Just over two dozen publicly traded companies have disclosed their donations to the organization — totaling about $11 million.
The Chamber — one of Washington’s major political powers, with annual revenue of $200 million — pledged to spend $100 million this election cycle to support candidates focused on corporate concerns. But the corporate trade association does not have to identify the companies that donate, and those firms can decide whether to share that information.
“We’re pleased to report this, but not every company provides that level of disclosure,” said Bob DeFillippo, a spokesman for Prudential, which donated more than $1.5 million to the organization. “It’s important to see you’re not getting the full picture. But for us, it’s a matter of being transparent.”
Donating to the Chamber can be a double-edged sword for some corporations with a broad consumer base. Although the organization’s pro-business advocacy can benefit companies, the chamber has a controversial and generally pro-Republican agenda, which could anger some customers. Apple, Nike and other companies loudly quit the Chamber in 2009 because it opposed policies to combat climate change.
“What is true is that publicly traded companies are very worried about their shareholders, the public and their customers knowing that they’re giving this money,” said Public Citizen President Robert Weissman. “What we see is that when it isn’t disclosed, companies are more interested in giving.”
The information about donations in 2011 came from voluntary corporate disclosures, recently compiled by Public Citizen and the Center for Political Accountability, which support more mandatory disclosure of donations.
Chamber leaders said its foes seek to make donors wary by creating a controversy. They say their campaigns aim to educate voters about policies that can boost the economy and create jobs.
“The fact that a particular company is a member of the Chamber is not controversial to the vast majority of the public,” Chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff said. “We’re not interested in facilitating harassment and intimidation of individuals and businesses for doing nothing more than engaging in protected speech and exercising their First Amendment freedom of association.”
Advocacy groups — including U.S. PIRG, Public Citizen, the Business Ethics Network and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — are calling for more mandatory disclosure.
“Corporations should operate on the premise that their political donations will be disclosed,” said Bruce Freed of the Center for Political Accountability. “Secrecy breeds abuse and undermines accountability.”