Chamber threat shows aggressive corporate effort to influence national policy outcomes

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  • Dale Eisman

A threat by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to campaign against lawmakers who vote in favor of critical bills now before Congress — including health care reform and an overhaul of financial regulations – shows a trend toward more aggressive corporate involvement in elections to influence policy outcomes.

“The Chamber’s threat to spend unprecedented amounts in the 2010 elections is a blatant attempt to intimidate lawmakers,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause. “Corporations using the threat of campaign cash to block progress on critical issues may be good for corporate profits, but bad for the nation.”

The Chamber has spent more than $300 million lobbying Congress since 2005, and has become increasingly strident during the last year, as Congress has moved forward on several high-profile pieces of legislation. Chamber President Thomas J. Donohue has pledged to spend $100 million to stop health care or climate change legislation and warned members of Congress Tuesday of the most aggressive campaign “in our nearly hundred-year history” if they pass.

The Chamber’s announcement came as many observers wait for a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United case, which could remove the long-standing ban on most types of corporate campaign activity. The Chamber filed an amicus brief in the case in support of overturning the ban on corporations spending directly on political campaigns.

“There should be no question in anyone’s mind that the Chamber will use the reversal of the ban as a political weapon to keep members of Congress in line,” said Nick Nyhart, president of Public Campaign. “Until Congress passes the Fair Elections Now Act, members of Congress will need to ponder how their votes will help or hurt them with big money contributors. It’s time to end the big money chase and let them vote with a clear conscience when they tackle the major issues of the day.”

Sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), the Fair Elections Now Act would create a program where qualified candidates who take no contributions larger than $100 can run well-funded, competitive campaigns on a blend of small donations and limited public funds. With Fair Elections, candidates would be freed from the campaign money chase, able to address the nation’s challenges without fear of political reprisal from well-heeled special interests like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The House bill has broad bipartisan and cross-caucus support of 125 co-sponsors, more than half the number of lawmakers needed to pass the legislation.

Public Campaign is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to sweeping campaign reform that aims to dramatically reduce the role of big special interest money in American politics.