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Chamber of Commerce $33 Million Lost Most Races: BGOV Barometer

Graphic: George Petras/Bloomberg
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent more than $33 million on advertisements for 50 candidates in the 2012 election. Fourteen of those candidates won.

Dec. 4 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce went 14-36 in the 2012 congressional races where it ran political advertisements, rivaling the won-lost record of the 1962 New York Mets.

The BGOV Barometer shows that the chamber, the largest U.S. business lobby, compiled a winning percentage of .280 even with its record spending. The Mets went 13-37 in their first 50 games, a .260 percentage en route to a record 120-loss season.

The chamber posted a winning record in 2010 as it helped Republicans gain a House majority and shrink the Democrats’ edge in the Senate. This time, the business group pledged to boost its spending to a record $50 million. While the chamber hasn’t disclosed all of its spending, it reported $33 million in expenditures on congressional races. Among outside groups that don’t identify their donors, that’s second only to Americans for Prosperity, backed by energy executives Charles and David Koch.

“For conservatives and groups like the chamber, 2010 was as good as an election as you could have,” said Bill Allison, editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based watchdog group. “They weren’t going to stay that successful this time around. This wasn’t 2010; it was a different election.”

Rob Engstrom, the chamber’s senior vice president for political affairs, said the organization still can point to successes in the last election.

Status-Quo Election

“The U.S. Chamber’s goal in 2012 was to protect gains made in the House of Representatives in 2010 and advance a pro-business majority in the Senate,” Engstrom said. “2012 was a status-quo election, where the balance of power stayed the same. However, we successfully preserved a free enterprise majority in the lower chamber, which will serve as a backstop to harmful legislation and regulations on our members.”

Engstrom said 80 percent of the 304 candidates the chamber endorsed won election.

Chamber-backed nominees lost 13 of 14 U.S. Senate races and 23 of 36 U.S. House contests where the group ran ads or made other general-election independent expenditures, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group, and New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG.

The chamber ran 47,595 spots in those races, three-fourths of them negative, according to data from CMAG, which tracks ads.

It protected 12 incumbents: Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada; Democratic Representatives John Barrow of Georgia and Jim Matheson of Utah; and Republican Representatives Jeff Denham of California, Mike Coffman of Colorado, Fred Upton of Michigan, Joe Heck of Nevada, Chris Gibson of New York, Bill Johnson and Jim Renacci of Ohio, Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Sean Duffy of Wisconsin.

Democrat Defeated

The group managed to defeat just one officeholder, Democratic Representative Kathy Hochul of New York, and backed Republican Rodney Davis’ successful effort win an open U.S. House seat in Illinois.

The chamber also said it ran ads before last summer in support of Republican Representatives Dan Benishek of Michigan and Dave Reichert of Washington, both of whom were re-elected. The chamber’s election efforts go beyond advertisements and include get-out-the-vote operations, endorsement press conferences and voter education.

The chamber failed to oust Democratic Senators Bill Nelson of Florida, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania; and Representatives Lois Capps and Jerry McNerney of California, John Tierney of Massachusetts, David Cicilline of Rhode Island, and Tim Bishop, Bill Owens and Louise Slaughter of New York.

Uphill Struggle

“It will take some time for the chamber to rebuild credibility with those lawmakers that they just spent tens of millions of dollars trying to defeat,” said Scott Paul, executive director of the Washington-based Alliance for American Manufacturing. “It’ll be an uphill struggle for them, particularly in the Senate. But a lot of that is self-inflicted.”

Chamber support also wasn’t enough to protect 10 Republican incumbents -- Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Representatives Brian Bilbray and Dan Lungren of California, Judy Biggert and Robert Dold of Illinois, Chip Cravaack of Minnesota, Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass of New Hampshire and Ann Marie Buerkle and Nan Hayworth of New York.

Allison said he expected the chamber to increase its political efforts even more in 2014, when fewer voters will go to the polls and President Barack Obama won’t be on the ballot.

“Going into the midterms, they’re going to be a little more confident that they will get more bang for the buck,” he said. “This money isn’t going away.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at

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