Foreign money in our elections?

Jon Bartholomew

Today, my organization, OSPIRG and the League of Women Voters of Oregon sent a letter to the Oregon State Chamber of Commerce to urge them to demand that the U.S. Chamber adequately address whether they are subsidizing their election spending with foreign funds.

Recent news coverage has raised significant questions about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s commingling of foreign and domestic dues in accounts used for election spending. We're talking at least $75 million that the U.S. Chamber is planning on spending on this midterm election.

While the U.S. Chamber claims that they have not spent foreign funds on their independent expenditure campaign, they have thus far refused to offer documentation to back up this claim. In fact, a spokeswoman from the U.S. Chamber told a Washington Post reporter recently, “We don't feel obligated to answer that question.”

This is clearly not good for our democracy. More after the bump.

Reporting released by Think Progress, showed that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce collects hundreds of thousands of dollars from foreign owned businesses, including companies owned by foreign governments.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has used that money to fund at least 8,000 attack ads. Just last week, the Chamber made the single largest independent campaign buy in history.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v FEC allows corporations (C4 non-profits, C5 labor unions, and C6 trade associations like the Chamber) to spend unlimited amounts of money in our elections as long as it is not the “primary purpose” of the organization. As long as they spend it independently of the candidate or party, these groups are not required to disclose their donors.

That the Chamber is allowed to accept foreign funding and still spend on elections is one of the fundamental problems of Citizens United and a prime illustration of why it is absurd to treat corporations the same as individuals. Despite the fact that direct election spending by foreign entities is illegal, this probably falls within the current law. While what they are doing may well be legal, it is exhibit #1 for why the ruling left the door open to abuse by foreign governments and other foreign entities.

Keeping foreign money out of our elections should be obvious, but once the Courts opened the door to corporate influence in our campaigns, their very structure made separating out ‘foreign’ influence virtually impossible. This is yet another reason the Court’s reversal of nearly a century of accepted law barring companies from election spending is so dangerous.

The Citizens United decision was wrong on so many levels. Allowing unlimited campaign spending without even requiring transparency is ridiculous. And the fact that it opens the door to foreign influence in our elections just makes it worse.

This is our democracy. We need to take it back.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    The report I saw said the Chamber co-mingled their foreign contributions with domestic, hence making it difficult to track, and also very likely that funds are being used, including Chinese money. Considering the Chamber's support of a GOP filibuster of a bill to stop tax breaks for corporations who export American jobs abroad, there is a clear agenda there.

  • (Show?)

    What ever happened to the premise: innocent until proven guilty?

    Foreign Money? Really?

    Accusing anybody of violating the law is a serious matter requiring serious evidence to back it up. So far Democrats have produced none.

    Anyone recall the Obama campaign in 2007/2008 and the funding irregularities then?

    • (Show?)

      Innocent until proven guilty is for courts. Demonstrating that you're not breaking the law by using full disclosure is simply common sense.

      But this is the Chamber we're talking about...its about cash and power, not common sense.

    • (Show?)

      If the US Chamber of Commerce is innocent, why are they refusing to open their books and reveal who their contributors are? Their cover-up says it all.

  • (Show?)

    We're just asking the US Chamber of Commerce to come clean and prove they haven't used foreign money on American elections.

    And the Oregon chambers that are members of the US Chamber should ask for the same.

    The local chambers, who by and large represent "Main Street" businesses shouldn't let US Chamber make them look bad.

    • (Show?)

      As a member of two local chambers, I would ask that you do your best to be sure to distinguish between the local chambers and the US Chamber of Commerce. I don't know who the US C of C is representing these days, but it sure isn't main street businesses.

      If the US C of C has nothing to hide, open your books.

      • (Show?)

        Fair enough, MP. We aren't criticizing the local CoCs in any way. We just want the ones that are members of the US CoC to say "hey! we're members, and we don't like what you are doing with our dues!"

    • (Show?)

      This whole issue was shamelessly manufactured in a cheap and sleezy attempt to influence voters with fear. Do you people not know that there are very strict laws against them doing what you are even suggesting they are doing? Are you so ignorant that you aren't able to see thru this pathetic and desperate ruse? Bill there is no way they have comingled any money and it's ridiculous to even suggest they have. The 1-200K they get from foreign co's is a drop in the bucket compared to all of the money they take in. You guys need to stop sharing a brain and start thinking some of these ideas thru before you voice them ..wow!

