Holy Solyndra, Batman. It turns out businessmen are even worse at making political investments than politicians are in making business investments.
That’s right. After spending hundreds of millions of their own and shareholder dollars to knock off a tax-and-regulate administration and deliver a permanent Republican majority in Congress, business leaders now face the prospect of at least four years dealing with a president and lawmakers who won’t soon forget the nasty, misleading ads run against them. At the same time, the business community has succeeded in uniting the citizenry around the idea that something should be done to prevent monied interests from spending unlimited sums of secret cash to buy elections.
Steven Pearlstein is a Pulitzer Prize-winning business and economics columnist at The Washington Post.
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The poster boy for this stunning miscalculation and misallocation of shareholder funds is Thomas Donohue, the longtime president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who has turned the once-venerable business organization into a political money-laundering operation on behalf of the Republican Party.
As the election cycle began, Donohue vowed to spend $100 million on a positive national advertising campaign to educate the public on the benefits of free enterprise. If you go to the Chamber’s Web site, however, what you’ll find is a reel of unrelentingly negative and partisan TV attack ads aimed at Tim Kaine of Virginia, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bill Nelson of Florida, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Jon Tester of Montana, Angus King of Maine, Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, all of whom will be part of the newly enlarged and energized Democratic majority in the Senate. Data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show that the Chamber spent at least $32 million on 15 Senate races, 13 of which went the other way.
Never one to apologize, Donohue was out with a news release the day after the election declaring that the Chamber’s “principal goal” all along had been “to defend the pro-business gains we made in Congress in 2010 and ensure balance in the federal government when it comes to policies affecting business. That goal was achieved.” Thank Heaven for that, because it would otherwise raise questions about why the Chamber’s dues-paying job creators are paying Donohue nearly $5 million a year.
It is fortunate for the Republic that the Chamber no longer represents American business, and that there are genuine business leaders prepared to play a more constructive role in getting Washington to yes on a grand budget bargain before the country heads over a fiscal cliff. A group of 80 chief executives of the some of the country’s largest corporations have committed personal time and corporate money — $40 million so far — to provide political cover to politicians willing to move toward the “radical center,” as Honeywell’s Dave Cote put it, by backing a budget plan like that proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission.
The momentum generated by “Fix the Debt” already has triggered some quiet but unmistakable pushback from the Chamber, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and Chris Chocola’s Club for Growth, which despite the election results continue to wage political jihad against anything that might involve higher taxes on the wealthy, businesses or investors.