The political activities of industries associated with the production and consumption of fossil fuels have thwarted state efforts to advance climate policy. Yet research on the role of trade associations that firms use to coordinate their activities remains sparse. Studies of business political activity are generally focussed on the firm level with trade associations typically considered only as part of wider advocacy coalitions. Scholars are still to examine the full range of political activities of trade associations. Using an original dataset built from trade associations’ IRS filings, we find that trade associations engaged on climate change spent $3.4 billion in 10 years on political activities, with the largest expenditure on advertising and promotion, followed by lobbying, grants and political contributions. Our data challenges the prevailing assumptions about the primary political activities of business actors. To explain the variation in spending, we present the findings from a regression analysis and semi-structured interviews. We argue that scholars have for too long failed to account for the political activities of trade associations, which are also one of the most important opponents of climate policies.