  • (Show?)

    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is no longer a business advocacy and community based service organization. It is an arm of the Republican Party.

  • (Show?)

    Just out, evidence of $885,000 in foreign donations to the Chamber of Commerce. No firewall in place to keep those funds out of campaign Ads. http://thinkprogress.org/2010/10/13/chamber-foreign-funded-media/

  • (Show?)

    Remember when R's supported full and immediate disclosure instead of contribution and spending limits as the free market of information and ideas that would keep campaigning fair?

    http://vanhollen.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=192189

    Then they got Citizens United. A total defeat of any possibility of spending limits on wealthy supporters.

    And now they are able to discard their false and hypocritical position regarding transparency, and with an indignant and triumphant harrumph, respond that to criticism of their scheme of secrecy and the purchase of elections by pointing out that they don't have to disclose.

    I'm not sure whats worse. The hypocrisy of Republicans who so quickly discarded their free market of ideas once they got what they really wanted, or the naivette of Alito, Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, and Kennedy.

  • (Show?)

    "Money doesn't talk it swears." Bob Dylan

  • (Show?)

    So, I take it you are also in favor of the AFL-CIO opening its books for the same purpose? Since Big Labor also receives significant foreign contributions, and after all, that seems to be presumption of guilt, according to you.

    Or is this red-herring tactic just a act of desperation by a party trying to distract voters from the real issues, jobs and the amount of borrowed money poured into a failed "stimulus"? If this is the best "October Surprise" the DNC can come up with, times are indeed grim in liberalville.

    • (Show?)

      actually, yes. If the AFL-CIO is using money from its general treasury, as opposed to through a PAC, I would want their books opened too.

      the point here is to change the law so that unlimited and undisclosed money does not subvert the voices of the average citizen. At least disclosure provides the citizenry with more information by which to judge the source of the message.

      But this (bringing it back around to the local aspect of Blue Oregon) is why we need Voter Owned Elections! And the Willamette Week just agreed that we need a yes vote on 26-108.

    • (Show?)

      Any monies used for political purposes should be transparent no matter who is doing the spending.

  • (Show?)

    Actually, Jon, recent news coverage has not raised questions--media outlets has covered charges made by the President and other Democrats that the Chamber is using foreign money.

    Those sinister Chinese! I guess when your party is in trouble, you throw anything you have at the wall.

    I'm no fan of the Chamber, but this is a pretty scurrilous charge backed by virtually zero evidence. The undisguised appeal to xenophobia is unfortunate.

    And Ken Ray is right on, large trade unions are if anything more vulnerable on this matter because they have so many individual dues paying members in foreign countries.

    Then to stretch this to voter owned elections in Portland. Touche'! That's an even more tenuous link! Do we have ANY evidence of sinister foreign monies impacting Portland elections?

    • (Show?)

      I'm also concerned, as you put it, about the "undisguised appeal to xenophonia." It's more than "unfortunate."

    • (Show?)

      Really, Paul? Any evidence that labor unions have large numbers of "dues paying members in foreign countries"?

      • (Show?)

        Michael

        Yes. Unions receive dues from members who work for US corporations with fully owned foreign entities.

        The reporting requirements are different, though, so we know precisely who gives what (unlike the Chamber). We don't know anything about intermingling because of the CU decision.

        PolitiFact examined the charge here and gave it "half true":

        http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2010/oct/12/george-will/george-will-claims-afl-cio-receives-dues-foreign-e/

  • (Show?)

    And if you liked that comment, here's another one you'll like even more--most campaign finance lawyers I hear and talk to (on the left and the right) believe the problem here is NOT Citizen's United, but is McCain/Feingold, that darling legislation.

    By severely limiting contributions to political parties, which have to report, McCain/Feingold opened the door for 527's and their various ilk.

    So don't be so quick to assume you can predict what will happen if you attempt to regulate campaign finance. Sometimes the cure can be worse than the disease.

  • (Show?)

    Dismissing this charge as xenophobia is just lame and weak.

