In the wake of the 2012 elections, a handful of powerful conservative interests came to an uncomfortable realization: they'd invested millions in like-minded Republican candidates, but had very little to show for it. The NRA spent nearly $11 million, but lost practically every race it cared about. Karl Rove's Crossroads operation spent nearly $400 million, and fared even worse.
But Sabrina Siddiqui and Paul Blumenthal take a closer look today at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has "doled out $69.5 million to send candidates to Congress," and has managed to fail in a different kind of way.
Over the past 4 1/2 years, the Chamber of Commerce has lost most of its important legislative battles. Health care and Wall Street reform laws were enacted and face little threat of repeal. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finally has an appointed director and Democratic members of the National Labor Relations Board were approved by the Senate.More significantly, the chamber's big spending in 2010 to elect a House GOP majority appears to have backfired. Many of the conservative lawmakers the chamber helped elect are now an impediment to the business lobby's legislative priorities, either by contributing to Congress' dysfunction or by actively opposing chamber-backed measures.
This is interesting because of the unexpected results. The NRA suffered embarrassing setbacks when it supported candidates that lost. Rove was humiliated last year when voters embraced the candidates he attacked and rejected the candidates he supported.
But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce managed to lose by winning -- the powerful business lobby backed the "right" candidates, and played a role in helping these conservative Republicans win, but have found that these candidates aren't quite the allies the Chamber had hoped for.
The Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court have been reliable allies to the Chamber of Commerce, but Republican lawmakers? Not so much.
The Chamber, for example, is an enthusiastic supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, which conservative Republicans are eager to kill -- including many GOP senators and House members that received contributions from the Chamber's political action committee.
But as the Huffington Post piece added, the Chamber's "losing legislative dynamic is not unique to immigration."
Chamber-backed House Republicans have refused to support basic transportation appropriations bills that fall short of the level of infrastructure spending the chamber wants. Just before Congress stopped work for the August recess, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was forced to pull a transportation and housing bill from the floor because its cuts were too deep for almost all Democrats and many moderate Republicans. The bill would have set spending on roads, bridges, housing, community development block grants and other efforts at $44.1 billion -- $4.1 billion below this year's spending under harsh sequestration budget cuts.
The conventional wisdom is that congressional Republicans are "business friendly." They're "natural allies" of business lobbying groups like the Chamber, because they want what's best for the private sector.
But it's well past time to reassess those assumptions. The Chamber and its lobbyists want immigration reform and infrastructure investments, and don't want a government shutdown or another debt-ceiling crisis.
In this sense, the Chamber's PAC seems to have made some bad bets -- "their" candidates won congressional races in 2012, but it sounds like the business lobby would generally be better off with a Democratic Congress.