Partisan Fighting for Your Business

By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, October 9, 2008

Congressional Democrats and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are back in that comfortable position they've long enjoyed -- mortal enemies.

After working together last week to pass the $700 billion rescue package for the financial markets, Democrats and the Chamber are now sparring over the work that big business's main lobby is doing in the upcoming House and Senate elections.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, unveiled a new DSCC study showing that the Chamber has spent $16.3 million on advertising on behalf of GOP Senate candidates in recent months. That dwarfs the $329,000 the Chamber and its affiliates have spent for Democrats; all of that money benefited Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.).

The aid from the Chamber has helped soften the financial disadvantage faced by Schumer's counterpart, the National Republican Senatorial Committee. As of Aug. 31, the DSCC had outraised the NRSC by $103 million to $67.7 million in this election cycle, records show.

Despite their well-heeled campaigns, Democrats have begun complaining to their local corporate executives about the Chamber campaigns, Schumer said. "They never used to be an arm of the NRSC, and now they are," he said.

R. Bruce Josten, the Chamber's top federal lobbyist, said the group backs candidates who want to reduce government spending, cut taxes and support tort reform.

"Last week was a clear example of how the U.S. Chamber, representing over 3 million businesses of all sizes, worked with both Democrats and Republicans to pass the rescue legislation and take an important step toward getting our economy back on track," Josten said. "It's clear that for some that spirit of bipartisanship was quickly lost."

Last week, when the $700 billion legislation was in grave doubt, the Chamber and other business groups came to its aid, asking local affiliates and members to call their senators and House members, urging passage of a deal that Schumer helped negotiate.

Interestingly, two of the three largest beneficiaries of Chamber advertising are opponents of the legislation it trumpeted last week, according to the DSCC data. Former representative Robert W. Schaffer, a Republican running for the open Senate seat in Colorado, has benefited from $3.1 million worth of Chamber-funded advertising. And Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), who called the $700 billion plan a "government takeover of our economy," has benefited from $2.2 million in advertising from the Chamber and its affiliates.

Friends of Fannie?

The mudslinging of the presidential campaign has oozed its way down the ballot to several important House and Senate races, and Washington's most infamous couple -- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- have become the object of scorn everywhere.

One House candidate in particular, Democrat Kay Barnes, is having trouble escaping Fannie's grasp, thanks to Republicans who are bent on stopping her from unseating one of their own. Barnes, who is running a spirited race to unseat four-term Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), was appointed by beleaguered former Fannie Mae chief executive Franklin Raines to serve on Fannie's National Advisory Board from March 2002 to October 2003.

"While Barnes has failed to come clean about her role in the current financial crisis, it's clear that she played an important role by dispensing bad advice and pushed a reckless agenda that eventually led to catastrophe," reads Wednesday's release by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

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