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Change to Win Starts Big-Business Watchdog

Union-Backed Group to Spotlight U.S. Chamber

The labor federation Change to Win today is launching a group called U.S. Chamber Watch, a new organization to put pressure on one of labor’s top opponents, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Organizers say the watchdog group has been set up to reveal more information about the big-business powerhouse, ultimately making the chamber more transparent. The new entity plans to conduct research on the chamber’s activities.

“U.S. Chamber Watch will educate members of the public, elected officials and the business community, to challenge the U.S. Chamber’s misrepresentations and distortions of fact and to hold accountable the anonymous funders of the U.S. Chamber’s extremist political advocacy,” Chamber Watch’s website states.

Change to Win is sending an e-mail blast to its activists today to unveil the new effort and is also asking them to sign a petition that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for the BP oil spill.

“It’s an effort that’s been a little while in coming,” Chamber Watch spokesman Mike Gehrke said. The chamber “is largely an institution that operates out of a black box. Nobody has taken a long-term interest in keeping them accountable.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Tita Freeman said Change to Win was using the chamber to bolster its fundraising. “It’s no surprise that a struggling outfit like Change to Win would need to burnish its tattered credentials and raise money off of an effort like this,” Freeman said in an e-mail. “The U.S. Chamber, meanwhile, continues to be the leading advocate for American jobs and economic growth.”

Gehrke said Freeman’s comments showed a “sad, ‘corporate politics as usual’ attitude that has kept the chamber from realizing how out of touch they really are.”

Change to Win’s Per Olstad will serve as executive director of the group, which has been in development since May. The organization has a full-time staff of five and expects to grow, Gehrke said.

Change to Win is a breakaway coalition of unions that left the AFL-CIO five years ago. The federation includes the Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters union, Laborers’ International Union of North America, United Farm Workers of America, and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

U.S. Chamber Watch is also looking to partner beyond Change to Win. So far, Gehrke said, the group has been able to raise money beyond the labor federation and is in contact with groups such as Americans for Financial Reform, Clean Energy Works and the National Resources Defense Council on climate change, among others.

The chamber has faced its own internal problems. Last year, multiple members, including Exelon Corp., Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Apple Inc., exited the group because they were unhappy with the chamber’s opposition to climate change legislation.

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