The US Chamber of Commerce should have shed the "US" label long ago

The Washington-based special interest lobby for years lobbied for proposals that make it easier for multinational corporations to shut down factories in this country, layoff US workers and outsource work to foreign lands.

That should come as no surprise, since the "US Chamber of Commerce" represents what Tita Freeman, a spokeswoman for the group, refers to as “non-US-based companies.”

That’s code for foreign multinationals.

To be fair, the Chamber also represents US multinationals that shut factories in this country, layoff US workers and outsource work to foreign lands.

It should also be noted that, while the US Chamber of Commerce works hard to make it easier to shift work from the US to other countries, it is scrupulous about assuring that international trade agreements do not afford additional protections workplace, environmental and human rights protections to workers in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

In other words, the US Chamber of Commerce promotes a global race to the bottom that is harms workers here and abroad.

But that race to the bottom is, at least in the short term, beneficial to the bottom lines of multinational corporations. So they fund the chamber, while their international business councils pay what is referred to by the organization as a "nominal fee" of around $100,000 annually to, among other things, help it speed up the outsourcing of US jobs.

The multinational corporations are putting extra money in the chamber’s coffers this year as the group has launched a $75 million campaign to get a Congress that it can count on to oppose the interests of working families and communities in the United States and abroad.

That money, even when it comes from foreign firms, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund, is "deposited in the same 501(c)(6) account that the Chamber is using to run an unprecedented $75 million attack campaign, mostly against Democrats…"

The chamber says it uses some fancy accounting to assure that only US money is used to attack US candidates who favor the interests of working Americans. But that’s a little like saying: "I paid with money from my left pocket, not my right pocket."

Ultimately, however, we should thank the chamber.

It’s determination to flood the airwaves with ads paid for by multinational corporations has finally forced the Democrats to get serious about corporate infuence on our politics.

Even President Obama is criticizing the chamber, complaining that “groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections, and they won’t tell you where the money for their ads come from.”

Senator Al Franken, D-Minnesota, is calling on the Federal Election Commission to investigate charges that the group is funneling foreign money into US election campaigns, while the number-three Democrat in the US House, South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn, says Congress will launch an investigation into the US Chamber of Commerce’s financing.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana, has asked the Internal Revenue Service asking it to investigate potential tax code violations.

“The law requires that political campaign activity by a 501(c)(4), (c)(5) or (c)(6) entity must not be the primary purpose of the organization,” Baucus wrote to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman.

Baucus argues, correctly, that “if it is determined the primary purpose of the 501(c)(4), (c)(5) and (c)(6) organization is political campaign activity the tax exemption for that nonprofit can be terminated."

That’s a longer-term challenge to the Chamber.

In the short-term, the campaigns of Democratic Senate contenders who have been targeted by the chamber—such as Colorado’s Michael Bennet, Pennsylvania’s Joe Sestak and Ohio’s Lee Fisher—are raising the issue.

Some Democrats, like Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, have been taking on the corporations for years. So it should comes as no surprise that Feingold is in the Chamber’s sites. Or that he is fighting back.

Feingold  is calling on his Republican challenger, millionaire Ron Johnson, to distance himself from the attack ads that the Chamber is airing in Wisconsin denounce a new attack ad funded by the Chamber. But when The Hill contacted Johnson’s campaign about the chamber using multinational corporate cash, his aide refused to comment.

Feingold’s up with ads attacking free-trade deals that ship jobs overseas and destroy local economies—in a process that Johnson celebrates as "creative destruction." And his campaign is delivering a simple, yet devastating, message about the decision facing voters this fall: this election is not just between individual candidates, it is between the multinational corporations and American workers.

"I’ve voted against these trade deals because they were no good for Wisconsin workers, farmers and small businesses," says Feingold. "That’s made me the number-one enemy of the special interests in Washington. Now they’re spending a fortune to attack me and supporting a candidate who will vote the other way. The choice could not be clearer."