Audit D.C. Notes: The Post on Chamber Politics, Roll Call on K St. Pay, Hoop Dreams

The Chamber of Commerce, that under-covered business behemoth, gets welcome attention from The Washington Post, which reports on the group’s big plans for the midterm elections.

Modeled in part on Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign juggernaut, the group has built a grass-roots operation known as Friends of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It has a member list of 6 million names, aimed at lobbying on legislation and swaying voters to back preferred candidates, primarily Republicans, in battleground areas, officials said.

The group will target vulnerable Democrats in up to two dozen states with ads, get-out-the-vote operations and other grass-roots efforts. The chamber plans to spend at least $50 million on political races and related activities this year, a 40 percent increase from 2008.

That kind of spending shouldn’t come as a surprise. The chamber set the tone at the end of 2009, “when it spent nearly $800,000 a day rallying opposition to Democratic proposals in Congress,” the Post points out. “All told, the organization spent more money on lobbying and political activities last year than either the Democratic National Committee or the Republican National Committee, which serve as the main fundraising and grass-roots operations for the parties.”

The chamber has quietly become a big political player. Hopefully it will be matched with more big coverage.

—Roll Call does a nice bit of reporting on a new tax requirement that is forcing trade associations to reveal how much they pay lobbyists and other top employees—and generating a lot of gossip in Gucci Gulch.

While the salaries of top executives at these groups have been disclosed for years, the new rule greatly expands the list of covered employees. Here’s a sample, from one of my favorite Washington institutions (see above):

Lobbyists for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also appeared on the organization’s most recent tax filing. The trade association’s top lobbyist, Bruce Josten, was given a total 2008 compensation package of $1.14 million, including a $622,000 base salary, $300,000 bonus and $61,000 in “deferred compensation.”

Another chamber lobbyist, Rolf Lundberg, was paid a total of $567,000 in 2008, including $426,000 in base pay, a $72,000 bonus and $26,000 in deferred compensation.

Looks like these filings, available via GuideStar, are worth keeping an eye on.

—The NCAA basketball tournament gets started tomorrow, and once again, Challenger, Gray and Christmas is getting a lot PR mileage out of trying to put a damper on the fun. The consulting firm estimates that the first week of action will cost the U.S. economy $1.8 billion in lost productivity, as workers fill out their brackets, research teams, stream video, and even sneak off to sports bars to catch a game.

Helpfully, Slate has reposted a 2006 piece from Jack Shafer, debunking the economics behind the now-annual Challenger estimate.

In concocting his lost-productivity estimate, Challenger doesn’t acknowledge that “wasted time” is built into every workday. Workers routinely shop during office hours, take extended coffee breaks, talk to friends on the phone, enjoy long lunches, or gossip around the water cooler. It’s likely that NCAA tourney fans merely reallocate to the games the time they ordinarily waste elsewhere. Likewise, many office workers who don’t complete their tasks by the end of the day stay late or take work home. If fans who screw off at work ultimately do their work at home, the alleged “loss” to productivity would be a wash.

He might be right. But this is a natural and easy feature story, and plenty of news outlets go with it. And besides, plenty of employers take the NCAA menace seriously.

The Washington Post reprinted a memo from a federal agency, forwarded by an employee who was unable to participate in the paper’s “bracket challenge.” Here’s a sample:

Many sports fans are accustomed to placing a friendly wager on a favorite team. While betting a few dollars on sports is often viewed as a harmless social pastime, if done at work it runs afoul of the Federal regulations that prohibit gambling for money or property in the Federal workplace.

Gotta go do my bracket now. It says here Notre Dame is an eight seed in a six-seed’s body; that sounds about right.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Holly Yeager is CJR's Peterson Fellow, covering fiscal and economic policy. She is based in Washington and reachable at