Thomas J. Donohue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, answers questions after speaking at his annual "State of American Business" address at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The Chamber’s awful return on investment

Over the last couple of election cycles, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce invested nearly $70 million in congressional campaigns, which is a pretty substantial sum. What’s more, once the votes were tallied, it looked as if the Chamber had done quite well – unlike Karl Rove’s Crossroads operation and the NRA, which spent a bundle on losing candidates, most of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s preferred candidates actually won their elections in 2010 and 2012.
 
Of course, the powerful business lobby wasn’t just being generous because they liked their slate of candidates personally; they spent nearly $70 million because they expected a return on their investment. It’s not complicated: the Chamber helped elect Republican allies who would in turn were supposed to approve policies the Chamber likes.
 
How’s that working out? Greg Sargent noted the bigger picture after noting Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R) surprise victory in Mississippi last night, thanks in part to the Chamber’s financial support.
The bigger story is that on many key issues, the business community is getting nothing for its investment in the GOP establishment’s picks. The GOP is letting Tea Party predilections and preoccupations set the party’s agenda – at the direct expense of the business community’s priorities.
 
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce invested $100,000 in Cochran’s victory. A Chamber political strategist exults that the outcome was a win for “economic growth and governing.” But the GOP is not acting on the policies the Chamber and business community want to promote “economic growth and governing.”
That’s undeniably true. The Chamber, for example, is an enthusiastic supporter of the Export-Import Bank, and they’ve found allies in the Obama White House and among House Democrats, but the Chamber’s friends in the Republican Party intend to kill the financial entity.
 
GOP officials are also ignoring the Chamber’s guidance on immigration. Republicans disagree with the Chamber on the Highway Trust Fund. GOP leaders ignored the Chamber during the government shutdown and during the most recent debt-ceiling crisis. One of the top Republican priorities since 2011 – taking money out of the economy, weakening demand when the economy needs it – is pretty much the opposite of what the Chamber was hoping for.
 
As we discussed last summer, the business lobby has enjoyed tremendous success from the Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court, but Republican lawmakers? Not so much.
 
The conventional wisdom is that congressional Republicans are “business friendly.” The GOP is made up of “natural allies” of business lobbying groups – you know, those who stand up for “job creators” – because Republicans have a reputation for wanting what’s best for the private sector.
 
Given recent developments, it’s well past time to reassess those assumptions. The Chamber and its lobbyists have some fairly specific priorities, all of which are being neglected, ignored, or deliberately rejected by their ostensible allies.
 
In this sense, the Chamber’s PAC seems to have made some awful bets – they invested in candidates who won, but then decided to stop returning the Chamber’s calls.
 
The lobbying group doesn’t seem to have learned much of a lesson, and they’re once again investing in GOP candidates in 2014, but doesn’t it sound like the business lobby would generally be better off with a Democratic Congress? Sure, those rascally Dems want to combat climate change and are skeptical about sweeping tax breaks that aren’t paid for, but all things considered, it almost seems as if a Speaker Pelosi would make the Chamber far happier than a Speaker Boehner.
 

Chamber Of Commerce and Lobbyists

The Chamber's awful return on investment