Spending target: At least $50 million
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business organization — representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses — and advocates a pro-business agenda in Washington, D.C. Although the chamber occasionally supports some Democrats whom it judges to be pro-business, the bulk of the organization’s efforts skew sharply toward electing Republicans. Of the direct political donations given by the chamber’s political action committee in 2012, for example, 89 percent went to Republicans.
The chamber is a 501(c)(6) — an IRS designation for nonprofit trade groups. It can accept unlimited contributions and does not have to disclose its donors.
The Chamber of Commerce reported spending $35.7 million (mostly attacking Democrats or supporting Republicans) in the 2012 campaign cycle. That total was third among conservative-leaning outside spending groups, trailing only the amounts spent by the American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS twins, and Mitt Romney’s super PAC, Restore Our Future. However, that count includes only money disclosed to the Federal Election Commission, and since not all election-related spending is required to be disclosed to the FEC, the chamber’s true total was likely higher. Tom Donohue, the chamber’s president and CEO, had dismissed a $50 million spending target for 2012 as too low, explaining: “Some people would say that’s a round number in the past. … I would say this is a more important election.” News reports describe the chamber as having pledged to spend $100 million to support corporate-friendly candidates in the 2012 cycle.
The chamber spent more than $1.3 million on television ads attacking Sen. Jon Tester, the vulnerable Democrat from Montana. One of these spots made a number of dubious claims that we challenged in our article ” ‘Government Run’ Nonsense.” Tester would go on to win reelection despite the chamber’s involvement.
For the 2014 cycle, the Wall Street Journal reported that the chamber intends to spend at least $50 million to “support establishment, business-friendly candidates in primaries and the general election, with an aim of trying to win a Republican Senate majority.” The use of “establishment” candidates signals a challenge to tea party-backed candidates, many of whom supported the government shutdown last fall — an effort deeply opposed by many business leaders, including the chamber. So far, the chamber has spent over $14 million for the 2014 cycle in independent expenditures, nearly $12 million of which was spent for Republicans. Over $1 million each was spent in support of Republican senate candidates Jack Kingston of Georgia, Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
The establishment-tea party battle began last fall with a special election to fill the vacancy in Alabama’s 1st Congressional District. The chamber spent around $200,000 in support of Bradley Byrne, who would go on to defeat tea party favorite Dean Young in the primary, and then coast to victory in the general election.
In December, the chamber launched ads supporting three Republican congressmen, including one, Mike Simpson, who faced tea party challenger Bryan Smith. Simpson won the Republican primary in Idaho with 62% of the vote.