Anything You Spend, We Can Spend Bigger

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It doesn't get uglier than this in American politics: Management vs. Labor; Donkey vs. Elephant. That trend was reinforced on Monday with a new plan by the nation's largest association of business owners to step up its support of business-friendly congressional candidates. Portraying itself as the striving entrepreneur being bullied by both big labor and big government, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce unleashed its first-ever plan to donate directly to federal-level political campaigns; about $100,000 will be donated to each of 47 mostly Republican congressional candidates. The chamber says it is worried by many of the issues being bandied about by presidential hopefuls, from Bill Bradley's calls for better family benefits to Al Gore's environmentalism to John McCain's push for campaign finance reform — all seen as pro-labor issues. The move also comes right after the endorsement of Gore by America's largest labor group, the AFL-CIO, which also pledged $40 million toward federal campaigns, primarily to Democrats.

If something seems awry with the picture of big business as the underdog, there is. Chamber president Thomas J. Donahue, who paints himself as a flip-side Cesar Chavez launching a grassroots campaign, argues that office-seekers will buckle to the onslaught of labor PAC money unless business catches up. However, an assessment of the 1998 election cycle by the Center for Responsive Politics, a middle-of-the-road think tank, found that businesses outspent labor unions 11 to 1 in federal campaign contributions. This underdog is no Chihuahua.