Big Business Group Bankrolls Immigration Reform Foes After Promising To Hold Them Accountable

CREDIT: AP Photo/ Jacquelyn Martin

U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Thomas Donohue

Two months ago, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce threatened to make members of Congress who blocked comprehensive immigration reform “feel some heat” in their bids for re-election this year. But the business group’s deeds have, thus far, not matched its words.

At his annual State of American Business speech in January, Chamber President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue vowed to push immigration reform in 2014: “If you can’t make them see the light, then at least let’s make them feel the heat. In primaries and in general elections, we will support candidates who want to work within the legislative process to solve the nation’s problems.”

But the Chamber’s actions have hardly backed up its words. Since the Senate passed its version of comprehensive immigration reform last year, the Chamber has continued to endorse and fund those who opposed the bill. The Chamber endorsed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), and Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), despite each having voted against the bill. Moreover, the Chamber spent more than $500,000 on pro-McConnell issue ads and its PAC gave $5,000 each to Cornyn and McConnell — all after the vote. The organization’s national policy director told reporters last week that re-electing McConnell was the organization’s number one priority for the 2014 elections and that the Chamber would spend “whatever it takes” to do so.

The House of Representatives has yet to take up any immigration reform legislation and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has repeatedly said he will not allow the Senate bill to come up for a vote. But the Chamber’s chief lobbyist praised Boehner last year as someone who “will always put the country first” and “understands the burdens and penalty of leadership.”

In a special election last week, David Jolly (R) narrowly defeated Alex Sink (D) for an open House seat. The Chamber poured more than $1.2 million into supporting Jolly (who opposed the Senate immigration bill) and attacking Sink (who supported the Chamber-backed legislation).

Additionally, the Chamber’s PAC gave $5,000 in January to Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), who opposes granting “amnesty to those who violate our laws,” $2,500 to immigration reform supporter Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), and $2,500 to House candidate Barbara Comstock (R-VA), who has a hard-line record on immigration as a state legislator. The Chamber also spent $200,000 in support of Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who says on her House website that she “opposes amnesty for the estimated 7 million illegal immigrants working in the United States. ”

The Chamber, which claims to represent more than 3 million businesses, has been on the record in support of “commonsense immigration reform” for years. Prior to the Senate passing its comprehensive immigration bill in June 2013, the Chamber released ads featuring conservative politicians like Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) who voiced the need for reform.

This is not the first time the Chamber has undermined its own objectives with its political giving. After Donohue reportedly warned Congressional Republicans the Chamber would “get rid of you,” if they did not agree to a debt ceiling increase, the group spent millions in 2012 supporting Republicans who voted against the 2011 bipartisan agreement to do so.

The Chamber did not respond to a ThinkProgress request for comment on its political giving.