Sunday, January 24, 2010

After Whining About Being ‘Suppressed,’ Chamber Discloses It Spent $123 Million In Lobbying

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By Victor Zapanta

Today’s Supreme Court ruling that opens the floodgates to unprecedented political spending by corporations is another major victory for the corporate lobbying giant — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In July, the organization declared its support for Citizens United in an amicus brief arguing that there is “no basis for restricting its core First Amendment right to engage in independent electoral advocacy.” In spite of the fact that the U.S. Chamber has topped lobbying spending year after year, the group had the gall to complain to the Supreme Court that its voice is being “suppressed”:

In particular, the electoral advocacy of the Chamber – a not-for-profit corporation – and of millions of its corporate members has been suppressed. This has occurred even though 96% of Chamber members are businesses with fewer than 100 employees, far from the immense aggregations of wealth hypothesized in Austin. Suppression has been imposed even when candidates have directly attacked business interests and when corporations have unique and valuable insight into the likely consequences of electing or defeating particular candidates. Although this Court has protected the ability of corporations to discuss “issues,” that is no substitute for direct and explicit speech about candidates.

After complaining about its influence being “suppressed,” the Chamber just disclosed that it spent a whopping $123 million to influence federal policy in 2009. Of all the corporations and associations spending money in D.C., the U.S. Chamber tops them all. The Chamber admitted to Roll Call that it was not “suppressed,” but rather, was “active in all of the major debates”:

“It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone because it was an incredibly active year for the president and the economy,” said Tita Freeman, a chamber spokeswoman. “Hence the chamber was active in all of the major debates that impacted the economy and business community.”

Freeman said the big spike in spending in the fourth quarter was due largely to health care, including issue ads, meetings and letter-writing campaigns.

Aside from health care, the chamber listed a slew of other lobbying issues, including energy and climate change legislation, endangered species regulatory processes, executive compensation and travel promotion.

The Chamber isn’t happy with simply influencing Congress and the administration. It wants more — specifically, the opportunity to purchase its own fleet of friendly lawmakers.

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.

Between Brown’s election victory and the Supreme Court ruling, the most anti-reform corporations in the country are circling their wagons and their wallets around the U.S. Chamber and its fight to increase corporate influence in American politics at the expense of the average American. Today’s Citizens United ruling is a gift by the court’s conservative justices to their efforts.

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