U.S. Chamber boosts election budget to $75 million

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Tom Donohue, the combative president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is upping the ante for the fall elections.

The Chamber aims to raise $75 million for the business behemoth’s electoral efforts, a 50 percent jump from its earlier stated goal of $50 million, Donohue said in a tough closed-door speech on June 28 to about 100 business and industry group leaders, according to a source who attended the meeting.

If it can haul in the $75 million, which is expected to go heavily into issue ads and get out the vote efforts in a few dozen key House and Senate races, the Chamber would likely be the biggest spender among outside groups helping the GOP. The lion’ share of the Chamber’s political spending in elections has historically benefitted Republicans.

The Chamber’s ambitious $75 million goal would be more than double the $36 million that it spent in 2008, the group’s previous high.

Donohue’s speech was delivered at the Chamber’s semi-annual meeting of its elite “Committee of 100” at a resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. He urged the business community to work together to “change the composition” of the Congress, the source said.

The Donohue talk also was laced with criticism of President Barack Obama “for his lack of leadership on the economy and in creating jobs and the right atmosphere,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Among those in attendance were Tom Kuhn of the Edison Electric Institute and former Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, now with the National Association of Broadcasters.

Besides announcing the Chamber’s new $75 million target for its political efforts, Donohue separately was upbeat about the prospect of working more closely on key issues with the often more moderate Business Roundtable, a group of powerful corporate chief executives. According to the source who heard Donohue’s remarks, the Chamber leader noted with pleasure that in a recent speech in Washington, Ivan Seidenberg, the chief executive of Verizon Communications Inc. and the current head of the Business Roundtable, had echoed much of the harder line that the Chamber has adopted towards White House policies and the Democrats’ agenda.

The tough rhetoric from Donohue comes after a year in which the Chamber spent tens of millions of dollars in an unsuccessful drive to block the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats from passing an expensive health care reform package. Similarly, the Chamber has spent millions of dollars more to oppose key parts of the sweeping financial regulatory overhaul – including an abortive effort to kill a new consumer financial protection agency. The financial reform bill was approved by the House this week and is expected to win Senate passage after the July 4 recess.