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Is Taxpayer Money Being Funneled Through The Chamber Of Commerce To Kill Health Reform?

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"Is Taxpayer Money Being Funneled Through The Chamber Of Commerce To Kill Health Reform?"

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Eric and Diana CantorThe U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an umbrella lobbying organization for international corporations and big business, is one of the driving forces fighting to kill health reform. In 2009, the Chamber dropped $123 million in lobbying, much of it against health reform, and organized an attack ad campaign against health reform, spending another $100 million. Now, as health reform enters its final stages, the Chamber is gearing up to blanket critical districts across the country with a new series of attack ads.

While the Chamber refuses to publicly list its membership, several confirmed Chamber members are banks which were bailed out by taxpayers and still have not repaid the TARP funds. For instance, New York Private Bank & Trust received TARP funds and still owes $254,892,509 back to the government. Diana Cantor, the bank’s managing director, is a board member of the Chamber Foundation and wife of Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), two leading opponents of reform. How can taxpayers be reassured that Cantor’s bank, and other bailed out Chamber banks, are not using taxpayer dollars to fund the Chamber’s anti-reform activities? Here are the bailed out banks we know are funding the Chamber and have not paid back TARP:

Citigroup, a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, received bailout money. Citigroup still owes taxpayers over $22 billion in TARP funds.

Marshall & Ilsley Bank, a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, received bailout money. M&I Bank still owes taxpayers over $1.6 billion in TARP funds.

New York Private Bank & Trust, a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, received bailout money. Diana Cantor, the bank’s managing director, sits on the Chamber Foundation’s board. New York Private Bank & Trust still owes taxpayers over $250 million in TARP funds.

To preserve brand identity and maintain secrecy, many businesses use groups like the Chamber to launder money for political means. For instance, health insurance companies lied and told the public all last year that they were supportive of reform — while simultaneously funneling up to $20 million dollars for attack ads through the Chamber (the other $80 million spent on Chamber attack ads against health reform is still unaccounted for).

Although reform would benefit the business community at large by controlling insurance costs and improving worker health, the Chamber is taking a rigid, ideological approach. Indeed, the Chamber is known to have become increasingly partisan under the leadership of Tom Donohue; an analysis by the Wonk Room found that the Chamber’s board is dominated by Republican donors. The Chamber seeks to kill large progressive reforms in order to kill progressive policies in general. Chamber officials have even gone on record noting they hoped to block health reform as a tactical measure to kill clean energy reform, a priority of many Chamber member companies.

As Matt Yglesias has observed, American trade associations like the Chamber “behave in a highly ideological, highly solidaristic manner rather than as narrow interest groups.” By promoting gridlock and the status quo, the Chamber hopes to stall other key progressive agenda items banks oppose, like labor and financial reform.

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