For the first time in recent history, the lobbying, grassroots and advertising budget of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has surpassed the spending of BOTH the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee.
This is significant. It means that the Great Transition has already begun. In the days following the decision in Citizens United, campaign finance experts predicted that the decision would open the floodgates of money for trade associations like the Chamber of Commerce. The influx of corporate money, according to some, would weaken the power of the political parties and candidates and lead the political parties to become less important. Republican lawyer Ben Ginsberg went so far as to say that the parties would be "threatened by extinction." And Ginsberg supports the CU decision!
As it turns out, the surge of contributions into the U.S. Chamber has already caused its budget on lobbying, grassroots and advertising to surpass that of both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee for the first time in recent memory. According to The Center for Responsive Politics, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its national subsidiaries spent $144.5 million in 2009, far more than the RNC and more than double the expenditures by the DNC.
The Chamber spent much of its money in 2009 on campaigns that worked -- it scared the Senate away from considering a version of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation, and an argument can be made that its cutting ads on health care (with money taken from some insurance companies) helped to undercut support for the legislation.
Included in the U.S. Chamber amount are expenditures of about $1 million each in Virginia and Massachusetts on electioneering in off-year contests in those states, and sizeable spending on advertising campaigns in key states and districts aimed at defeating health care, climate change and financial reform legislation.
The U.S. Chamber's expenditures this year even exceeded expenditures of many committees in 2008.
That year, the DCCC spent $142.9 million, the DSCC spent $136.5 million, the NRSC spent $73.9 million, and the NRCC spent $72.7 million. Finally, it's worth noting that none of the contributions that made up this $145 million were subject to disclosure. Ginsberg also believed that this would be a factor in the expected flood of contributions, noting that 501c6s -- the section of the tax code under which the Chamber is organized -- were "[l]ikely to emerge as the biggest players in the 2010 and 2012 elections, ideological groups and trade associations also have been granted the ability to engage much more robustly in the political process. Meager disclosure requirements of their donors will make them a favorite repository of funds for independent expenditures."
The method of reporting chosen by the Chamber reflects all lobbying activity as well as grassroots and issue communication. While party expenditures surge during presidential election years, it is important to keep in mind that the U.S. Chamber has a policy against becoming involved in presidential races. 2002 marked a significant surge in Chamber spending, from approximately $20 million in 2001 to more than $40 million in 2002.
Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.