Markets in Everything: Political Deniability Edition

by Henry on July 7, 2010

The Washington Monthly‘s “piece on the US Chamber of Commerce”:http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2010/1007.verini.html has a killer quote.

bq. It also established a branch of a front group, the Campaign for Responsible Health Reform, and hired a Little Rock Republican strategist to run it. The strategist, Bill Vickery, told me that his activities were “backed solely” by the Chamber. In other words, a large part of what the Chamber sells is political cover. For multibillion-dollar insurers, drug makers, and medical device manufacturers who are too smart and image conscious to make public attacks of their own, the Chamber of Commerce is a friend who will do the dirty work. “I want to give them all the deniability they need,” says [US Chamber of Commerce President and CEO] Donohue. That deniability is evidently worth a lot. According to a January article in the National Journal, six insurers alone—Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group, and Wellpoint—pumped up to $20 million into the Chamber last year.

It’s a very good piece on the Chamber’s business model and how Donahue in particular benefits from it.

{ 26 comments }

1

Def Att 07.07.10 at 10:05 pm

Ha, I knew they were crooked as shit! Or better, politically and socially at odds with me.

2

PHB 07.07.10 at 10:22 pm

Donohue totally changed the way the chamber worked. Before he arrived it actually did what you might expect a national chamber of commerce to do: represent the local chambers who were affiliated.

Donohue realized that operating a corporate money laundering operation would be much more profitable for himself personally. It has been a pay to play operation just like the K-street thunk tanks ever since. Or do people really think that the AEI et. al. don’t play the same game?

At this point even Cato is starting to become a corporate whore. At least Jeanne Palfrey was honest about her business model.

3

Myles SG 07.07.10 at 11:03 pm

Donohue totally changed the way the chamber worked. Before he arrived it actually did what you might expect a national chamber of commerce to do: represent the local chambers who were affiliated.

Is that what the sort of people who work in DC really want to do with their lives? Represent a bunch of slack-jawed, small-town businessmen and their parochial interests? I mean seriously, you go through college and law school, and who’s your boss? Some idiot out in the boondocks who couldn’t tell his Mondrian apart from his Kandinsky, or his meat fork from his dessert fork, and gorges on local, government contracts?

4

Myles SG 07.07.10 at 11:24 pm

I just looked up the Chamber of Commerce’s website. David Chavern, the executive VP and COO, second-in-command to Donohue, was valedictorian at Georgetown Law. One does not seriously think he would like to spend his waking hours on the rubber-chicken circuit with used-car salesmen (or indeed any kind of salesmen at all) in polyester suits.

If I was in his position, I certainly wouldn’t.

5

PHB 07.08.10 at 4:42 am

@Myles SG

Looking at his recent appearances in Congress, Donohue most certainly wants to claim to be representing those ‘slack-jawed, small-town businessmen and their parochial interests’. And that claim is pretty much the main reason he gets any attention in DC because even if the Chamber of Commerce isn’t very interested in those people, the members of Congress are desperately so. They supply the bulk of the large contributions to their campaigns.

Like the other K-street brothels, the Chamber can only be influential as long as its modus operandi is relatively opaque. Even members of Congress see no particular reason to respond to paid shills.

And rather often it is not very clear quite who is being paid to influence whom. Anyone who has actually engaged lobbyists (as I have) knows that the influence flows both ways and it is frequently the lobbyist who is touting their party line to their employer rather than the reverse. And in fact that is precisely what many clients pay for, knowing which way the political winds are really blowing so they can plan accordingly.

Most of the time a client really has no stake in the policy positions of the day, but they will still find that their company is lobbying on them. This is because the lobbyists are really party members first and company employees second.

Very few if any lobbyists have real influence in the policy process. But they should certainly know what decisions currently being taken might affect their client’s business. Occasionally a lobbyist may be able to push for a particular favor, a tax break or a government contract or the like. But these are the details, not the policy. Important details to be sure as the wording on a bill might make company A favored to win a $10 million contract over company B. But that is a very different matter from the original policy decision to spend the $X billion from which Senator Crapulous was persuaded to help carve the $10 million out of.

