Chamber of Commerce Resorts To Right-Wing Scare Tactics

October 08, 2010 5:14 pm ET — Media Matters Action Network

The powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce has come under scrutiny after a report by the Center for American Progress alleged that the Chamber's overseas affiliates and members were potentially financing the group's partisan political activities, in direct violation of long-standing American law.  Rather than responding to the allegations in a serious and professional manner, the Chamber's strategy has thus far relied exclusively on obfuscation and false equivalencies.

In several statements, the Chamber has attempted to sully the credibility of the Center for American Progress by tying it to philanthropist George Soros.  In an interview with the Media Research Center, the Chamber's Chief Operating Officer David Chavern noted that CAP has "received substantial funding support from George Soros."  Nita Freeman, the spokesperson for the Chamber, dismissed the allegations, saying that they were made "by a George Soros-funded, anti-business blog..." Even the Chamber's president, Thomas J. Donohue, joined the fray, saying that "that thing appeared first on a blog supported by George Soros."

This tactic is familiar among shameless conservative talk radio hosts.  But when a powerful business federation — which says it advocates on behalf of American employers and, by extension, American workers — raises the Specter of Soros, it becomes utterly shameful. And more importantly, it distracts from the serious issue at hand.  Instead of responding in a comprehensive and detailed way, the Chamber has chosen to parrot right-wing talking points by attacking the funding of groups who are critical of its anti-regulation policies.

In the same interview, Chavern also raised a false equivalence between the Chamber's political activities and political work done by unions.  For one, the political activities of unions are closely regulated by the Department of Labor.  Second, the issue at hand is not whether the Chamber is involved in politics (which it has the right to do) or if it works on behalf of the interests of companies in other countries (which, again, it is welcome to do), but whether non-citizens are financing the Chamber's partisan political activities.

As Politico's Ben Smith explains, "While they aren't required by the FEC or IRS to disclose donors, a separate piece of federal law, the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, requires that unions disclose all sources of income that adds up to more than $5,000, a requirement overseen by the Department of Labor. As a result, unions disclose more than many political groups about their internal operations, and certainly more than than do 501(c)(4) nonprofits like Crossroads GPS or 501(c)(6) groups like the Chamber."

Though the Chamber is attempting to scare the story away, the Center for American Progress report has brought attention to an important issue.  As the New York Times noted in an editorial earlier this week, "The possible commingling of secret foreign money into these groups raises fresh questions about whether they are violating both the letter and spirit of the campaign finance laws. The Federal Election Commission, which has been rendered toothless by its Republican members, should be investigating possible outright violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act by foreign companies and the chamber."