The LA Times reports today on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s growing “large-scale grass-roots political operation” that is being “funded by record-setting amounts of money raised from corporations and wealthy individuals.” In 2009, the Chamber spent $144 million on lobbying and grassroots organizing, “well beyond the spending of individual labor unions or the Democratic or Republican national committees.” Some more details on its new initiative:
The chamber has signed up some 6 million individuals who are not chamber members and has begun asking them to help with lobbying and, soon, with get-out-the-vote efforts in upcoming congressional campaigns. [...]
The new grass-roots program, the brainchild of chamber political director Bill Miller, is concentrating on 22 states. Among them are Colorado, where incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet is vulnerable; Arkansas, where Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln faces an uphill reelection battle; and Ohio, where the chamber sees opportunities in numerous House races and an open Senate seat.
The network, called Friends of the U.S. Chamber, has been used to generate more than a million letters and e-mails to members of Congress, 700,000 of them in opposition to the Democratic healthcare plan. That is an increase from 40,000 congressional contacts generated in 2008.
According to the LA Times, the Chamber’s “expanding influence” is “worrisome” to top White House officials, including Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett. This frustration was echoed yesterday in a meeting with top Treasury Department officials, including Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, that ThinkProgress attended.
When asked by ThinkProgress what they think of the Chamber, officials agreed that the association — along with some other groups in the business community — are deliberately distorting the administration’s positions to the American public. They expressed particular dissatisfaction with the the Chamber’s ad campaign fear-mongering against the administration’s push for a strong Consumer Financial Protection Agency. In January, the Chamber arranged to “fly-in” some representatives from small businesses to Capitol Hill and “lead” them to a pre-arranged series of anti-CFPA meetings. The association’s ad campaign contains the ludicrous claims that the CFPA would regulate bakeries and grocery stores.
As many federal lawmakers and the Obama administration push for cap-and-trade legislation, health care reform, regulatory reform, and corporate tax reform, the U.S. Chamber stands as the most well-funded opposition to progressive change. The group spent $10-$20 million of insurance-industry-provided cash on fighting reform. After Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, the Chamber was quick to congratulate itself for running television ads in support of the candidate.
More Dispatches from the meeting from the Wonk Room’s Pat Garofalo; the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein, Ryan Grim, and Shahien Nasiripour; the Atlantic’s Daniel Indiviglio; Reuters’ Felix Salmon; Americablog’s John Aravosis, and the American Prospect’s Tim Fernholz.