Eager to reverse many of the Obama administration’s policies, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue has vowed to spend $75 million on the upcoming Congressional elections. But with less than a month until Election Day, the nation’s leading business lobby is well short of that bold goal as it competes with other outside campaign entities for business and conservative donors.
As of Monday, the chamber had spent just less than $9 million on electioneering and communications activities this year, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. Those expenditures, the bulk of which were reported in the past month, were earmarked for television advertising in key Senate races, including those in California, Florida, Indiana and New Hampshire.
The chamber has also contributed $4.6 million to 527 groups, much of it to the Republican Governors Association. And the group has doled out slightly more than $100,000 from its political action committee. Of that sum, $79,000 went to federal candidates — with almost 85 percent of that portion going to Republicans.
While most groups rapidly increase their spending in the final month before the elections, experts said the chamber still faces a steep climb to meet its target.
“Based on what the chamber has said they have spent to date, the chamber has a long way to go to meet the target of $75 million,” said Peter Stone of the Center for Public Integrity. He also said there remain unanswered questions about the chamber’s election-year fundraising.
“But we don’t know how much they are holding back and how much they have raised so far,” he said. “It is still conceivable they could pour as much as $50 million in the last weeks of the campaign into a gamut of activities, including ads and get-out-the-vote efforts.”
Stone recently authored a report for the Center for Public Integrity analyzing the major outside groups that are spending prodigiously this election cycle. In that report, Stone cited Bill Miller, the chamber’s national political director, saying the chamber has spent much more. Miller said the business group had spent $20 million through mid-September not only on TV advertising but also on mail and phone banks. Miller also said the chamber intended to spend millions of dollars on online mobilization using a new data bank of 6 million “Friends of the Chamber.”
It is difficult to get a handle on the chamber’s spending on grass-roots activity and its expenditures on state campaigns, which are not reported to the FEC.
The chamber is not required to report the companies from which it has collected donations to run its campaign. But last week media outlets reported the chamber had received $1 million from News Corp., owner of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, for its campaign effort.
Chamber spokesman J.P. Fielder did not address specific campaign spending.
In an e-mailed statement, Fielder said, “As Tom Donohue said in his State of American Business address last January this will be the largest political effort in the Chamber’s history because we feel in the current economy, it’s more important than ever to highlight where candidates stand on policies that create jobs.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.