    Today ThinkProgress documented $885,000 dollars given to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by 85 listed foreign companies, funds that were comingled with the same funds that are being used for partisan attack Ads. To date the Chamber of Commerce refuses to give evidence that these foreign funds are not being used to for that illegal purpose. So, since Gronke and Porter want to step up and defend the U.S. Chamber of Commerce under the charge of xenophobia, let them refute the charges and explain why the Chamber of Commerce won't do likewise and prove they are in compliance with federal law.

    From Think Progress http://thinkprogress.org/2010/10/13/chamber-foreign-funded-media/

    " In addition to multinational members of the Chamber headquartered abroad (like BP, Shell Oil, and Siemens), a new ThinkProgress investigation has identified at least 84 other foreign companies that actively donate to the Chamber’s 501(c)(6). Below is a chart detailing the annual dues foreign corporations have indicated that they give directly to the Chamber (using information that is publicly available from the Business Council applications and the Chamber’s own websites)(most of these are from India and Dubai)

    Again, all of these annual dues are collected in the same 501(c)(6) the Chamber is using to run partisan attack ads. The data above reflects information from public sources, and the Chamber likely has many more foreign corporations as dues-paying members — but refuses to divulge any of the funders for their ad campaign. Unfortunately, many reporters in the traditional press covered the Chamber story, but missed the entire point of our reporting. Most reporters (from the New York Times, McClatchy, the Associated Press, etc.) never contacted ThinkProgress, instead opting to only interview Chamber officials."

    • (Show?)

      Xenophobia definition (here): an irrational, deep-rooted fear of or antipathy towards foreigners.

      I think this whole line of attack has a large component of appealing to xenophobia – that the foreign contributions are more evil and fearful than domestic contributions and that the political public is susceptible to such appeals based on its foreignness. I find it distasteful, and counter to getting our public primed to sell more of our goods abroad. I just think we Democrats have lots of other, better issues to campaign on. We don't need this one - valid as it might be.

      I do favor the law that prohibits foreign contributions (and would like to prohibit out of state contributions in state elections). I’m not trying to defend the Chamber of Commerce. They should obey the law, and the law should be enforced. I also wish the US, its companies, and peoples did not spend money in foreign elections as well.

      • (Show?)

        It is not irrational for a worker who has been productive to resent the multinational corporation who sends his job to a third world worker simply because it will enhance corporate profits. And it is bad economic policy for America to tolerate that as an economic policy.

        • (Show?)

          Take that up with Bill Clinton he took the credit for passing and signing NAFTA you should have listened to Ross Perot ...who warned you would hear a giant sucking sound as the jobs are shipped south

  • (Show?)

    Factcheck.org confirms the facts behind this story and that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce refuses to give evidence that it is separating foreign funds from domestic contributions. Until they do there is every reason to believe that they are using these foreign contributions illegally, based on laws extending to 1966, and not on the McCain/Feingold legislation. http://www.factcheck.org/2010/10/the-chamber-and-foreign-contributions/

    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce should simply acknowledge that they are a branch of the GOP, and they should also comply with federal law or face the consequences. In the meantime they should face the political consequences of being an agent for multinational and foreign interests, as well as an arm of the Republican Party.

  • (Show?)

    Rachel Maddow and her pollster guest counter the smug statements of our resident pol. sci. academic about the anonymous corporate donations:

    "Rachel Maddow talked to Democratic pollster Celinda Lake about the Democrats' strategy for the mid-term elections: using the emerging scandal around anonymous corporate donors pouring money into Republican coffers as a campaign issue. Lake explained to Maddow why -- contrary to Beltway conventional wisdom -- this is a good issue for Democrats to run on.

    LAKE:     This is an issue that is a good October surprise for the Democrats and the progressives. It’s a way of really raising the fundamental question about whose side you're on. It ties into an economic narrative. We’ve had a hard time getting off the ground. In twenty-two congressional districts where the Chamber is running its ads with foreign money, 184,000 jobs have been outsourced to many of these very same foreign corporations.
    
       These people aren’t putting up their money for nothing. What are they buying? And this isn’t free speech, it’s bought speech and the public has a right to know who’s trying to buy their candidates."
    

    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2010/10/14/910282/-YES!-Democrats-find-a-WINNING-MESSAGE!-

  • (Show?)

    Paul, sometimes I think you try too hard to be fair.

    I'm no fan of the Chamber, but this is a pretty scurrilous charge backed by virtually zero evidence.

