The US Chamber of Commerce spent $144 million in 2009 alone to lobby against critical legislation from health care reform to Net Neutrality, and laws to protect consumers, workers, and the environment. The Chamber uses its financial dominance not only by lobbying members of Congress but also by running tens of millions of dollars in ads to help their favorite members win reelection, or in most cases, defeat progressive and reform-minded Congressmen and Senators. As a trade association, the Chamber is not required to disclose its donors, and Tom Hamburger of the Los Angeles Times reported that under the leadership of Bill Donohue “corporations have contributed money to the chamber, which then produced issue ads targeting individual candidates without revealing the names of the businesses underwriting the ads.”
According to a new report by Bloomberg, this system of using secret corporate money to run election ads was used in 2009 during the debate over health care reform. In this case, the health insurance industry trade group, without revealing its identity (until a source leaked it), donated a staggering $86.2 million dollars to the Chamber. In turn, the Chamber waged a vigorous campaign against including the public option in the bill, and the final legislation itself. Drew Armstrong of Bloomberg writes:
The insurance lobby, whose members include Minnetonka, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Philadelphia-based Cigna Corp., gave the money to the Chamber in 2009 as Democrats were increasing their criticism of the industry, according to one person who requested anonymity because laws don’t require identifying funding sources. The Chamber of Commerce received the money from the Washington-based America’s Health Insurance Plans when the industry was urging Congress to drop a plan to create a competing public insurance option.
The spending exceeded the insurer group’s entire budget from a year earlier and accounted for 40 percent of the Chamber’s $214.6 million in 2009 spending. The expenditures reflect the insurers’ attempts to influence the bill after Democrats in Congress and the White House put more focus on regulation of the insurance industry.
The $86.2 million paid for advertisements, polling and grass roots events to drum up opposition to the bill that’s projected to provide coverage to 32 million previously uninsured Americans, according to Tom Collamore, a Chamber of Commerce spokesman. The Chamber used the funds to “advance a market- based health-care system and advocate for fundamental reform that would improve access to quality care while lowering costs,” it said in a statement.
The organizations disclosed the funding yesterday in annual tax records required under U.S. law. The Chamber’s records show it received $86.2 million from a single group, which a second person briefed on the transaction by those involved identified as America’s Health Insurance Plans, also called AHIP.
Tax disclosure forms require organizations to list only the amounts granted or received from other groups, and not the organizations’ identities. Health insurers expressed opposition to the law signed in March while they conferred with congressional Democrats writing the bill and the White House. At the same time, the Chamber of Commerce was advertising its opposition.
The funds were given by to the chamber in August 2009 and were funded by health insurers, according to the first person.