Big Winner From Supreme Court Ruling: Chamber Of Commerce

January 21, 2010 9:06 am

One of the biggest winners from this morning’s Supreme Court decision on campaign finance: the Chamber of Commerce. And that’s not just because the court’s ruling gives the corporations that make up the business lobby’s membership an even greater voice in the political process than they’ve enjoyed until now.

As we explained last week, over the last decade, under CEO Tom Donohue, the Chamber has perfected a strategy of using the Chamber as a “pass-through” for corporations looking to run issue campaigns, but wary about having their names tied to the effort. In 2001, the Wall Street Journal described this as Donohue’s “striking innovation.” And a recent report made clear that the Chamber had played just this role on behalf of health insurers in a bid to stop health-care reform.Perhaps the only saving grace of the court’s ruling this morning was that it upheld the provisions of campaign-finance law that force corporations to disclose their political spending. But those requirements don’t apply if the Chamber acts as a pass-through. That’s Donohoe’s “innovation.”

“Corporations can contribute to the Chamber of Commerce, and the Chamber can spend the money,” campaign-finance reform advocate Fred Wertheimer said this morning in a conference call with reporters. “So we’ll have no way of knowing where it comes from, even with the disclosure requirements.”

Of course, that’s been the case until now. But the court’s decision means that the Chamber doesn’t need to stick to “issue” ads on behalf of its corporate members. Now it can expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate. That figures to make Donohue’s “innovation” even more valuable than ever.

Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center noted that Congress could act to beef up disclosure laws, requiring that the Chamber disclose its funders on individual campaigns. And at a press conference this morning, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that he and others would immediately look for legislative remedies to mitigate the effects of the court’s decision.

But until that happens, it looks like the Chamber’s clout will only get larger.

It’s not like the Chamber didn’t already have outsized influence in the capital. Media Matters reports that it spent $71 million on lobbying in the fourth quarter of 2009, according to disclosure reports.

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