Chamber: Obama aiming to ‘intimidate’ and ‘harass’ by seeking disclosure

By Sahil Kapur
Wednesday, October 13, 2010 17:18 EDT
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Think Progress, spearheading investigations of the Chamber, responds

A Chamber of Commerce spokesman on Wednesday accused President Barack Obama and his allies of trying to “intimidate” and “harass” donors to the pro-business lobbying powerhouse by pressing for greater transparency on foreign donations.

The staunchly conservative Chamber has been locked in a heated and high-profile battle with the White House as the midterm elections loom. Obama last week seized upon a Think Progress report that revealed the Chamber — which has been spending millions to attack Democratic candidates — receives funding from foreign sources.

“Just this week, we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations,” Obama said. “So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections.”

The Chamber, in response, declined to disclose its foreign donors but asked the public to trust that none of its international money is being used for domestic political purposes. It declined to offer proof, fueling speculations of unseemly activity.

“When some of those corporate names were divulged, not by us, by others, what did they receive? They received protests, they received threats, they were intimidated, they were harassed,” Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs, told ABC’s Jake Tapper. “So we know what the purpose here is. It’s to harass and intimidate.”

Josten chalked up criticism of the Chamber to an “11th hour attempt to try to fire up and galvanize a dispirited, disappointed [D]emocratic base and [to] silence us in the process.”

Faiz Shakir, editor in chief of Think Progress, a project of the liberal Center for American Progress, scoffed at the notion that full disclosure amounts to undue or unfair pressure.

“It seems like the Chamber has a problem with democracy,” Shakir told Raw Story. “They run ads on behalf of corporations that are afraid to reveal their agendas to the public. If the Chamber wants to engage in the democratic process to influence the outcomes of elections with paid TV advertisements, they shouldn’t be ducking a debate over their donors. Instead, they are spouting unfounded and cowardly fears about disclosure.”

Think Progress on Wednesday followed up with another report by Lee Fang revealing that the Chamber has received a minimum of $885,000 from dozens of foreign corporations.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling this January lifted restrictions on election spending and disclosure by permitting groups to spend without limits and conceal their sources of funding.

The Chamber of Commerce has spent over $44 million on total lobbying expenditures so far in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

With Republicans poised to pick up seats in next month’s midterm elections, this year has produced an explosion of funding from outside conservative groups on attack ads against Democrats. And Democrats have lately embarked upon a media blitz to educate the public of shadowy groups seeking to influence the political process, even suggesting in one ad that some November races could be “stolen” by groups like the Chamber.

A Bloomberg poll released Tuesday found this tactic could be effective. Forty-seven percent of Americans surveyed said they were “less likely” to support candidates whose campaigns were “aided by advertising paid for by anonymous business groups.” Only 9 percent answered “more likely”; others weren’t swayed or weren’t sure.

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