Previously, we have explored the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s extremely partisan, secretive approach to election spending. Under CEO Tom Donohue, in the 2016 elections, the Chamber spent nearly $30 million, 100 percent of which went to benefit Republican candidates. Among groups that do not disclose their donors, the Chamber was the second largest spender in the 2016 elections (after the National Rifle Association). Along with its spending habits, the Chamber’s staffing also tells a story of how wildly partisan the organization is. This is of course very different than the wide-ranging perspectives of the Main Street businesses the Chamber purports to represent, which represent every political stripe and ideological bent in the nation.
In a new report, Public Citizen analyzed a database of 157 current and former Chamber employees who previously held jobs that could be characterized as partisan in nature, such as working for an elected official or an outside group with a strong ideological bent. Of these, more than 90 percent worked for Republican or conservative entities, and fewer than 10 percent for Democratic or liberal entities. These Chamber employees worked for 72 GOP members of the U.S. House and 47 GOP U.S. senators.
We tallied 73 different right-leaning entities that have fed employees to the Chamber, including Republican White Houses and cabinet secretaries, the Republican National Committee, right-leaning political action committees, conservative media, and Republican members of Congress.
Republican or conservative entities for which U.S. Chamber employees have worked include such familiar names as Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and other Koch brothers groups, and the NRA, as seen in this map:
For comparison’s sake, here is the much less busy map of Democratic or liberal entities for which U.S. Chamber employees have worked:
Given this lopsided, tangled web of associations with conservative actors, it is safe to conclude that the Chamber is not an apolitical organization looking out for your local mom-and-pop stores, as it masquerades. Instead, what the Chamber advocates is usually the preferred policies of the Republican Party and those in its sphere. And indeed, the Chamber’s activity has lined up with the GOP’s legislative agenda with uncanny frequency.
The Chamber has taken conservative positions on issues such as climate change and environmental regulations, repealing the Affordable Care Act, tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, and opposing workplace equality for women. In addition, the Chamber often throws around its weight in the legal system, frequently using litigation against those who oppose the aforementioned policies.
At U.S. Chamber Watch, we work to draw attention to the fact that the U.S. Chamber is behaving in a partisan manner and focused on dismantling the public protections that small businesses (and regular Americans) need.
One important way to do this is to ensure that the many companies that fund the Chamber understand what they stand for. Many have consumer-facing brands, and need to be conscious of their PR and public associations. These brand-sensitive companies would never want anyone to think of them as supporting the Koch brothers or undercutting climate change, worker health, and financial safety policies.
We aren’t naïve, and we don’t expect these companies to make decisions solely out of the goodness of their hearts. But what they should do is recognize the partisanship of the Chamber and the danger it could pose to their bottom lines. They know that their ideologically diverse customer bases may abandon their brands if their ties to such a partisan organization are discovered. These companies should stop funding the Chamber.
The revolving door of staffers from the GOP to the Chamber of Commerce is yet more evidence that it is not actually a trade group benignly representing business interests as it claims to be, but rather a partisan organization pushing for a conservative agenda. You can read our full report, titled “The Chamber of Partisanship: An Investigation into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Dense Web of Political Connections” here.