    Because the laws allow evidence to be concealed, this is an odd argument to make. Nevertheless, a poor one. Lee Fang's reporting provides far more than "virtually zero" evidence, and an updated report yesterday provides more. Reasonable people can disagree about policy; but let's not blind ourselves to the facts in some misguided effort to be objective.

    • (Show?)

      Jeff, perhaps I am just channeling a meeting I attended with campaign finance lawyers from across the political spectrum.

      That's what they all said, and as I cited below in response to Bill, that's what a whole host of media outlets are saying.

      Here is the factcheck report: http://factcheck.org/2010/10/foreign-money-really/

      Fang focuses only on the donations, without placing them in any context. $885,000 out of $75,000,000. Just about 1% of the donations. Most from Bahrain, India, Switzerland, Canada, and the UK.

      And this is being used as evidence for Moveon ads that mention China and Russia.

      It is just like the thread a while back that said timber interests were "bankrolling" Dudley's campaign when the donations in question constituted about 4% of his total donations.

      To me, the objective analysis is pretty darn clear, this is a charge being deployed by liberal groups because they are so desperate that deploying xenophobia is OK.

      But hey, when the attacks against the Swiss, Brits, and Canadians start, then I'm right there with you!

  • (Show?)

    Bill

    Citing Rachel Maddow, the most unabashed partisan commentator on the left, and Celinda Lake, a self-identified Democratic pollster (and friend of mine) as a counter evidence is interesting since I read the quote as supporting my claims.

    When Celinda calls this an "October surprise," I'm sure you know she's referring to the unsubstantiated charges that, in the waning days of the 1980 campaign, the Reagan campaign secretly contacted the Iranian government and told them NOT to release the hostages until after the election.

    The historical facts were that there was a a potential hostage release just before November which fell apart. Conventional wisdom, supported by evidence, is that these events turned a small Carter lead in mid October into an eventual loss.

    If these events are like those events, then the clear implication is that the foreign money charges are an attempt to distract voters from the "real" issues of a floundering economy, just like the Iranian "surprise" was an attempt to refocus voters in 1980 away from Reagan's faltering campaign and onto Carter's failures in the Iranian hostage crisis.

    Sounds like just what I said..

    Yes, Celinda tries to save it by claiming these charges feed a thematic focus on "whose side are you on."

    But do you REALLY believe this, Bill? Do you think these charges are REALLY about the Democrats being for the little guy and the GOP being for big corporate interests?

    Or are they about dark, sinister foreigners threatening the American way of life and manipulating our democracy?

    Does it matter that the main foreign donors to the Chamber in the past came from Bahrain, France, and Switzerland? Are these the foreigners that we are so afraid of?

    I'm sorry if the facts conflict with your partisan lens, Bill, but multiple news organizations with no partisan affiliation have debunked these charges, including factcheck.org, NPR, CBS Evening News, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    None of these are exactly known as partisan news outlets.

  • (Show?)

    Instead of mincing details and talking points and changing the subject, let me ask this basic question:

    In our democracy, do you believe that the sources of money spent on political campaign ads should be disclosed?

    that's all this is about.

    • (Show?)

      Jon, if you wanted this discussion to be about "disclosure" and not "foreign" money, why did you title it "Foreign money in our elections?"?

      A slight play of the xenophobic card perhaps? Or just raising the fear and alarm level?

      Yes, of course, the source of all money spent on political campaign ads should be disclosed.

      • (Show?)

        who is pushing xenophobia? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5h5uZdpjM0

        • (Show?)

          Yes, I watched that Republican National Committee hit ad against Schrader (stating, among other things, that "Kurt Schrader is fighting for job for foreign workers" and "Schrader voted for a bill that spent over a billion to create jobs overseas" and "Maybe Kurt Schrader should be their congressman." It's vile stuff.

          Both parties seem to be running similar ads. Polls must show that they work (not with me). I can't tell which party is doing the most.

          I think these type of ads (and the beliefs behind them) lead the country in the wrong direction. Using scare tactics that feature evil foreigners leads to wars and overblown military budgets. And, in terms of jobs, the US has far greater opportunities to create jobs from selling more goods and services abroad than it does in bringing back any "outsourced" jobs.

  • (Show?)

    Headline- The Chamber is Funded by Top Off Shoring Companies!

    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2010/10/15/910433/-Chamber-funded-by-top-offshoring-companies

connect with blueoregon