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Tom Young
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BP and its Gilded Chamber of Commerce

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This week the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a legal brief supporting BP’s bid to deny legitimate payments to tens of thousands of small businesses along the Gulf coast that were devastated by British Petroleum’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In 2012 BP settled with these businesses and devised a formula to determine payment eligibility. Now, two years later, BP no longer supports the formula and wants it changed to the detriment of claimants.

U.S. or U.K. Chamber?

Against this backdrop of corporate revisionism, there’s every reason to expect the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to seek to intervene – not with BP, but rather on the side of the business victims of BP’s criminal wrongdoing in the Gulf. After all, these U.S. businesses were injured by a foreign corporation.

And, one might think, for a Chamber of Commerce, sanctity of contract is a fundamental principle. Or, more colloquially, one might expect that the Chamber is guided by the maxim that a deal’s a deal as suggested by Public Citizen’s Robert Weissman.

The Gilded Chamber

But if you look closely at where the U.S. Chamber’s bread is buttered, its support of one large, foreign, corporate convict at the expense of thousands of American businesses makes perfect sense.

On its website, the Chamber says it represents “the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions. Our members range from mom-and-pop shops and local chambers to leading industry associations and large corporations.” But in 2012, only 1,500 entities provided 94 percent of its contributions, and more than half of its contributions came from just 64 donors. So the bulk of the Chamber’s funding seems to come from large, well-funded corporate concerns.

One can only assume that when the CEO of one of those 64 companies calls for Chamber action, the interests of the other 2,999,936 members are given short shrift.

Appearance of Conflict of Interest?

The Chamber has a subsidiary called The Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) whose primary goal is to promote corporate protectionist policies in the courts, Congress and state legislatures. Like the parent organization, the ILR is funded by a handful of mega-donor corporations – just 21 entities provide two-thirds of ILR’s $43 million budget.

Of particular interest to those following the BP case should be the participation of BP’s law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, as well as the BP settlement program’s accountants, PricewaterhouseCoopers on the board of the ILR.

Read Public Citizen’s Full Report: The Gilded Chamber

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