Tuesday, November 24, 2009

19 Deep-Pocketed Donors Contribute One Third of U.S. Chamber's Funding

The gap between how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would like to be perceived and how it's actually perceived is growing.

As R?S? reported in October, the Chamber was forced to walk back its claims to represent more than 3 million U.S. businesses, eventually dropping the number in public statements to just 300,000 -- a 90% decrease.

Now, fortunately for Chamber-watch enthusiasts who were concerned the soap opera that is the nation's largest lobbying group was growing stale, we learn (per Greenwire) that of those 300,000, only 19 -- or .000063% of the Chamber's membership -- were responsible for contributing more than a third of the Chamber's funding in 2008. Just three of those donors contributed more than 17% of the Chamber's total budget, at $15.3 million, $8.2 million and $2.9 million respectively.

Why does this matter? Two reasons:

First, as Chamber spokeswoman Tita Freeman admits in the article, the lobbying group raises money from its corporate members for lobbying efforts specifically related to those companies' public policy interests:
"Like other associations, we do fundraise around issues, so one company might give to our transportation and infrastructure efforts, while another might give to intellectual property," Freeman added.
Or, as she could have easily added, companies like Exxon and Chevron might give to the Chamber's "efforts" around clean energy and climate legislation.

Second, it matters because an anonymous Chamber official told E&E News [subsription req.] back in October that the size of a company's donations does matter when it comes to formulating the Chamber's positions on public policy issues:
"Companies with the largest contributions tend to hold more sway with chamber staff on setting final policy positions," the official added.
So put two and two together and you get a pretty clear picture of how the Chamber likely decides to react to new public policy proposals: it flips through its donor rolls, finds the "big shots," and picks up the phone.

Still in doubt? Per the Times article, a recent NRDC analysis of the Chamber's Board of Directors, which is comprised of representatives of companies who want to take an active role in plotting the Chamber's course, found that on-the-record proponents of clean energy and climate legislation outnumber opponents nearly 5:1. And yet the Chamber's still spending heavily to defeat the bill. No wonder so many of those companies favoring clean energy legislation have quit the board, or the Chamber itself.

Maybe it's time the Chamber told us who its fat-walleted friends are, because they seem to have the biggest seats at the table.

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