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Progressives to Chamber: Show Us the Money! | The Nation

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George Zornick

George Zornick

Action and dysfunction in the Beltway swamp. E-mail tips to george@thenation.com

Progressives to Chamber: Show Us the Money!

Post by Nation DC intern Nick Myers

The US Chamber of Commerce’s disingenuous ad campaign is close to its goal to spend $100 million to influence next week’s elections. The Chamber has already spent more than $1 million per race against seven of the top ten candidates it has bought ads in opposition to this year.

According to OpenSecrets.org, the Chamber has used more than $27 million to attack Democratic and progressive candidates for Congress, and that number is sure to go up before Election Day. Among it‘s top targets: the Chamber has dropped $2.3 million opposing Sherrod Brown, $1.8 million opposing Tim Kaine, $1.3 million opposing Tammy Baldwin, and $900,000 opposing Martin Heinrich. 

But for all it spends, the Chamber isn’t required to disclose where it got the money, thanks to the Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That’s why pro-disclosure advocacy groups delivered 30,000 petition signatures to the Chamber’s Washington, DC, headquarters this month, one day before the FEC’s deadline for spending reports. The signatures were presented as birthday gifts — the Chamber celebrated its 100th anniversary this year — at a rally organized by Public Citizen, US PIRG, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, small-business people and others.

“Giant corporations and super rich individuals are trying to buy the election,” said Public Citizen President Robert Weissman after the rally. “The chamber is the primary funnel for secret donations from big business.”

Two Chamber representatives stood steely-faced and without comment as Brian Eister of Occupy D.C. led the rally’s human microphone in demanding that the conservative lobbying group disclose its roll of secret donors.

Though freedom of speech must indeed be kept sacred, the absence of information on who is saying what seriously damages American democracy. Yes, some of the Chamber’s donors have themselves reported their contributions — including Coca-Cola, Dow, Intel and Merck, according to a report by The Washington Post’s Carol Leonning — but it is impossible to know precisely who is buying the election under current laws.

During a media event preceding the rally, Maine small business owner Melanie Collins took issue with the Chamber’s claim that it represents small businesses, calling it “small business identity theft.” Having already poured in millions to try and influence the state’s races, including ads targeting independent senate candidate and former governor Angus King, Collins said her voice and the voice of other small businesspeople is drowned out.

“The Chamber doesn’t speak for small business and it doesn’t speak for me,” she said. “That ain’t right.”

Blair Bowie with US PIRG emphasized the need for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United and stop organizations like the Chamber from unaccountable spending before it became the “the new normal.” Eister, who said more than 2 million have already signed a petition supporting the repeal of Citizens United, said after the rally that he and other activists intend to “take to the streets” sometime around the decision’s three-year anniversary on January 21.

“The voice of the people is being drowned out by extraordinary amounts of corporate money, which is corrupting our political process and impeding truly representative governance,” he said.

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