In the past few weeks, the White House as well as the administration’s supporters accused the United States Chamber of Commerce of utilizing foreign donations for political ads the organization has put out this election cycle. From a lone less-than-informed blogger to President Barack Obama, the allegation has been repeated across the internet and at fund raising events held by the President for Democratic allies in the House and Senate.
Vice President Joe Biden said at a rally in Scranton, Pennsylvania, “I challenge the Chamber of Commerce to tell us how much of the money they’re investing is from foreign sources. I challenge them, if I’m wrong I will stand corrected. But show me, show me.”
Despite this demand, the US Chamber of Commerce has been reticent to release its donor list. According to election and fundraising rules, they are not required to do so. President Obama’s Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, utilized this legal right when he worked for the group called “Americans for Jobs, Health Care & Progressive Values” during the 2003-2004 election campaign. This group ran attack ads during the Democratic primaries against then-candidate Howard Dean.
Tricia Enright, a Dean spokesperson, told The New York Times, “Whoever is behind this should crawl out from underneath their rock and have the courage to say who they are.” The Treasurer of the organization, David Jones, responded by saying that his organization “[would] disclose donors when the law requires.”
The NYT has also questioned the basis and validity of President Obama’s allegations. On October 8th, the paper published that “the controversy over the Chamber of Commerce financing may say more about the Washington spin cycle — where an Internet blog posting can be quickly picked up by like-minded groups and become political fodder for the president himself — than it does about the vagaries of campaign finance.” In addition, the paper stated that “a closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the chamber does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents.”
The US Chamber of Commerce has an operating budget of nearly $200 million, and plans to spend $75 million during the 2010 election cycle. According to the organization, there are “115 foreign member affiliates in 108 countries, who pay a total of less than $100,000 in membership dues that go into its general fund.”
Despite Press Secretary Robert Gibb’s accusations that these monies are not segregated, the chief lobbyist for the organization, Bruce Josten, stated, “The group had safeguards to segregate the small fraction generated overseas from other accounts to comply with federal law and avoid bleeding into political spending.”
In addition, the Federal Election Commission, in Advisory Opinion 1992-16 allowed a US subsidiary of a Japanese company to make political donations in Hawaii. The AO specifically states, “The [U.S.] subsidiary must be able to demonstrate through a reasonable accounting method that it has sufficient funds in its account, other than funds given or loaned by its foreign national parent, from which the contribution is made.”
With less than $100,000 coming in from foreign members, and a $200 million budget, the US Chamber of Commerce is following not only the spirit of AO 1992-16, but the letter as well. The FEC also continues to allow General Motors to contribute to political groups and candidates, though the Canadian government owns nearly 10 percent of the company. GM “gave $41,000 to groups associated with lawmakers, the vast majority of it — $36,000 — to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the company reported on a disclosure form” in August of this year.
A senior vice-president at the Chamber of Commerce responded to Vice President Biden’s accusations, declaring that the chamber has not and will not use any foreign contributions for its political campaigns. Mr. Collamore also said, “We hope this clears it up, and hope the vice president keeps his word and stands corrected.”
President Obama, Vice President Biden, Press Secretary Gibbs, and even Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper have all repeated the accusations against the US Chamber of Commerce. Tina Mengine, Ms. Dahlkemper’s Campaign Manager, referred to ads created by the Chamber as “foreign-funded” – according to the campaign’s own website. Despite such blatantly fallacious allegations, it is obvious that the Chamber continues to act ethically and within the law. Libel and slander, however, continue to be illegal.
Ignorance or malevolence – either way, I am Hoping for some Change this November.