James Verini has a fascinating profile of Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in the latest issue of The Washington Monthly that should be must-reading for anyone who wants to understand the major political players in Washington. How powerful is the Chamber? According to Verini’s reporting, in 2009 the Chamber spent $120 million on lobbying, five times that of the closest corporate behemoth, Exxon Mobil. In March, during the last weeks of the health reform debate, the Chamber was spending $800,000 every day to defeat reform.
And the Chamber is posed to have a significant impact on the midterm elections as well:
[T]he Chamber has now pledged to funnel $50 million—more than twice as much as the entire cash holdings of the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee put together (as of late May)—into an estimated forty House races and ten Senate races this fall.
With the GOP in a bit of a leadership vacuum these days (any guesses on when Michael Steele finds himself involuntarily committed to Dick Cheney’s old bunker for the remainder of the campaign season?), it matters more and more which outside factions are driving the party’s politics and strategy. And while Tea Partiers may be providing the voice, it looks like the Chamber is the one cutting the checks.
Interestingly, Verini uncovers what may be a growing current of unrest within the Chamber itself, fueled by Donohue’s obsession with fundraising. The Chamber endured some unwanted negative p.r. last fall when several major companies, including Apple, resigned their memberships over the organization’s opposition to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But it may be the little guys who are most upset with the Chamber’s policy priorities. More than 95% of members are small businesses, and yet the Chamber–which relies on just a handful of massive corporations for a large portion of its revenues–focuses its firepower on issues that have much more to do with the interests of multinational companies than the average small-business, and often are even at odds with what small businesses need.