The U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Fights For Secrecy

April 08, 2010 11:44 am ET — Walid Zafar

Last year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent more than any other organization opposing President Obama's agenda. The group, whose policy positions have become indistinguishable from the Republican Party, recently welcomed the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and plans to spend even more this year getting Republicans elected to Congress.  The Washington Post reported last month that the Chamber "will target vulnerable Democrats in up to two dozen states with ads, get-out-the-vote operations and other grass-roots efforts." 

Now the Chamber is trying to defeat campaign finance transparency legislation that Rep. Van Hollen (D-MD) and Sen. Schumer (D-NY) plan to introduce in the House and Senate, respectively.  

Bloomberg reports:

U.S. companies would lose their ability to secretly finance political advertising run by organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce under a bill being considered by Democratic lawmakers.

The proposed legislation is a response to a Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of their own money on political ads that call for electing or defeating candidates. The Jan. 21 decision triggered concern that companies would funnel unprecedented sums of cash into the Chamber's system of anonymously funded pro-business campaigns.

[...]

The nation's biggest business lobbying group, the Chamber spent $47 million on so-called issue advertising last year, mostly on health-care policy, according to Kandar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group in Arlington, Virginia. The Chamber has said it plans to spend $50 million on candidate- focused ads alone this year.

[...]

The Chamber had fought what it called the suppression of company participation in elections, and hailed the Supreme Court decision in the case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The proposed legislation would gut what appeared to be a victory for the group.

"Citizens United is being used as a pretext to pursue much broader regulations of the private sector in the political arena," said Steven Law, the Chamber's general counsel. "Their interest is to intimidate the business community into unilateral disarmament" while allowing unions to spend millions of dollars, he said.

The Supreme Court ruling will have a "very limited impact" on the political activity of the Chamber and most businesses, according to Law.

[...]

Should Congress fail to act, "the vast majority of corporate money will move through trade associations and independent organizations," said Michael Toner, a former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission and a partner at Bryan Cave LLP in Washington.

"You don't want a disclaimer to say, 'Paid for by Exxon Mobil.' It's far more effective to say, 'Paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,' " Toner said.

Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, and Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York said in February they planned to introduce the legislation.

"We're exploring ways to enhance transparency and disclosure of a range of political expenditures," Van Hollen said in a March 28 statement.

The proposed legislation would require disclosure of contributors to ads urging voters to support or oppose a federal candidate, Van Hollen said. It also may extend that requirement to so-called issue ads that favor or oppose an office seeker without explicitly recommending a vote, he said.

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