In 2010, the Chamber reported total political expenditures of $32 million. It has spent $27 million in the 2012 cycle.
Companies that disclose their donations do not have to specify which portion is for dues or special projects, or how much could be used for political lobbying and ads. Dow said it gave the Chamber a total of $1.6 million, without detailing which portion could be used for lobbying. Merck reported that last year it donated $725,000 that could be used for political lobbying, but it didn’t specify a total contribution.
Prudential told shareholders that it gave the Chamber $570,000, about half of that for lobbying. It also reported giving an additional $1 million to the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, which seeks tort reform and liability limits, and said more than two-thirds of that was for political lobbying.
Companies such as Coca-Cola, Chubb Insurance, MetLife, computer-chip-maker Intel and defense contractor Lockheed Martin also shared information about their donations, the disclosures show.
The Chamber gives companies an estimate of the proportion of their donations — which can be as much as half — used for lobbying purposes, including political ads.
Prudential’s DeFillippo said the company has an agreement with the Chamber that its contributions will be used only for “operational purposes” and not political campaigns.
Intel said its $190,000 contribution goes to pay dues and to contribute to the Chamber’s special program to increase market access for U.S. corporations in foreign countries. Intel trade policy director Greg Slater said the Chamber has helped resist protectionist trade practices in some countries.
Several corporate spokespeople said their donations were logistical support for a trade group that advances their shareholders’ and clients’ interests, whether on tort reform or health-care legislation.
“Dow participates in many trade and business associations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to assist in managing our policy priorities important to businesses, including tax reform, energy, among other issues,” company spokeswoman Nancy Lamb said.
MetLife gives these donations, spokesman John Calagna said, because it “along with virtually every major company and thousands of small businesses . . . respects the Chamber for its strong voice on behalf of business as the key to a strong economy and country.”
Alice Crites, Dan Eggen, T.W. Farnam and Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.