This week, National Journal reported that the health insurance lobby funneled tens of millions of dollars to the Chamber of Commerce to fund an ad campaign attacking heath-care reform. The Chamber essentially acted as a pass-through, allowing the health insurers to avoid having their names tied to the campaign.
The story understandably generated outrage — with health-care reform advocates now demanding hearings. But it looks like the pass-through tactic is nothing new. In fact, it’s a technique the Chamber has been pioneering for almost a decade.
Back in 2001, the Wall Street Journal reported that Chamber CEO Tom Donohue’s “most striking innovation has been to offer individual companies and industries the chance to use the chamber as a means of anonymously pursuing their own political ends.
For instance, the Journal reported, outfits from Wal-Mart to DaimlerChrysler to the American Council of Life Insurers all paid $1 million each to fund an ad campaign aimed at helping to elect business-friendly judges. “The participants had all been targets of costly lawsuits,” the paper noted, “and the chamber’s campaign gave them a way to fight back — without disclosing their identities.”
Last year, the Chamber, which is still led by Donohue, spent $2 million on a campaign to defeat financial regulatory reform legislation, and it plans to spend more this year. Similarly, a Chamber-backed group pledged to spend $200 million to fight the Employee Free choice Act in 2009. It hasn’t said who funded either of those campaigns, and isn’t legally required to.