One of the jokes of our current campaign finance system and rules for how money can be used is the one that says outside groups are limited to "issue advocacy." Issue advocacy only means they have to pick an issue, then aim through it at the
October 6, 2010

One of the jokes of our current campaign finance system and rules for how money can be used is the one that says outside groups are limited to "issue advocacy." Issue advocacy only means they have to pick an issue, then aim through it at the candidate who supported it. So if you are an oil company who feels threatened by a push toward climate change legislation, you might want to put a bunch of ads up attacking an opponent who is pro-climate change legislation.

If you're a oil magnate in Bahrain, or a pharmaceutical manufacturer in Europe, you also might think you have a vested interest in attacking candidates for re-election who might stand in the way of your conquest for total world domination. However, your money isn't welcome in our elections. Or at least, it wasn't.

Enter the US Chamber of Commerce, my self-annointed axis of evil. According to Think Progress, this so-called civic organization/professional association could be using foreign funds to mount their huge attack campaigns against specific candidates. Rep. Pete DeFazio is ardent about climate change legislation, for example, but we can't figure out who is paying for the attack ads against him.

Here’s how it works. Regular dues from American firms to the Chamber can range from $500 to $300,000 or more, depending on their size and industry, and can be used for any purpose deemed necessary by Donohue and the Chamber leadership. For example, the health insurance giant Aetna has reported that it paid $100,000 in annual dues to the Chamber in the past. But for specific advocacy or advertising campaigns, corporations can hide behind the label of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and give additional money. Last year, alongside their regular dues, health insurance companies like Aetna secretly funneled up to $20 million to the Chamber for attack ads aimed at killing health reform (publicly, health insurance executives claimed they supported reform). Last week, Politico reported that News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, gave an extra $1 million to the Chamber for its election season attack campaign.

The US Chamber in the form of President Tom Donohue is almost flippant in their response. They basically say their members can give any amount they wish. I can almost see his middle finger when he says it. The thing is, the Chamber does have a problem, because they have no firewall between their foreign donations and their advertising payments that I can see. According to the TP article, their ad buys attacking Democrats around the country are paid for from their general account. They've responded by telling Politico they have a 'system', but accounting on paper is not the same as bifurcation of foreign and domestic donations. It's really that simple.

It goes without saying that a huge influx of foreign funds into our elections will corrupt them in ways we cannot even begin to imagine. sees the threat pretty clearly, and has requested a criminal investigation. Their letter is pretty straightforward and specific (full letter embedded below):

But it is not only unlawful for a foreign national to make such a contribution, directly or indirectly, it is also unlawful for anyone "to solicit, accept or receive" such a contribution "from a foreign national."...That is precisely what the Chamber appears to have done here: it has solicited foreign companies, including state-owned companies fronting for foreign governments, for money to be used to pay for electioneering communications and independent expenditures.


The Chamber's conduct here involves huge sums of money -- millions of dollars -- is clearly undertaken willfully and knowingly, and implicates the fundamental security interests of the United States. Furthermore, the amounts of money the Chamber is spending on its political advertising are sufficiently large that its apparently unlawful use of foreign money could actually influence the outcome of certain elections for federal office.

Evidently the Citizens United decision should be renamed "Global Citizens United".

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