When Neil Bradley got his start in politics working for conservative Rep. Tom Coburn (R-OK), he was known as a sort of whiz-kid exposing the left’s hypocrisy. Today, political insiders credit him for wrecking the United States Chamber of Commerce’s political arm.
The recent endorsement of 23 House Democrats in swing districts by the Chamber of Commerce is bringing newfound scrutiny to the business group, especially from top Republican lawmakers.
Bradley, the Chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer, is said to be behind the string of Democrat endorsements — a move that would have been considered unheard of more than two decades ago.
In 1994, Coburn had been elected as part of the Republican Revolution, regarded in a similar light to today’s Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), that is, a thorn in the side of the Democrats and, oftentimes, the Republican establishment. Bradley became a part of that well-oiled machine.
Bradley eventually went on to work as the director for the Republican Study Committee, as well as for House Republican leadership members like Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
In those days, the Chamber served as a serious business lobbying arm to the Republican Party that promoted the interests mostly of small businesses. When the Chamber endorsed a piece of legislation, it was almost guaranteed 200 Republican votes.
That influence in the GOP has long dwindled.
A Chamber endorsement for legislation, an insider said, would likely only move about 20 Republican votes. And that was before the group finalized their support for Democrats.
“The Chamber’s political apparatus has been destroyed,” an insider told Breitbart News. “Donors are fleeing, no one trusts them anymore.”
It is not just a dwindling influence with Republican lawmakers. The number of small businesses paying dues with the Chamber is well below its heyday. At its peak, the Chamber had about 130,000 small businesses, according to an insider with knowledge. Now, there are less than 7,000 small businesses with the Chamber.
Due to the shrinking number of small businesses with the Chamber, wealthy CEOs and big businesses have grown immensely in influence over the group’s decisions. An insider credits that changed power dynamic inside the Chamber for the move to endorse Democrats, an attempt to seem above the political fray.
“It’s becoming more of an elitist organization,” an insider said.
On Thursday, it was reported that the Chamber has started laying off staff.
Increasingly at odds with President Trump’s transformation of the Republican Party back to its populist, worker-focused roots, the Chamber had already become a pariah in populist right circles.
The group’s support for amnesty for illegal aliens during the Obama years and recent efforts to undermine Trump’s fair trade agenda are two examples.
The Chamber is often described by its opponents as a donor class operation that seeks the approval of Washington, D.C. swampy beltway.
Yet and still, the Chamber’s endorsement of 23 House Democrats took members of the Republican Party off guard. Two days after the announcement, Bradley’s former boss, House Minority Leader McCarthy, told Fox Business Channel’s Lou Dobbs that he does not want the Chamber’s endorsement anymore.
“I don’t want the U.S. Chamber’s endorsement, because they have sold out,” McCarthy said. “You listen to your local chambers … it is hypocrisy that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would endorse these Democrats that are part of this socialist agenda that is driving this country out and is fighting this president.”
One insider said McCarthy is furious over Bradley’s rollout of the endorsements this election cycle, mostly because the GOP has recruited exceptional candidates in many of these swing districts.
McCarthy’s office did not return a request for comment.
A Republican operative who has worked with the Chamber for a number of election cycles described the endorsements as typical cronyism with the help of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“These endorsements are what happens when the Washington swamp and Wall Street get together in Nancy Pelosi’s conference room and make a deal,” the operative said.
Newt Gingrich, a fixture of the ’94 Republican Revolution, said the endorsements betray “every business member of the Chamber” and called for the leadership — Tom Donohue, Suzanne Clark, and Bradley — to “be replaced.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) promoted a Wall Street Journal piece detailing the Chamber’s Democrat endorsements, writing “The Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s premier business lobby, puts aside its principles to make nice with Democrats.”
Even more problematic for the Chamber, perhaps, are executives and local Chambers publicly criticizing the endorsements. In Oklahoma, where Bradley got his start, associates of the Chamber are not staying quiet.
Devon Energy Corporation executive Allen Wright resigned from the Chamber’s board of directors because of the endorsements.
Chad Warmington, president and CEO of the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce, wrote a scathing rebuke of the Chamber’s endorsement. Specifically, Warmington noted the Chamber’s glossing over Rep. Kendra Horn’s (D-OK) record in Congress, endorsing her against Republican Stephanie Bice.
“I question how the U.S. Chamber could endorse a candidate who consistently voted against the largest industry in Oklahoma, employing over 90,000 workers throughout the state,” Warmington said. “That is hardly a pro-business record.”
In Oklahoma’s 5th congressional district, Bice is running a tight race against Horn. The Chamber is hoping Horn can pull off a victory against the GOP challenger in a district that voted 53 percent for Trump in 2016.
The Chamber did not respond to a request for comment from Bradley at the time of this publication.
John Binder is a reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter at @JxhnBinder.