The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is by far the largest – and one of the least transparent – corporate lobbying groups in U.S. history. One of its main functions is to act as a corporate “money laundering” machine through which companies can anonymously lobby for unpopular policies without having to face the public backlash and economic hits they might face if they lobbied for such things openly. As Chamber President Thomas Donohue himself has said, the U.S. Chamber intends to “give [members] all the deniability they need.”
An anonymous funnel for corporate influence
The U.S. Chamber is not a government body but at times has so much influence that it’s not far off. “The Chamber views itself as a shadow-government policymaking body,” a former U.S. Chamber economist, Lawrence Hunter, said.
As our 2014 report, “The Gilded Chamber,” showed, the U.S. Chamber is largely funded by entities contributing large donations – just 64 donations added up to more than half of the money it raised in 2012. As a 501(c)(6) non-profit, the U.S. Chamber must list all donations over $5,000, but not the names of the givers. Only a handful of companies voluntarily publish their contributions; by not reporting, the rest can lobby and campaign invisibly.
As the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) was being debated, the U.S. Chamber increased its lobbying. The Chamber spent $71.1 million in the last three months of 2009 alone. Moreover, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the health insurance industry’s main lobbying group, paid the U.S. Chamber $100 million to lobby against the ACA – all while AHIP was supporting the insurance plan in public. That lobbying money only became publicly known a year later.
The next year was no different. 2010 tax forms and anonymous sources revealed that health insurance companies had given the U.S. Chamber $86.2 million in 2009 to oppose health care reform, even as many of the same companies continued to show support for the reform in public. The U.S. Chamber has lobbied against small excise taxes on the hugely profitable medical devices industry, for repealing or weakening the ACA’s employer mandate (while also peddling highly misleading arguments about its impact on small business hiring) and for other measures that would pick apart the ACA and leave millions without access to affordable healthcare.
The U.S. Chamber even fought against a bill supplying health care to 9/11 first responders and emergency workers because it was funded by ending a tax loophole exploited by foreign corporations doing business in the U.S.
It’s time to get the money out of American politics, or, at the very least, to expose groups like the U.S. Chamber who’s campaign spending put it in a better position than most to influence the outcome of elections.
Toxic talk: Negative and conservative
The content of the U.S. Chamber’s rhetoric is consistently toxic to the rhetoric of American politics, in that the U.S. Chamber’s campaign spending is primarily against candidates rather than for candidates. It is also highly partisan – the vast majority of its campaign spending is designed to oppose Democrats. During the 2010 midterms, it spent $32 million on hand-picked candidates, 93 percent of whom were Republicans. In 2012 it spent at least $35 million on congressional races – supporting two Democrats and 38 Republicans in the House, and no Democrats and 12 Republicans in the Senate. That season it spent $28 million against Democrats and just $346,000 against Republicans. It also spent $3 million for Republicans and $305,000 for Democrats.
In December 2013, after saying the U.S. Chamber would be spending big money – at least $50 million – in Republican primaries, CEO Tom Donohue was asked if they’d be spending in Democratic primaries as well. “I don’t know,” he said, “I haven’t thought about that too much yet.”
Many Americans can and do contribute to campaigns, but very few can contribute at the head-turning levels of the U.S. Chamber, in what is clearly rife for creating the appearance of undue influence. It’s time for politicians to reject the U.S. Chamber’s shady money and for companies funding the Chamber to step out of the shadows and lobby for their profit-seeking policies openly – or not at all.
See what the U.S. Chamber spent on lobbying in 2013 here.