By Kevin Bogardus - 03/26/14 06:00 AM EDT
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is burying the hatchet with the GOP as it prepares to spend millions of dollars on midterm election ads.
The vast majority of GOP lawmakers who defied the Chamber last year by voting against raising the debt ceiling and reopening the government remain in the business group’s good graces, an analysis by The Hill found.
In addition, 111 of those lawmakers are eligible to receive the Chamber’s Spirit of Enterprise Award, which many accepted earlier this month at an event where they glad-handed for photographers with Tom Donohue, the Chamber’s president and CEO.
It’s a far cry from late 2013, when the Chamber and other business groups were openly rebuking some Republicans and threatening to go to war with the Tea Party in primaries.
“We’re not a single-issue organization. We take into account votes on a number of issues important to the business community,” said Blair Latoff Holmes, a Chamber spokeswoman.
For 2013, the Chamber graded House members on 13 different votes, including the debt-limit vote. Other votes the business group monitored last year included measures dealing with cybersecurity, natural-gas pipelines and tort reform.
Lawmakers who vote with the Chamber at least 70 percent of the time during the preceding year qualify for its annual Spirit of Enterprise Award. Those who keep a 70 percent or higher score over their legislative career can receive a coveted Chamber endorsement.
“The Spirit of Enterprise is awarded annually based on a member’s voting record on key business issues during the preceding legislative session. An endorsement, on the other hand, is awarded only during an election cycle and is based on an incumbent’s cumulative score over the full tenure of their career in Congress,” Latoff Holmes said.
Several of the House’s most rowdy GOP insurgents scored high marks with the Chamber.
Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.) earned a 71 percent lifetime rating with the Chamber in 2013; Rep. Louie Gohmert (Texas) had an 80 percent score; Rep. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.) posted a 78 percent rating; and Rep. David Schweikert (Ariz.) tallied an 84 percent score.
Some House Republicans who voted against lifting the debt limit have touted their Chamber support. When the business group released its scorecard earlier this month, several lawmakers sent out press releases highlighting the Chamber’s recognition.
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) noted his “pro-business record” in a statement from his office, which included a picture of him shaking hands with Donohue, the Chamber’s head. Rep. Tom Reed’s (R-N.Y.) office also included a picture with Donohue in its release, noting Reed’s “pro-growth, pro-jobs voting record.”
Stewart has an 85 percent cumulative score with the Chamber, while Reed has a 96 percent score. Both members voted against opening up the government and raising the borrowing limit.
Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors and a prominent Republican fundraiser, said industry groups are focused on the bigger picture.
“The single most important thing for the business community is that the House stays in Republican hands. That is your firewall against Obama and Democratic-authored policy initiatives,” Van Dongen said. “What you do is note your displeasure and you move on.”
In January, Donohue told reporters that he has no problem with the Tea Party. The business group leader noted that the Chamber often agrees with their positions, though he said their aggressive tactics are often counterproductive.
“I think they’re well-intentioned people, except when they get to Washington, they’re not going to do what we believe we need to do, so why should we help them get here? And why don’t we protect the people that are here? But don’t line me up as attacking the Tea Party, because I’m not,” Donohue said at the time.
The Chamber is a force to be reckoned with in campaign politics. It spent more than $32 million on independent expenditures for the 2012 campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).
The business group has spent almost $2.7 million so far this election cycle.
The bulk of those funds went into recent special elections in Alabama and Florida, as well as efforts to protect GOP incumbents facing tough primary challengers, including Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), according to the CRP.
The Chamber has left Tea Party stalwarts in the House alone so far this election cycle. Instead, it has sought to protect allies on Capitol Hill from conservative attacks.
“The business community has chosen to focus on challenges by people out of the mainstream to incumbent Republicans. That’s where the action is,” Van Dongen said.
Van Dongen said “widespread negative public reaction” to the shutdown seems to have chastened House Republicans and strengthened the hand of leadership.
“Obviously, there was significant disappointment — angst is probably a better word — in the business community over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling last year,” Van Dongen said.
That resulted in more political engagement by groups.
“What has really changed this cycle is the business community has engaged in primaries more than I have ever seen,” he said.