US Chamber of Commerce raises money for GOP Senate candidates

© U.S. Chamber of Commerce
With the possibility that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump could hurt the party’s down-ticket candidates, the US Chamber of Commerce is focusing on making sure the Republicans retain control of the Senate.

On Tuesday, the country’s biggest business lobby will unveil its new Save the Senate initiative, which is designed to raise funds for Republicans in tight races for Congress’ upper chamber, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Republicans are having trouble coalescing around Trump, with the #NeverTrump movement refusing to fade, even after the billionaire businessman gained enough delegates to secure the presidential nomination. The Chamber of Commerce is worried that dislike of the GOP’s presidential candidate could hurt the party's senatorial candidates, especially those in tough battles in swing states.

The Senate is also a place where the politics aren’t so divisive, according to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina). The former presidential candidate and outspoken member of the #NeverTrump crowd has been named an honorary co-chairman and fundraiser for the Save the Senate campaign.

Republicans “are all over the board on the presidential race, but there’s a lot of unanimity when it comes to the Senate,” Graham told the WSJ.

The party controls 54 of the 100 seats in the Senate, and must defend 24 seats on Election Day in November. At least six of those races are in battleground states. The Democrats are seeking to keep just 10.

The Chamber began a $10 million ad campaign in May to help boost the chances of those senators facing the toughest races, according to the WSJ. Those incumbents are: Ohio’s Rob Portman, New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and Arizona’s John McCain.

They are also targeting one of the Democrat’s open seats, as Nevada Senator Harry Reid is retiring.

“This is one of the most significant elections for the Senate and House in recent American history and it’s imperative we retain pro-business majorities,” Scott Reed, the Chamber’s senior political strategist, told the WSJ. “The business community will not be watching from the sidelines.”

Save the Senate has no specific fundraising goal, but the money will be spent on broadcasting and digital ads in the tight races, Reed said. The initiative may expand where it spends its funds to other races closer to Election Day, as well as to events at local Chambers of Commerce.

“We’re going to raise as much as we can to be competitive between now and election day,” he said.

The campaign fits in with the Chamber of Commerce’s six 2016 policy priorities ‒ called 6 for ‘16 ‒ which include “electing the right candidates.”

“The Chamber will pull out all the stops to help elect pro-business candidates,” the group says on its website. “Nothing we could do this year would have a greater impact on the treatment of our businesses than electing the right people to office.”

On Capitol Hill, the Chamber has specific policies that it wants pro-business candidates to pass, such as expanding trade, improving infrastructure, modernizing the regulatory process, making essential changes to entitlements, fixing the flaws in Obamacare and passing immigration reform.

Graham will have plenty of help from a veritable who’s-who of Republicans joining him as honorary co-chairs of the Save the Senate initiative: 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former Republican National Committee Chairman and Missouri Governor Haley Barbour and 1996 presidential nominee Bob Dole.

“When you add up all the networks of the people who are co-chairmen, that’s a pretty big group,” Graham said.

Democrats are banking on the initiative backfiring, however, by making the Republican incumbents look like they are beholden to special interests and big business.

“If they’re going to rely on this money from corporate special interests to protect their own futures, that’s not going to go well with the voters they’re trying to persuade now,” Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, told the WSJ. “Voters want someone who’s looking out for them.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outpaced the National Republican Senatorial Committee in fundraising in April, bringing in $6.1 million to the GOP’s $4.3 million. The Republicans hold the lead in cash on hand however, $21.6 million to $20.9 million.