WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is mounting a new legal attack on the Obama administration’s regulatory policies just weeks ahead of congressional elections, telling voters that Democrat-driven regulation is hurting the economic recovery.
Thomas Donohue, the chamber’s president and chief executive, said on Thursday the nation’s largest business lobby is beefing up its staff so it can fight health care and financial regulation reform in court.
“Litigation is one of our most powerful tools for making sure that federal agencies follow the law and are held accountable,” Donohue said in remarks prepared to be delivered in Des Moines, Iowa.
Donohue, whose group’s relationship with President Barack Obama has been tense, used his speech from the Midwest to hammer at Democrats’ legislative wins, saying over-regulation “will silence the heartbeat of our economy.”
Boosted by voter anger at unemployment, Republicans are expected by many experts to win control of the House of Representatives on Nov 2. and pick up seats in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The chamber, while saying it endorses Democrats in various campaigns, overwhelming favors Republicans in its legislative “scorecard.”
The group on Thursday unveiled a new publicity drive with a strong anti-regulation theme, which is designed to complement its legal fight to blunt regulation.
The chamber’s litigation approach has already yielded some results. Earlier this week the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission put on hold their rule giving shareholders more power to influence corporate boards, after the chamber filed a lawsuit over the rule.
Donohue did not get specific about future legal challenges, but the chamber has been sharpening its knives to attack the administration’s efforts to tighten oversight of health insurers, the financial industry, and greenhouse gases.
A chamber official said that the organization would soon announce that it was hiring someone with a “substantial legal background” to play a big role in their regulatory efforts.
Asked about the chamber’s new regulatory campaign, two senior Democratic congressional officials said their view was that the chamber was effectively operating as an arm of the Republican Party during the current campaign. But the Democratic officials said they did not want quotes attributed to them for fear of unduly antagonizing the chamber.
Earlier this year, Representative John Boehner, Republican minority leader in the House of Representatives, issued a public denunciation of excessive regulation and called for a moratorium on new regulations.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said the Ohio congressman had not discussed the issue directly with officials at the Chamber of Commerce, since federal campaign finance law frowns on contacts between candidates running for office and nonprofit groups like the chamber which sponsor “independent” campaign advertising.
Some liberal groups not directly affiliated with the Democratic Party have issued more aggressive critiques of the chamber’s alleged support for the Republican Party.
A website, www.fixtheUSchamber.org, which says it is backed by a federation of five labor unions, includes a page describing the chamber's new anti-regulatory effort as a "scare campaign" which deliberately misrepresents new financial regulations intended to protect consumers.
Bruce Josten, the chamber’s chief lobbyist, rejected charges by Democrats and liberal groups that in its political activities this year, the chamber is acting as an undeclared supporter of the Republican Party. “It’s completely false. We endorse Democrats. We have ads up now endorsing Democrats.”
However, Josten acknowledged that the chamber’s 2010 legislative scorecard, which the group uses to rate the merits of election candidates, gives heavy weight to how members of Congress voted on two key health care votes, on the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, on a Democrat-backed climate change bill, on a campaign financial disclosure bill and on a union dues check-off measure, all of which most Democrats backed and the chamber opposed.
This means that Democrats who voted against the Chamber of Commerce’s position on these measures would be marked down in electoral scorecards the chamber uses when preparing its ads.
Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Tim Dobbyn