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Monday, October 12, 2009, 05:05 am PT (08:05 am ET)

Apple's departure prompts questions of chamber representation

Following the departure of Apple and other high-profile companies from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, some have begun to question whether the organization represents the interests of its members.

Traditionally aligned with the Republican Party, the chamber must now wield influence over a Democratic Washington, and its stance on climate change had led a handful of companies to resign from its ranks. In the wake of recent comments about global warming, some officials have questioned whether the chamber has "the pulse of their membership," according to BusinessWeek.

Much of the issue lies with President Thomas Donohue, whose "bulldog style" has rubbed some the wrong way. Donohue personally became involved when Apple abandoned the chamber earlier this month, writing a letter to the company accusing it of forfeiting the chance to "advance a 21st century approach to climate change."

"There aren't many who would willingly take on Apple icon Steve Jobs — and lecture him on technology," the report said. "But Thomas J. Donohue, the combative head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, isn't one to step away from a fight."

As some in Washington see the chamber as less of an influence, the White House has relied more on the Business Roundtable, a consortium of over 160 CEOs on which it relies for feedback and input on issues. The group aims to be non-partisan, and has not taken a stance on a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions.

But Donohue argued that the roundtable does not provide an opportunity for CEOs to be frank. Instead, they must be polite in order to be a part of the group. That's why, Donohue said, he's needed to play the "bad cop" and protect business interests.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu praised Apple for its departure from the chamber, calling the move "wonderful." Greenpeace, too, noted Apple's decision to leave the group.

Preceding Apple in departure were Pacific Gas & Electric, PNM Resources and Exelon. Nike also withdrew from the chamber's board, but retained its membership.

The Mac maker has recently pushed to highlight its environmentally friendly approach, and began reporting carbon emissions of its hardware for the first time. Apple has said that its products themselves produce a great deal more emissions than its operations or manufacturing.