NYT Pulls Back Curtain On Corporate Donations To Chamber

The Chamber of Commerce, as a non-profit “business league” in the eyes of the IRS, is legally allowed to withhold the names of its donors from public filings. So it does.

The names of Chamber donors, and the amount they donate, are so secret that when the New York Times set out to find out who they were, it didn’t find much. But what it did find provided a window into the kind of legislation companies are willing to spend millions to defeat.Dow Chemical gave the Chamber $1.7 million in the past year to support, in part, the Chamber’s lobbying against legislation that would impose stricter requirements for protecting chemical plants from attack.

Prudential Financial gave $2 million last year, a donation that coincided with the Chamber’s lobbying against certain provisions of the financial reform bill.

The Times also notes that several companies, including Goldman Sachs and Chevron Texaco, give large amounts to the Chamber’s charitable foundation. The Chamber has been accused of, and has denied, using the foundation to illegally run lobbying campaigns.

And, the Times reports, the Chamber received almost half of its $140 million in contributions in 2008 from 45 donors — out of a claimed membership of 300,000 companies.

The Chamber explained to the Times why its donors prefer not to be revealed:

“The major supporters of us in health care last year were confronted with protests at their corporate headquarters, protests and harassment at the C.E.O.’s homes,” said R. Bruce Josten, the chief lobbyist at the chamber, whose office looks out on the White House. “You are wondering why companies want some protection. It is pretty clear.”

The story comes on the heels of some other brief glimpses into how the Chamber works: The Times reported recently that News Corp. gave the Chamber $1 million, and ThinkProgress had a pair of stories attempting to trace the route of foreign money into the Chamber coffers.

The Chamber is mounting an epic $75 million ad campaign during the midterm elections, the large majority of which is aimed at helping elect Republican candidates.