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Chamber spending tops $40M as election nears

The Chamber of Commerce spent more than $40 million on advocacy in the first half of 2014, as it stepped up its involvement in the midterm elections.

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The powerhouse business lobby spent $21.6 million on advocacy efforts in the second quarter, which lasted from April through June, according to new disclosure forms. That number represents a near 55 percent increase over the same period in 2013.

Perennially the most prolific spender on K Street, the Chamber increased its expenditures primarily through voter education projects, according to Chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes.

“The Chamber continued its significant voter education campaign in the second quarter, highlighting candidates’ positions on issues important to the business community with the goal of electing people who understand how jobs are created and are interested in governing,” Latoff Holmes wrote in an email. 

“The Chamber also focused on critical job creation issues being considered by Congress, including transportation, infrastructure, energy and trade,” she added.

Unlike most business groups in Washington, the Chamber uses the IRS method to calculate its advocacy spending, which includes lobbying spending as well as grassroots organizing and independent expenditures on election ads.

The Chamber’s 65-page disclosure document shows the group continues to mount the most wide-ranging lobbying operation in Washington.

The business group reported contacting federal officials about policy issues in virtually every sector of the economy, including technology, healthcare, financial services, trade, the environment, Native American issues, labor and workplace policy.

Lobbyists with the Chamber spoke with lawmakers about policies related to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and reforms to the sugar program, according to the disclosure form. The Chamber is also interested in the Environmental Protection Agency regulations that target emissions from power plants. 

The group lobbied on the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), which is set to expire at the end of this year. It also organized a letter signed by dozens of groups and corporations urging Congress to renew the program.

“TRIA fosters certainty in the marketplace and allows all of these interconnected elements of the economy to continue to move forward. Without the backstop that TRIA provides, the private insurance market would simply be unable to provide adequate levels of terrorism risk insurance,” the letter from April reads. 

“Maintaining a workable federal terrorism insurance mechanism is vital for our nation’s economic security, and without adequate coverage, our ability to mitigate further economic fallout in the event of an attack would be greatly impaired,” it continues.

Legislation to renew the program is facing opposition from some conservative groups, including the Club for Growth, which sent a letter urging lawmakers to vote "no" on the program.

“A country that believes in free markets should not have a federal government subsidizing insurance policies at the bidding of various special interests,” the Club said.

The Chamber’s lobbying tab includes the 11 firms it has on retainer, though a majority of its direct lobbying is performed in-house.

Its advocacy spending tends to increase exponentially in election years. The most recent spike began in the last three months of 2013, when it launched its 2014 voter education program.

The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, the business group’s legal affiliate, only slightly increased its lobbying spending in the first half of this year, compared to the same period in 2013. 

The institute spent $13.43 million in the first six months of 2014, an 18 percent increase over the $11.36 million during last year’s first half.