The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been all over the airwaves recently–and not just with its hefty ad buys targeting candidates in the fast approaching November elections. Last week, the Chamber earned a wave of critical press when the story broke that it was funneling donations from international corporations and overseas affiliates into the same bank account used to fund its electioneering campaign ads ((http://thinkprogress.org/2010/10/05/foreign-chamber-commerce/)).
U.S. campaign finance laws forbid foreign donors from spending in U.S. elections, and also forbid U.S. entities from soliciting foreign donations for electioneering purposes. The Chamber vigorously denies any wrong-doing, but refuses to disclose more information about its donors or the controls it says are in place to prevent misuse of funds.
It’s hard to decide what’s more troubling about the Chamber’s activities: the potential illegal use of foreign funds or the fact that the Chamber’s massive and ongoing deluge of undisclosed election spending (up to $75 million, mostly to defeat candidates who supported the nation’s new health care law) is, for the most part, considered legal in the post-Citizens United election law framework.
The Chamber already has a track record of essentially laundering money for corporate special interests. In January 2010, the National Journal broke the story that the Chamber had accepted between $10 million and $20 million in health insurance industry money to fund its attack ads against health care reform. Even worse, these ads were run in the name of small business ((http://undertheinfluence.nationaljournal.com/2010/01/health-insurers-funded-chamber.php))2. Given that track record, don’t voters deserve to know which corporate special interests are putting their money behind the Chamber’s current round of attacks? Is it health insurers? Wall Street banks? Big oil and coal? All of the above?
Unfortunately, with efforts to require greater disclosure blocked in Congress in recent weeks, there’s just no way to know. While $75 million is a lot of money to most of us, it’s a small price for group like the Chamber and its well-heeled corporate donors to pay to buy an election.