What Donohue is up to is peddling the illusion that he can actually influence policy, and all the evidence pretty much suggests that he does not. The GOP was never going to pass health care reform. The obstacle for the Democrats is the fact that the Senate filibuster rules require 60 votes and only about 55 Democrats in the Senate are really Democrats. Lieberman, Lincoln and cronies did not need Donohue to persuade them to obstruct.

6

Myles SG 07.08.10 at 6:03 am

Looking at his recent appearances in Congress, Donohue most certainly wants to claim to be representing those ‘slack-jawed, small-town businessmen and their parochial interests’. And that claim is pretty much the main reason he gets any attention in DC because even if the Chamber of Commerce isn’t very interested in those people, the members of Congress are desperately so. They supply the bulk of the large contributions to their campaigns.

Like the other K-street brothels, the Chamber can only be influential as long as its modus operandi is relatively opaque. Even members of Congress see no particular reason to respond to paid shills.

I know that. What I am saying is that to accuse Donohue of disloyalty to small, hard-bitten businessmen is inane. Nobody goes to DC for the sake of the small, hard-bitten businessmen. Nobody living in Georgetown could honestly care less about that constituency, on a substantive level.

I mean, I get the iconography, I get that they are important contributors to small-time Congressmen, but honestly: nobody is seriously supposing they should be shaping policy. The last time they did that (i.e., Eisenhower era), the result was a disaster for doctrinaire economic (European-sense) liberals and businessmen alike.

And frankly, do Congressmen even care whether the Chamber is representing small businessmen? I mean they might care for public perception’s sakes, but substantively? Do you know what sort of idiots make up this demographic in America called the “small businessmen”?

Speaking as a right-winger, I cannot seriously believe that people even bother to do this sort of coverage. Great, Tom Donohue doesn’t actually work for small businessmen. Clappity clap clap. Nobody gives a damn. What exactly is the point of the Washington Monthly article?

As you said, people give money to Donohue because they like to be kept in the know. Donohue does that. He also, sometimes, manages to push a big enough wave of money that he shifts Congressional action. That, however, is not generally a service one deploys for used care salesmen. Boo-fucking-hoo.

7

ejh 07.08.10 at 6:50 am

…Jack The Ripper who sits
At the head of the Chamber of Commerce

8

Walt 07.08.10 at 7:10 am

I don’t know why you write the comments you do, Myles, and yet you still do. The world is full of many mysteries.

9

zamfir 07.08.10 at 7:34 am

Walt, it is about the polyester suits. They are a classic externally. Those crooked businessmen save money, and the rest of us have to look at them.

10

NomadUK 07.08.10 at 7:43 am

Myles appears to be making the rounds, having shown up at another comment thread with this gem:

Hey bud, the Cold War was a real war. People get killed in wars. If you wanted to sit out, that’s fine. But no sniping from the sidelines. I recognize that plenty of it was straight-up murder. Doesn’t mean I would have not done it. War is murder. Deal with it. Plus, we didn’t want to have to fight a global Cold War; Stalin did. Boo-fucking-hoo.

The valediction appears to be a favourite of his.

11

PHB 07.08.10 at 12:17 pm

@NomadUK

Yes, I would write him off as just a troll, but that is exactly how the rightists think.

I can’t quite work out if the chip on his shoulder is that he was a valedictorian whose subsequent career has disappointed him or a salutatorian who blames his mediocrity on that failure to seize the top place on the podium.

Like all rightists he spends an awful lot of time sneering and looking down at others. Whether it be slack jawed used car salesmen or those who sat on the sidelines in the cold war. He of course sees himself as being in the thick of the cold war, which is of course rather unlikely.

What it comes down to is that the typical Republican is a Walter Mitty type who attempts to escape their humdrum mediocrity by vicariously living the lives of those they see as powerful. They rejoice at the brutal exercise of power because doing so makes them feel exceptional and superior to the ‘botched and bungled’ who fail to see the truth of their view.

Speaking as a right-winger, I cannot seriously believe that people even bother to do this sort of coverage. Great, Tom Donohue doesn’t actually work for small businessmen. Clappity clap clap. Nobody gives a damn. What exactly is the point of the Washington Monthly article?

