What do you do when one of your largest donors is a naturalized American citizen that was once convicted of insider trading in Europe? You look around Washington, D.C. for institutions you disagree with and go after their contributors.
Sounds like a brilliant midterm election-year strategy by the so-called intellectuals at the left-wing Center for American Progress and the ginned-up angry activists at MoveOn.org. An Oct. 6 Think Progress report assembled by a brain trust at Think Progress bitter over the Citizens United decision, attacked the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for what they allege are foreign contributions.
On the Oct. 5 broadcast of MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” Lee Fang, described by host Keith Olbermann as “the blogger, researcher and author of the report,” made the unsubstantiated claim that the Chamber is using foreign donations to finance attack ads in a several congressional campaigns.
“Well, here’s what we know: They’re spending an unprecedented $75 million in attack ads, basically,” Fang said. “They’re going to foreign businesses and foreign individuals saying, you know, if you send us checks, you’ll have a voice in American public policy debates. They’re sending those checks to the same bank account used for the attack ads. So, you know, these funds – they’re fungible. They can be moved around. We really don’t know. What’s alarming is the Chamber of Commerce hasn’t put out any documentation. They haven’t proved that there’s some firewall. They’re just saying, hey, trust us.”
Pat Cleary, writing for the Chamber on Oct. 5 explained it, and the reality is not exactly as the Think Progress and MSNBC would have you believe. The alleged wrongdoing involves the various American Chambers of Commerce (or “AmChams”), which Cleary explained are not used for domestic political activity and is similar to program the AFL-CIO has that makes no qualms about its domestic political activity.
“The confusion – willful though it was – stemmed from the various American Chambers of Commerce (known as ‘AmChams’ by any US ex-pat who has ever lived abroad) around the world,” Cleary wrote. “There are 115 of them and the first one was founded in France in 1896. Not exactly a new development. The truth (anybody remember the truth?) is that AmChams are independent organizations, not controlled in any way by the US Chamber, and whose money does not in any way pay for US political activity.”
Since the Congress failed to pass the DISCLOSE Act earlier this year, Fang claimed this was a “loophole,” that the Chamber is allowed to break the law since it isn’t legally required to publicly disclose its finance.
“Well, the Chamber of Commerce made one of their top priorities killing the DISCLOSE Act, campaign finance law which would have added transparency and made a lot of this shady attack ads very difficult to run,” Fang said. “Or at least they would have had to disclose their funders. So, you know, the Chamber has lobbied against closing loopholes for companies that ship our jobs overseas. They lobby for unfettered trade deals. And overall this fits the pattern. Earlier this, year taking money from BP – as I should note, another foreign firm – Tom Donahue, the head of the Chamber of Commerce, said that taxpayers should pay for the oil spill in the Gulf. They took money from health insurance companies and lobbied and ran ads against health insurance and health reform. So we don’t know the extent of this.”
Fang went on to explain the law, but admitted they didn’t “really know” if the Chamber was breaking the law, despite this report against the Chamber and the orchestrated campaign by MoveOn.org calling for the Department of Justice to investigate the Chamber based on these allegations.
“Well, it’s illegal for foreign nationals or foreign corporations to spend money in American elections,” Fang said. “However, because of the Citizens United decision and because the Chamber of Commerce lobbied to kill the Disclose Act of campaign finance law, there’s a loophole where we don’t know if they’re actually using these foreign funds. And we don’t know who is funding these attack ads. So they basically created a loophole for themselves. So if they’re breaking the law, we don’t really know.”
Also in on the mix immediately after this report made the rounds on MSNBC was the New York Times editorial board. In an Oct.6 editorial, the Times made similar accusations against the Chamber and blamed Republicans, despite not having any control over the federal government since January 2009, for the Federal Election Commissions inability to police the Chamber.
“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.”
The Times’ reasoning American control of U.S. elections must be maintains.
“The government needs to make sure that the tax code — and American control of American elections — is not being violated,” the editorial said.
The Times itself hasn’t shied away from wielding its influence in the American electoral process through its reporting and editorial page. Yet, the Times itself has been willing to accept foreign money in the form of a $250-million loan from the world’s richest man, billionaire Carlos Slim, a Mexican citizen and telecom tycoon. And foreign money in American elections is nothing new – in fact, a number of Democrat fundraisers were convicted of funneling communist Chinese money to Democratic candidates in the 1990s.