- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 15, 2009

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday launched a $100 million campaign to promote capitalism in the face of what it said are looming forces that threaten to choke America’s ability to start and grow businesses.

“The free enterprise system, which has done so much for so many, is facing great challenges,” Chamber President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue said in a speech at the chamber’s headquarters a few hundred feet from the White House.

Mr. Donohue framed the chamber’s initiative as a broad-based, long-term advocacy campaign to raise awareness among ordinary Americans, especially young people, about the merits of a capitalist system. The chamber is running national TV ads and is aiming to influence citizens and decision-makers at the state and local level.

Mr. Donohue went out of his way to emphasize that the chamber is not targeting President Obama or his administration.

“This is not a campaign against anyone. This is a campaign for free enterprise,” Mr. Donohue said.

But the White House and its allies in the labor movement are framing the chamber’s effort as a bid to kill proposals to introduce new regulation of the financial system.

“This ‘free enterprise’ nonsense is nothing more than a smoke screen to cover up the fact they are opposing popular legislation,” said Eddie Vale, AFL spokesman, in an e-mail criticizing the campaign.

“The chamber simply wants to keep the status quo that got us into this recession,” Mr. Vale said.

Mr. Obama also took aim at the chamber last week in announcing his plans for a powerful new consumer protection agency that would consolidate what he called a “patchwork system of regulations.”

“It has never been more important to have a watchdog function like the one we’ve proposed,” Mr. Obama said. “And yet, predictably, a lot of the banks and big financial firms don’t like the idea of a consumer agency very much. In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending millions on an ad campaign to kill it.”

Though Mr. Donohue said in a news conference that the chamber’s effort was “not about any piece of legislation,” he did make reference in his speech to “plans afoot to weigh down America’s once vibrant capital markets with excessive regulations, and to raise taxes on our most productive citizens.”

Mr. Obama said Friday that it was “completely false” for chamber ads to imply that “local butchers and other small businesses somehow will be harmed by this agency.”

Tom Collamore, the chamber’s senior vice president, said his organization was “pleased that the administration appears to have noticed our advocacy on behalf of small business, job creators and entrepreneurs.”

“We would be more pleased if the administration would join us in promoting policies that will help them create the 20 million new jobs America needs to stay competitive in the years ahead,” Mr. Collamore said.

• Jon Ward can be reached at jward@washingtontimes.com.

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