When you think "grassroots," you don't typically think of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The organization that represents businesses big and small across the country is perhaps the entity most consistently demonized by liberals as a venue for corporate dollars to influence U.S. politics.
And big money is the main part of the Chamber's plans for 2010: the group plans to spend $75 million this year, and it is already airing TV ads in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, seeking to influence the Senate races in those states. Soon it will be airing ads in Florida.
That makes the Chamber one of the largest DC-based elections players out there.
That's not all the Chamber is doing, however: As part of its Campaign for Free Enterprise, a nationwide initiative launched in October 2009, the Chamber will be push an anti-tax, anti-spending message out through member businesses across the country and through social media.
The idea is to conduct grassroots organizing among its supporters and member businesses to create a lasting, mobilized political support base.
Catching up perhaps a bit late to the online-political-organizing game, the Chamber now has around 60,000 fans on Facebook and announced today that it will focus heavily on using online ads to drive visitors to its Facebook page and website. It's holding events and doing campus outreach in a number of states.
All of this doesn't sound like a lot, but the Chamber is putting significant money behind it. When the Campaign for Free Enterprise was launched, the Chamber said it hoped to spend $100 million over five years. It affirmed today that it's on pace to meet that goal. Averaged out over five years, a $20 million investment in this election year would account for a major part of the Chamber's 2010 political spending.
How does this relate to the Chamber's overall political program? The Chamber says it doesn't.
There's "no connection" between the Campaign and what the Chamber's political division is doing in any specific states, said Stan Anderson, the Chamber's lead counsel and director of the Campaign for Free Enterprise, who called the Campaign an independent element of the Chamber that "does not really have as its first objective or a major objective any short-term political outcomes."
In other words, there's no coordination with the rest of the Chamber's political spending, and the Campaign isn't targeting any particular states with its events.
Although the Chamber supported the $787 billion stimulus bill, much of its message has to do with deficit spending. Here are the five questions it's asking its members to ask candidates this fall:
1. Do you believe our free enterprise system is currently threatened?2. Do you believe that tax increases hurt job creation?3. Do you think that the growth of government at all levels and the deficits that follow negatively impact job creation?4. Would you deal with the debt and deficit issues through increasing government revenue or decreasing government spending?5. Do you believe that the uncertainty resulting from pending tax increases, higher government deficits, and more government regulations will hurt the economy?
Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.