*NOTE: If you happen to be in the D.C. area, consider joining us Friday, Oct. 19 from 11:15a.m.-12:00p.m. for a rally in front of the U.S. Chamber that will call on the organization to disclose the sources of its funding and to stop opposing disclosure reform. The rally will include grassroots organizations as well as small business leaders and will be held at Lafayette Square, NW Corner, across from the intersection of H and 17th Sts. NW, Washington, D.C.*
The 2012 election cycle is poised to be the most expensive on record: if reasonable estimates of its cost are accurate, spending as a percent of real GDP will be 5.4% higher than in 2008.
The reason for this is not difficult to ascertain: because of the infamous Citizens United decision in 2010, election spending by outside groups has quadrupled since 2006. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce—the largest lobbyist organization in the United States and the flag bearer for corporate interests—had a lot at stake over the decision and submitted an amicus curiae brief during the proceedings.
A common misperception is that the primary effect of Citizens United has been to allow wealthy individuals to commandeer elections via unlimited independent expenditures. While this is true to some extent, corporations—represented by trade and lobbying organizations like the Chamber—also have a pivotal role to play in such efforts. In fact, the Chamber spent more than any Super PAC during the 2010 election cycle, indicating that corporations have benefited just as much as individuals.
The Chamber has been the premier vehicle for funneling cash to key pro-corporate initiatives for decades. It is a national organization with 300,000 businesses as members and a further 3,000,000 businesses and individuals as associates via state and local Chambers. Though the national and state/local Chambers are affiliates, often coordinate their efforts, and ostensibly have the same goals, increasingly there is divergence between them. For example, the 2010 congressional midterms saw 40 state/local Chambers dissociate themselves from the national Chamber over the content of advertising during the election cycle.
Receiving donations from a variety of businesses and individuals (the organization doesn’t have to disclose donors due to its 501(c)6 non-profit status), the Chamber claims to segregate funds for several distinct purposes: thus far, it has donated $1.59 million to campaigns, parties, and associated PACs, spent a whopping $55 million on lobbying, and spent a further $22 million on ‘outside spending’ in 2012.
Though ‘outside spending’ constitutes an undue extension of corporate influence over elections, the Chamber still dedicates the bulk of its funds to lobbying. In each instance, its pernicious influence affects the debate by skewing discussion toward corporate-sponsored proposals. For example, the Chamber has worked hard to water down regulations on derivatives—especially the Volcker Rule, which bans proprietary trading (derivatives were at the heart of the Great Recession of 2007-09) and in 2010 the chamber sued the Environmental Protection Agency in order to challenge carbon emission regulations.
As an integral member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) —a consistent supporter of regressive Republican candidates and an organization with hundreds of millions of dollars at its disposal—the Chamber’s activity evinces the fact that corporations are very active this election cycle and that the claims that the Citizens ruling has enhanced free speech are absurd.