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The US Chamber of Commerce, which describes itself as “the world’s largest business federation representing more than 3 million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region,” but which actually represents the interests of rich oil companies, rich pharmaceutical companies, automakers, and other (rich) polluting industries, has spent $57.9 million this year alone on lobbying in Washington—by far the most of any organization.

While sectors of the US economy have more or less crumbled and the unemployment rate has shot up during the later part of this year, the lobbying industry has been both growing and prospering. Based on an analysis of third quarter lobbying forms, the Center for Responsive Politics predicts that in 2008, a total of $3.2 billion will be spent on lobbying. This is up 13 percent from 2007’s $2.83 billion.

The Center also estimates there are now more lobbyists than ever before in the history of America, with 15,965 lobbyists registered in 2008 (up from 15,498 in 2007).

We know lobbying in general is creepy, but why should we worry about US Chamber lobbying in particular? For one thing, the Chamber (along with its pet organization the Institute for Legal Reform (ILR)) is a major advocate of tort reform—specifically the kind that erodes away consumer rights by designing mega-business-friendly laws that undermine the accountability of companies who profit enormously from the dangerous and even deadly products they market to Americans. It regularly fights for federal preemption of state claims, and has expressed opposition to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which it calls “a device against business.” In the 2008 elections, the Chamber paid millions of dollars for aggressive ads attacking Democratic Congressional candidates (including Minnesota’s DFL Senate candidate Al Franken), and supported such Republican candidates as John Sununu, Gordon Smith, Roger Wicker, Saxby Chambliss and Elizabeth Dole.

No matter what they say, the US Chamber of Commerce and the Institute for Legal Reform are not out for the small businessperson’s best interest. They are in the pocket of the richest companies in America, which only promise to deepen (at the expense of yours) as long as lobbying in Washington is allowed to continue unchecked.

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