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Sept. 28, 2016

Majority of U.S. Chamber’s Political Funding Is From Only a Handful of Corporate Megadonors

Belying Its Small Business Reputation, A Few Dozen Corporate Entities Fuel 60 Percent of the Chamber’s Unconstrained Spending on Political Ads

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Although the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims to represent hundreds of thousands of businesses, just 74 entities provide almost 60 percent of the Chamber’s funding, a new analysis from Public Citizen’s Chamber Watch shows.

The finding is particularly relevant in this election year, as the Chamber has already spent more than $23 million on federal elections this cycle, making it one of the largest outside spenders.

“Voters should understand that the United States Chamber of Commerce, such as Orwellian-named groups like the Koch-funded Freedom Partners, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the Club for Growth, is in fact just another front for Big Business interests intent on buying our democracy,” said Dan Dudis, director of Public Citizen’s Chamber Watch project. “By looking at the Chamber’s funding base, it becomes readily apparent that the Chamber is not a voice for the vast majority of American businesses, but instead is a Trojan horse whose ultimate aim is the corporate capture of our government.”

Public Citizen’s analysis shows that just a handful of deep-pocketed entities provide the overwhelming majority of funding for the Chamber and its affiliates. Because the Chamber is not required to disclose the identities of its donors, it is impossible to say which company gave what amount, but it is a safe bet that almost all of the Chamber’s megadonors were big multinational corporations.

Public Citizen’s Chamber Watch analyzed data from the Chamber’s 2014 tax filings, the most recent available. It found that:

  • Just 74 entities, each giving at least $500,000, accounted for 57 percent of the almost $200 million the Chamber received in contributions.
  • Roughly 1,500 entities, each giving at least $5,000, accounted for a staggering 96 percent of contributions.
  • Almost 90 percent of its claimed membership of 300,000 direct members likely pays nothing in membership dues.
  • Donations to the Chamber are up by more than $17 million or 10 percent compared to 2012.
  • Total donations to the Chamber and its affiliates –the Institute for Legal Reform, the Chamber Litigation Center and the Chamber of Commerce Foundation – totaled more than $270 million.
  • Just 119 entities each giving at least $500,000 accounted for almost 60 percent of total donations to the Chamber and its affiliates.

Over the past two decades, the Chamber has been the largest spender on lobbying in the United States, distributing almost $1.3 billion since 1998, more than three times the amount spent by the next biggest spender. It also has spent more than $140 million on federal elections since 2008, making it one of the largest outside spenders.  

In an election year, the findings of this report are particularly salient for the millions of voters exposed to a deluge of Chamber-funded elections ads in states with close congressional races such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Indiana, Arizona, Wisconsin and New Hampshire. While the Chamber is not legally obligated to disclose the names of its donors in its public tax filings, the information it must disclose as to donation amounts paints a picture of an organization almost entirely dependent upon huge donations from Big Business and other deep-pocketed entities. This is the source of the money for the Chamber’s ongoing elections spending binge.

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