The point of course is one that a Republican could not possibly understand…

12

Ginger Yellow 07.08.10 at 12:44 pm

“Like the other K-street brothels, the Chamber can only be influential as long as its modus operandi is relatively opaque. ”

And yet, you constantly get lobbyists mouthing off in ways they shouldn’t (cf Derek Draper in the UK). I’m somewhat fascinated by this dynamic. On the one hand, lobbyists have to keep quiet and downplay their influence to keep public disquiet and legal restrictions at a minimum. On the other hand, they have to play up their influence to win and keep clients. I’m a bit surprised there haven’t been more gotcha type scandals about lobbyists, given how easy they must be (as a rule) to catch boasting.

13

Myles SG 07.08.10 at 1:26 pm

I can’t quite work out if the chip on his shoulder is that he was a valedictorian whose subsequent career has disappointed him or a salutatorian who blames his mediocrity on that failure to seize the top place on the podium.

He wrote valediction, not valedictorian. The two words are quite distinct.

14

chris 07.08.10 at 1:46 pm

Great, Tom Donohue doesn’t actually work for small businessmen. Clappity clap clap. Nobody gives a damn.

Small businessmen might. He may not support their interests — he may never have had any intention of doing so — but he does take their money.

15

Chris Johnson 07.08.10 at 7:30 pm

“He wrote valediction, not valedictorian. The two words are quite distinct.”

Indeed. Which is why the two posters used them in distinct, and differing, ways.

16

PHB 07.08.10 at 10:57 pm

My reference was to what Myles wrote:

“I just looked up the Chamber of Commerce’s website. David Chavern, the executive VP and COO, second-in-command to Donohue, was valedictorian at Georgetown Law.”

What follows is a most peculiar little piece wherein the author cannot comprehend the possibility that such a valedictorian ubermench could deign to suffer the indignity of representing with such lowly beings as used car salespeople.

The fact that the said weasel now has employment at the legislative equivalent of a used car dealership appears to escape him. Or maybe it was just his projection showing through (it happens).

But don’t worry, ‘correcting’ what was already correct, and doing so in a derisive manner is just another tactic of the pig-ignorant right. Truth be told, their arguments have never rested on logic but a sort of emotional appeal to sad cases like themselves who crave validation and belonging.

17

Myles SG 07.08.10 at 11:55 pm

The fact that the said weasel now has employment at the legislative equivalent of a used car dealership appears to escape him.

It didn’t escape me. One does notice that he is second-in-line at the Chamber, and is probably highly likely to succeed Donohue eventually. So he is doing well.

And to compare the Chamber (or indeed any such DC entity) to used-car franchises is absurd. There is a difference of kind as well as degree between lobbying for whores and being legal counsel to whores, and being prostitutes.

18

Myles SG 07.08.10 at 11:56 pm

It would be like saying Larry Flynn’s lawyer is in the porno business. That would be preposterous on its face.

19

Myles SG 07.08.10 at 11:56 pm

It would be like saying Larry Flynn’s lawyer is in the porno business. That would be preposterous on its face.

20

elm 07.09.10 at 1:14 am

It would be like saying Larry Flynn’s lawyer is in the porno business.

I think you mean Errol Flynn, though even he was only barely in the porno business. I believe that The Adventures of Throbbin’ Hood was the only porno movie he appeared in.

21

zamfir 07.09.10 at 6:42 am

Are lobbyists more respected in DC than prostitutes? I can see arguments either way.

Outside of DC the case seems more clear-cut, although that still doesn’t mean I would be happy if my daughter became a prostitute.

22

Shelley 07.09.10 at 3:54 pm

I have never forgiven the Chamber of Commerce for being the primary opponent of the Family Leave Act.

23

Irrelephant 07.09.10 at 9:02 pm

zamfir,

Considering the prostitutes control the supply side of the supply/demand equation…

Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you said hobbyists.

24

PHB 07.10.10 at 2:53 am

Of course Larry Flynn’s corporate counsel is in the porno business.

As for who succeeds Donohue at the Chamber of Commerce, they are running a massive deficit for all the cash they bring in $29 million in 2008. It is hardly a foregone conclusion that the institution will even survive.

25

Substance McGravitas 07.10.10 at 3:35 am

Larry Flynt.

26

PHB 07.10.10 at 3:35 pm

@substance

Shhh, don’t interrupt a pedantic wingnut-troll when he is being condescending to point out that he is making a fool of himself in the exact way he imagines others are.

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