June 9, 2016

Chamber of Commerce Is Using Small Businesses as Pawns to Fight the Fiduciary Rule

Public Citizen Report Shows Many of the Chamber’s Small Business Spokespeople Were Unaware of the Rule, Had No Opinion on It, Did Not Exist or Were Not Small Business Owners

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is using small business owners as pawns in its misleading campaign to dismantle the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)’s fiduciary rule, a new report (PDF) from Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch division shows.

The Chamber’s website features the testimony of small business owners who allegedly were “speaking out” against the fiduciary rule, which is designed to guarantee that financial advisers give people the best advice on their retirement savings. But the Chamber Watch report, “Sacrificing the Pawns,” documents that many of the individuals listed by the Chamber were unaware of the rule, had no opinion on it, were not small business owners or were unresponsive to inquiries into their views.

Bartlett Naylor, financial policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, attempted to contact each of the individuals identified as small business owners by the Chamber as “speaking out.” Some of the findings:

  • One Chicago nonprofit leader did not have a view on the rule and did not even know that he was listed on the webpage as being opposed to the rule. He subsequently called the Chamber and his name was removed.
  • One small business owner said the proposed rule is too generous to financial advisers and should be stricter to prevent “mendacious” activities.
  • One individual who self-identified as a “human resources” officer is associated with a firm that no longer exists except as a website.
  • Twelve of the individuals listed as “speaking out” did not respond to repeated phone and email inquiries soliciting their views on the rule.
  • Eight other individuals are not small business owners at all and are presumably included to pad the number of people featured as “speaking out” against the rule. These eight people include lobbyists, trade association officials and Chamber affiliates.

“This campaign is just another example of the Chamber using small businesses as a shield to push for policies that put Wall Street profits over Main Street Americans,” said Dan Dudis, director of Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch division. “Chamber President Tom Donohue has openly acknowledged his strategy to use small business owners as ‘foot soldiers’ to provide ‘political cover for issues big companies want pursued.’ It is a deceptive scam, considering the fiduciary rule is designed to help small businesses and their employees.”

One of the people listed as opposing the rule on the Chamber webpage is U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy Assistant Counsel Dillon Taylor. Taylor penned a letter to the DOL highlighting the costs to small business. Prior to writing this letter, the Office of Advocacy attempted to solicit input from small businesses by organizing a roundtable in June 2015.

Of the 14 individuals who attended the roundtable, only one could plausibly be described as a small business owner that the rule was intended to protect. Of the remaining attendees, five were financial advisers, five were financial adviser trade association lobbyists, one was a Chamber lobbyist, one worked for the DOL, and one was from a progressive advocacy group that advocates for small businesses.

“The Office of Advocacy functions as the Chamber’s taxpayer-funded lobby,” said Naylor, author of the report. “Much of the time, it’s hard to see any difference between its views and those expressed by the Chamber, and that’s because Office of Advocacy roundtables are routinely captured by big business, corporate trade associations and industry lobbyists.”

The Chamber, along with eight other groups, filed a lawsuit on June 2 against the fiduciary rule. The lawsuit includes a wide range of substantive and procedural attacks against the rule, alleging that the DOL failed to adequately assess the full costs of the rule to small businesses.

“Chamber Watch’s exposé of the Chamber’s small business charade should help any future court reviewing the rule to understand that these costs reside largely in the imagination of Washington’s largest and most powerful lobby,” the report states. “Far from a groundswell of grassroots advocacy by small business, this was more akin to an astroturf campaign organized by the Chamber.”

Read the report (PDF).

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