U.S. Corporate Interest and the Chamber of Secrets

The New York Times has a front page story today about some sizable corporate donations to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for the Chamber’s national ad campaign to weaken federal regulation of businesses. Laura McGann at Nieman Lab piggybacks off that story to explore one way that those corporations are getting what they pay for:

For the past several years, the Chamber has also invested in its own publishing platform, running a network of local publications (print and online) that focus on legal issues in areas where business interests have been critical of the decisions of local courts. It also runs an online-only national publication called Legal Newsline.

In addition to this national site, the Chamber also directly funds several local publications in places like Louisiana, West Virginia, Illinois, and Texas, “areas where plaintiffs’ attorneys have had success with class-action suits and other litigation.” And although the site’s publisher, Brian Timpone, denies that the Chamber gives direction to the editorial team, the owner’s presence is felt throughout the news coverage. As an example, McGann presents the about page of The Louisiana Record, “Louisiana’s Legal Journal”:

To be sure, whether one agrees or disagrees with the happenings at our courthouses, no one should believe that what happens at them is the norm. This year, Louisiana’s courts were ranked among the most unfair in the nation, according to a survey (Harris Interactive) of top corporate lawyers and business executives.

Many accomplished local plaintiffs’ attorneys and erstwhile activists would argue that, in fact, they are the great leaders of their time, holding that Louisiana has it right and everyone else has it wrong.

On the flipside, many who drive this country’s economic engine— small businessmen, medical professionals and corporate executives— argue the opposite. They hold that plaintiffs’ attorneys use frivolous lawsuits to game the system and pillage private property. If every state were like ours, they say, America would be out of business.

At The Louisiana Record, we hope to provide an objective view of the playing field as well as an active forum for both sides of the argument so that all of us can decide for ourselves.

The site does not have any indication that it is owned by the Chamber of Commerce, though Timpone says that the link will be disclosed in articles that specifically refer to the Chamber. McGann spoke to several reporters in other news organizations who regularly linked to Chamber-published sites without knowing that they weren’t independent trade publications.

If the Chamber is so confident of their financing-editorial Chinese wall, then they shouldn’t be so shy about a prominent, website-wide disclosure, eh?

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Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner