While many conservatives celebrate the abrupt resignation of Speaker John Boehner, business groups backed by mega corporations are finalizing plans to neuter conservative lawmakers in 2016.
The U.S. Chamber will take the lead, planning to spend $100 million in 2016, a large portion of which will be devoted to defeat conservatives in Republican primaries.
Roll Call reports that “[s]ome of business’ top targets in 2016 will be right-wing, tea party candidates, the types that have bucked the corporate agenda in Congress.”
The $100 million the Chamber plans to spend this cycle is close to triple the amount the group spent in 2012, when President Obama was running for reelection. In 2014, when the Chamber launched its effort to attack conservatives in primaries, the group spent close to $70 million.
The evolution of the Chamber’s political spending goes a long way to explain the current dysfunction in Washington. The organization will devote $170 million to combat conservatives in primaries and support establishment Republicans in the general, but only around $30 million when Obama is running for reelection.
At the time business groups announced their heavy involvement in Republican primaries, Scott Reed, the Chamber’s top political consultant said, “[t]he need is now more than ever to elect people who understand the free market and not silliness.”
The top legislative priorities for the U.S. Chamber, and many business groups, are reinstatement of the Export-Import Bank, an immigration overhaul that greatly expands the number of both legal workers and foreign work visas, and an overhaul of the corporate income tax.
Only one of these priorities is clearly a free-market position.
Conservatives support corporate tax reform, but oppose the other two priorities. Establishment Republicans, however, support all three. A perhaps larger problem for the Chamber, though, is that conservative priorities have no interest for them.
ObamaCare has little impact on the large corporations that dominate the Chamber and most business organizations. Likewise, concerns over government spending and debt mean little in the corporate boardroom, many of which are dependent on large government contracts. For the largest corporations, regulations are a nuisance that can generally be managed, albeit expensively, through lobbying and the courts.
The loss of John Boehner is a big blow to the Chamber and other business organizations. Boehner was one of the few House leaders to support reinstating the Ex-Im Bank, which does nothing for the economy but handsomely rewards a few corporations with deep political pockets. Boehner also, along with the entire Republican establishment, wants to expand immigration with the express purpose of increasing the labor pool.
The brief government shutdown in 2013 prompted the Chamber to engage in Republican primaries. “The gang that wants to shut down the government, that’s a clear contrast to what the business community agrees is best for economic growth,” Reed said.
It doesn’t matter than the Republican party won an historic landslide election just one year after the shutdown, the Washington establishment is convinced it hurt the party. The sudden resignation of Speaker Boehner will only further convince business groups to engage against conservatives in primaries.
The Chamber has already spent $3 million on political ads this summer in an effort to support establishment Republicans. Its the earliest the organization has even run ads.
The business effort will go beyond simply running TV commercials, though. The Business and Industry PAC, now run by former moderate Republican Rep. Jim Gerlach, is planning a grass-roots campaign among employees of major corporations.
“But I’m still not sure yet how much employees understand the importance of their actual participation in the process,” Gerlach said, “so that’s going to be our job to educate them.”
There was a time that the top priority of America’s largest businesses was simply to be left alone by the government. As a result, the interests of conservatives and business organizations were completely intertwined. For a long list of reasons, that time has faded away. Many large corporations don’t as much want government to get out of the way as to get on their side.
Conservatives may not want an outright war with the largest business associations, but that war has already started.