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Chamber of Commerce amps up disinformation campaign

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a wealthy organization that represents more than three million businesses.  In the past two decades it has become an extremely aggressive political and special interest lobbying entity, charged with spending millions of dollars to buy judges, wipe out consumer protection legislation and  prevent government regulation.  It is currently campaigning against rules that would require that the nation's food supply be labeled with the country of origin. 

In states like Michigan, the Chamber has acknowledged contributing literally millions of dollars to assure the election of insurance-friendly Supreme Court judges and has boasted of its success in securing court rulings that are hostile to consumer interests.  This week it announced a plan to take its disinformation campaign into movie theaters by buying lengthy commercial time before first-run movies in more than 1300 theaters.  The commercials will be expensively produced and according to critics they rely upon half-truths and omissions to spread propaganda in support of "legal reform." 

According to Joanne Doroshow of the Center for Justice and Democracy, the Chamber is particularly concerned about fending off regulation of consumer contracts involving health insurance, credit cards and mortgages, but the Chamber is apparently anchoring its campaign around a handful of distorted claims in the personal injury context.  The Chamber has found particularly fertile ground, politically, with arguments suggesting "frivolous lawsuits," despite repeated documentation from courts and researchers that the U.S. Court system is not burdened with frivolous litigation.

The knee-jerk argument that frivolous lawsuits are corrupting courts and even medical practice have been debunked regularly, whenever data is investigated.  Just this month, in a New Yorker Magazine article, renowned surgeon and author Atul Gawande explored the suggestion that frivolous medical claims and exorbitant awards were increasing the cost of health care in McAllen, Texas (where the Medicare expenditure, per patient, is almost double the national average). 

After examining the underlying numbers, Gawande concluded that strict reforms on malpractice awards in Texas had eliminated litigation as a significant cost of health care, and that the reforms had done nothing to slow the spiraling increase in health care spending (now one of every six dollars spent in the U.S.  Gawande found, instead, that increased health care spending in McAllen was a result of wasteful , fee-for-service utilization and a "leave no dollar on the table" attitude in parts of the "for-profit" medical community; physicians he spoke to in McAllen voiced agreement with his assessment.

Somehow in this country we need to divorce the public good from special interest pleading.  If that means campaign finance reform, or even constitutional intervention, we must make it happen.  The recent banking crisis, in which financial institutions solicited billions of dollars in taxpayer emergency bailout money, which were then spent, in part, to ward off consumer regulation, is a damning reminder that special interest money corrupts and is ruining both our economy and our democracy. 

We cannot expect myopic special interests to see the larger picture and to avoid poisoning the Golden Goose: for as long as special pleading can achieve significant private benefits, our government will prove incapable of acting to safeguard the interests of the commonwealth at large.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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