Chamber Discloses a Record Lobby Sum

Posted October 19, 2009 at 6:41pm

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which on Monday found itself the target of a hoax by climate change advocates, reported spending a record amount on federal lobbying in the third quarter of this year.

The group’s lobbying disclosure report came with much less fanfare than the hoax — a press release and a press conference saying the chamber had reversed its opposition to the House climate change bill — but the real report showed the chamber shelled out a record $34.7 million on lobbying. The business group sought to influence a wide gamut of issues from climate change, financial regulation and health care reform to more obscure legislation involving pythons.

The chamber’s lobbying report, which was filed Monday with the Senate, also showed a substantial increase from its spending in the first and second quarters of this year, when it spent $9.9 million and $7.4 million, respectively.

“The issues the Congress is taking on are some of the most major and complex facing the nation,— said Tita Freeman, the chamber’s vice president of communications. “We feel it is important for us to have a voice.—

Freeman noted that in the third quarter the chamber lobbied for the Cash for Clunkers program, which Congress briefly extended after a clamor from car buyers and automobile companies and dealers. The chamber has been less receptive to Democrats’ proposals for health care and financial regulation reforms. Freeman said the chamber did not increase its lobbying staff during this period.

As for the hoax, three activist groups are taking credit for the fake press release and a related press conference at the National Press Club. The Yes Men, with help from international activist group Avaaz and Beyond Talk, a loose coalition focused on civil disobedience to promote climate change legislation, coordinated the event, according to Yes Men co-founder Jacques Servin.

And the groups aren’t stopping there. They have planned another event at 10:30 Tuesday morning on the Capitol lawn, where they will cover the lawn with “SurvivaBalls,— according to Servin.

“The U.S. and especially the chamber are holding up action on climate change,— Servin said. “The chamber has the most troglodyte position imaginable.—

The event took about a week to coordinate, Servin said.

The fake release said that in a dramatic change, the chamber was supporting the House climate change bill. Reuters and other news outlets reported the policy change before updating the story to acknowledge the hoax.

A chamber official said that hoaxes like these undermine the group’s effort to find the answers to climate change issues and that it will be asking law enforcement to investigate the event.

“These irresponsible tactics are a foolish distraction from the serious effort by our nation to reduce greenhouse gases,— said the chamber’s Thomas Collamore. “The U.S. Chamber believes that strong climate legislation is compatible with the goals of improving our economy and creating jobs. We continuously seek opportunities to engage in a constructive dialogue to achieve these goals.—

The chamber is opposed to the House cap-and-trade bill, which has led a handful of dissenting chamber members to leave the group.

Its opposition to the climate change legislation, as well as a number of other issues, has fueled the chamber’s increased lobby spending.

While the chamber has historically outspent other companies and associations when it comes to federal lobbying and has often ramped up its expenditures in the latter half of the year, the spike this time is substantially greater than in the past. In 2008, the group reported spending $20.6 million in the third quarter and $24 million in the fourth quarter.

So far this year, the chamber has spent $52 million compared with $38.3 million for the same period in 2008. While third-quarter lobbying reports are not due until Tuesday, a number of associations and companies have filed early.

The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, an arm of the chamber, disclosed it spent $4.2 million on lobbying for the third quarter, compared with $3.1 million in the second quarter of this year.

The chamber has a robust lobbying agenda that includes many of the major issues being tackled by the Obama administration and Congress.

According to the chamber’s 91-page disclosure report, it is lobbying on appropriations bills, economic stimulus and trade legislation, health care reform, weapons acquisition reform, energy and climate change, union organizing and transportation issues, among other matters.

The business group is also interested in less visible legislation, listing on its lobbying report a resolution “to amend title 18 United States Code, to include constrictor snakes of the Python genera as an injurious animal.—