstay of the economy by 1930, and remains so into the 21st century.
The Junior Chamber of Commerce, is known as the Jaycees, is for young business people.
Ethnics and international trade
Many cities have a chamber of commerce for a specific ethnic group or to promote trade with a specific country.
In 1939, 11 small businessmen (mostly grocers), one businesswoman, and Dallas's Mexican consul formed a Mexican chamber of commerce, La Camara Mexicana de Comercio de Dallas.
The American-Polish Chamber of Commerce and Industry in New York (APCCI) was established in 1920 to facilitate wider trade and financial contacts between the United States and the newly independent Poland. It promoted trade and arranged loans to Poland between 1920 and 1939, then closed down.
After 1885 the Italian Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco was active in promoting trade between Italy and California.
Businessmen from leading American companies, such as Westinghouse and Chase National Bank, incorporated the US branch of the American-Russian Chamber of Commerce in 1916. The American chamber responded to political and economic changes in the relationship between the two countries. World War I caused an increase in US-Russian trade, but the Brest-Litovsk Treaty in 1918 provoked anti-Soviet sentiment among members of the American chamber. The chamber became inactive in 1920 but was reactivated in 1926, prompted by rising Soviet trade. The U.S. did not recognize the Communist state, but trade went up every year; Henry Ford was especially active. American chamber activities included unofficial intervention on Soviet issues with Washington. Americans negotiated numerous contracts with the Soviets in 1929, contributing to the Soviet five-year plan. A combination of declining exports to the USSR after 1932, the Soviets' Russian debt burden, and the August 1939 Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact led to cessation of American chamber activities in 1940.
Since the late 19th century similar chambers of commerce operate in major cities around the world, as well as an International Chamber of Commerce.
- Elkins, David R. "The Structure and Context of the Urban Growth Coalition: The View from the Chamber of Commerce," Policy Studies Journal. Volume: 23. Issue: 4. 1995. pp 583+. in Questia
- Gutloff, Karen, and Wendy M. Beech. "How to Set Up a Chamber of Commerce," Black Enterprise. Volume: 28. Issue: 7. (February 1998) pp 169+. in Questia, with details of chambers for black businesses
- Multiple references: Pro-business Chamber of Commerce is backing 23 vulnerable House Democratic freshmen for reelection
- Chamber of Commerce Sues Trump to Import Foreign Workers While 26M Americans Jobless
- Binder, John (April 26, 2019). Chamber of Commerce Demands More Immigration: ‘U.S. Is Out of People’. Breitbart News. Retrieved April 27, 2019.
- Richard Hume Werking, "Bureaucrats, Businessmen, and Foreign Trade: The Origins of the United States Chamber of Commerce," Business History Review 1978 52(3): 321-341.
- Report: Chamber to hit Tea Party with $50M, TheHill.com, December 26, 2013
- Swoyer, Alex (June 29, 2016). Chamber of Commerce Seeks to Destroy Donald Trump’s Trade Plan. Breitbart News. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
- Boyle, Matthew (September 7, 2017). Chamber of Commerce Throws Globalist Open Borders Weight Behind Struggling Luther Strange. Breitbart News. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
- Poor, Jeff (October 16, 2017). U.S. Chamber of Commerce Not Backing Republican Roy Moore in Alabama Senate Race. Breitbart News. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
- Multiple references:
- Lee Simpson, "Boosters in Petticoats: California Women and the Chamber of Commerce, 1880-1930," Journal of the West 2003 42(4): 35-43.
- Charles Paul Garofalo, "The Sons of Henry Grady: Atlanta Boosters in the 1920s," Journal of Southern History 1976 42(2): 187-204, in JSTOR
- Larry Gragg, "Selling 'Sin City': Successfully Promoting Las Vegas During the Great Depression, 1935-1941," Nevada Historical Society Quarterly 2006 49(2): 83-106.
- Tom Zimmerman, "Paradise Promoted: Boosterism and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce," California History 1985 64(1): 22-33.
- Bill Patterson, "The Founding of the Industrial Development Board of the City of Mobile: The Port City's Reluctant Use of Subsidies," Gulf South Historical Review 2000 15(2): 21-40.
- Guian McKee, "Urban Deindustrialization and Local Public Policy: Industrial Renewal in Philadelphia, 1953-1976," Journal of Policy History 2004 16(1): 66-98.
- Roland M, Smith, "The Politics of Pittsburgh Flood Control, 1936-1960," Pennsylvania History 1977 44(1): 3-24.
- Abraham J. Shragge, "'I like the Cut of Your Jib': Cultures of Accommodation Between the U.S. Navy and Citizens of San Diego, California, 1900-1951," Journal of San Diego History 2002 48(3): 230-255.
- William Issel, "Business Power and Political Culture in San Francisco, 1900-1940," Journal of Urban History, 1989 16(1): 52-77.
- Lisa Rubens, "Re-presenting the Nation: The Golden Gate International Exposition," European Contributions to American Studies 1994 27: 121-139.
- Tom R. Thomas, "A Look at Shreveport's Reaction to the Great Depression, 1929-1935," North Louisiana History 1995 26(4): 125-145.
- Horace A. Waggoner, "An Alfalfa Field, with Lights, Will Do," Aerospace Historian 1982 29(1): 13-21.
- Alex Jay Kimmelman, "Luring the Tourist to Tucson: Civic Promotion During the 1920s," Journal of Arizona History 1987 28(2): 135-154.
- Boguslaw W. Winid, "The American-Polish Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the United States, Inc., 1920-1939," Polish American Studies 1989 46(2): 5-24.
- James K. Libbey, "The American-Russian Chamber of Commerce," Diplomatic History 1985 9(3): 233-248.