WASHINGTON, D.C. – Twenty-four corporations that voluntarily disclosed information about their donations to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave the trade association $6.5 million in non-tax-deductible contributions last year, which is significant because that money can be used to influence elections. This money represents less than 4 percent of the U.S. Chamber’s average annual spending, revealing how little information is available about the giant trade group, which has spent more than $1 billion on lobbying since 1998, a new Public Citizen report shows.
“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce uses its considerable political reach to influence elections but doesn’t tell the public where it gets most of its money,” said Jake Parent, coordinator of U.S. Chamber Watch, a Public Citizen project. “That makes it the poster child for why we need stronger contribution disclosure rules.”
In addition to spending heavily to lobby the government, the U.S. Chamber is an active spender on elections. It reported spending more than $35 million to influence the 2012 elections. In 2010, the group poured more than $33 million into elections.
Of the 44 companies that disclose their contributions to trade associations, 24 reported making contributions to the U.S. Chamber in 2012, according to a survey by the Center for Political Accountability, a Washington, D.C., group that has persuaded many corporations to voluntarily disclose expenditures they make for political purposes. Public Citizen’s analysis determined that these companies disclosed contributions to the U.S. Chamber totaling more than $8.7 million. Of this, more than $6.5 million was reported as non-deductible expenditures that the U.S. Chamber could use for lobbying and political spending.
Companies that gave to the U.S. Chamber represent many industries, including chemicals (Dow Chemical Co.), insurance (Prudential Financial Corp.), railroads (CSX Corp.), electric utilities (Exelon Corp.), retail sales (CVS Caremark Corp.), and food and beverages (Pepsico Inc.).
Because the information was voluntarily disclosed, it is helpful, but remains incomplete. Measures requiring complete disclosure of corporate political spending are needed, Public Citizen maintains. These include a rule by the Securities and Exchange Commission requiring publicly held companies to disclose details of political spending to the benefit of the company’s investors, and passage of the DISCLOSE Act, which would require certain types of organizations that spend on elections to reveal the identities of donors giving $10,000 or more, including publicly held companies.
“Full disclosure of corporate contributions to organizations that spend on elections is a necessary step toward providing transparency in our political process,” said Adam Crowther, a Public Citizen researcher.