When asked to describe what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is, many Americans may say that it is a government organization. But the Chamber of Commerce is a powerful business lobbying group whose purported purpose is to “strengthen the competitiveness of the U.S. economy.” The Chamber’s website states that it is “the world’s largest business federation, representing more than 3 million businesses…”
Though the lobbying group claims to represent businesses and organizations of “every size, sector, and region,” a 2010 New York Times investigation reports that almost half of its $140 million in 2008 contributions came from just 45 donors. Of those 45 large donations, many were associated with “lobbying or political campaigns that potentially affected the donors.”
In fact, the Chamber does not represent 3 million businesses, or the interests of small business, but primarily advocates the interests of 19 mega-corporations including, insurance companies, tobacco companies, and oil and gas companies. The Chamber also strongly advocated for tort reform and mandatory arbitration, which effectively help eliminate the rights of citizens to protect themselves against malpractice and corporations in civil court.
The Chamber of Commerce has been a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) since 2011. While the corporations that are members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce remain, for the most part, undisclosed, known corporate donors include, Goldman Sachs, Chevron Texaco, Dow Chemical, Prudential Financial, Aegon, Edward Jones, Alpha Technologies, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
The group has been described as “a fully functional part of the partisan Republican machine” since president and CEO Thomas J. Donohue took office in 1997. In 2010, ThinkProgress published a report on the Chamber’s foreign fundraising operation, whereby the organization raises money from foreign-owned businesses for its 501(c)6 account – the same account used to finance its “unprecedented $75 million dollar partisan attack ad campaign.”
According to the Huffington Post, over the past two elections, the big business advocacy group spent $69.5 million to send their candidates to Congress. However, over the past few years, the Chamber’s picks for Congress seem to be backfiring. During the past 4 ½ years, the Chamber has been unsuccessful in most of the legislative initiatives it supported.
The Chamber lobbied Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, launching a seven-figure ad campaign featuring Rand Paul. The Chamber endorsed the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill; however, Rand Paul later came out against the bill, as did 19 House members who received contributions from the Chamber’s political action committee in 2010 and 2012, according to a ThinkProgress report.
Many congressional Republicans have threatened a shutdown of the government if they can’t defund the Affordable Care Act in the upcoming spending bill. As PolicyMic points out, the minority Congress members threatening this initiative, 12 Senate and 71 House Republicans, do not have the votes to make the threat a reality, and the measure would never pass the Democratic-majority Senate or the president.
Donohue recognizes that the threat of a government shutdown is hollow, but also potentially harmful. In January, Donohue called on Republicans to stop using the threat to get the spending cuts they want. In an interview, Donohue said that using the threat of defaulting on the debt “could really hurt the economy,” and essentially told politicians that “using the debt ceiling as leverage to forces spending cuts” needs to stop, according to The Washington Post.
The Chamber attempted to persuade members of Congress to reach a debt ceiling deal, and said that default was not an option. Yet just three of the ten Chamber-funded Senate Republicans voted for the 2011 debt ceiling deal. According to the Huffington Post, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) voted against the deal after receiving $2.3 million in Chamber funding for her 2010 campaign, the most funding for any politician.
The Chamber’s increase in political spending during the Obama administration years, bolstered by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, has helped to elect 22 House Republicans, 10 Senate Republicans, and 2 House Democrats currently serving in Congress. And while the Chamber has, in some initiatives, benefited from their choice in candidates, many of the Chamber-funded conservative lawmakers have, in fact, been an obstruction to the Chamber’s legislative initiatives.