Top Corporations Aid U.S. Chamber of Commerce Campaign
By ERIC LIPTON, MIKE McINTIRE and DON VAN NATTA Jr.
Published: October 21, 2010
Prudential Financial sent in a $2 million donation last year as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce kicked off a national advertising campaign to weaken the historic rewrite of the nation’s financial regulations.
Dow Chemical delivered $1.7 million to the chamber last year as the group took a leading role in aggressively fighting proposed rules that would impose tighter security requirements on chemical facilities.
And Goldman Sachs, Chevron Texaco, and Aegon, a multinational insurance company based in the Netherlands, donated more than $8 million in recent years to a chamber foundation that has been critical of growing federal regulation and spending. These large donations — none of which were publicly disclosed by the chamber, a tax-exempt group that keeps its donors secret, as it is allowed by law — offer a glimpse of the chamber’s money-raising efforts, which it has ramped up recently in an orchestrated campaign to become one of the most well-financed critics of the Obama administration and an influential player in this fall’s Congressional elections.
They suggest that the recent allegations from President Obama and others that foreign money has ended up in the chamber’s coffers miss a larger point: The chamber has had little trouble finding American companies eager to enlist it, anonymously, to fight their political battles and pay handsomely for its help.
And these contributions, some of which can be pieced together through tax filings of corporate foundations and other public records, also show how the chamber has increasingly relied on a relatively small collection of big corporate donors to finance much of its legislative and political agenda. The chamber makes no apologies for its policy of not identifying its donors. It has vigorously opposed legislation in Congress that would require groups like it to identify their biggest contributors when they spend money on campaign ads.
Proponents of that measure pointed to reports that health insurance providers funneled at least $10 million to the chamber last year, all of it anonymously, to oppose President Obama’s health care legislation.
“The major supporters of us in health care last year were confronted with protests at their corporate headquarters, protests and harassment at the C.E.O.’s homes,” said R. Bruce Josten, the chief lobbyist at the chamber, whose office looks out on the White House. “You are wondering why companies want some protection. It is pretty clear.”
The chamber’s increasingly aggressive role — including record spending in the midterm elections that supports Republicans more than 90 percent of the time — has made it a target of critics, including a few local chamber affiliates who fear it has become too partisan and hard-nosed in its fund-raising.
The chamber is spending big in political races from California to New Hampshire, including nearly $1.5 million on television advertisements in New Hampshire attacking Representative Paul W. Hodes, a Democrat running for the United States Senate, accusing him of riding Nancy Pelosi’s “liberal express” down the road to financial ruin.
“When you become a mouthpiece for a specific agenda item for one business or group of businesses, you better be damn careful you are not being manipulated,” said James C. Tyree, a former chairman of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, who has backed Republicans and Democrats, including Mr. Obama. “And they are getting close to that, if not over that edge.”
But others praise its leading role against Democrat-backed initiatives, like health care, financial regulation and climate change, which they argue will hurt American businesses. The Obama administration’s “antibusiness rhetoric” has infuriated executives, making them open to the chamber’s efforts, said John Motley, a former lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business, a rival.
“They’ve raised it to a science, and an art form,” he said of the chamber’s pitches to corporate leaders that large contributions will help “change the game” in Washington.
As a nonprofit organization, the chamber need not disclose its donors in its public tax filings, and because it says no donations are earmarked for specific ads aimed at a candidate, it does not invoke federal elections rules requiring disclosure.
The annual tax returns that the chamber releases include a list of all donations over $5,000, including 21 in 2008 that each exceed $1 million, one of them for $15 million. However, the chamber omits the donors’ names....
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