Revelations that one of the most powerful lobbying groups is using foreign funds to influence U.S. elections proves President Obama was right in January when he warned of just such consequences to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, according to an analyst at a Washington watchdog organization.
The Think Progress blog last week reported that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is using foreign money to fund millions of dollars in attack ads against Democrats in the weeks leading up to the 2010 midterm elections.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a highly pro-business organization in Washington, collects hundreds of thousands of dollars from foreign owned businesses, including companies owned by foreign governments.
The Chamber has already run more than 8,000 attack ads and according to the Washington Post, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce “vows to spend $75 million or more on November’s midterm election cycle.”
The Chamber claims that they have not spent these resources on their $75 million national electoral campaign, but has offered no tangible evidence or documentation to back up this claim, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), a Washington-based watchdog organization.
The ability of the Chamber to use foreign funds is a direct result of the Citizens United ruling decided by the conservative bloc on the Supreme Court. That decision swept away decades of bipartisan limits on the ability of corporations to influence elections.
“This eye-opening revelation goes far beyond basic disclosure of campaign expenditures. It goes to the heart of the problem opened up by the Citizens United decision. Accepting foreign corporate money into the same account from which it is funding unlimited attack ads truly crosses the line,” says Lisa Gilbert, U.S. PIRG democracy advocate.
In addition, the Chamber’s response to this question of mingling foreign and domestic dues has been inadequate, according to U.S. PIRG. A spokeswoman told a Washington Post reporter, “We don’t feel obligated to answer that question.”
Among the Democrats coming under fire from Chamber-funded attacks are Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway, and Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, who also is running for a Senate seat.
“Voters from both parties are beyond weary of the influence that big money interests have in Washington, and this egregious information is likely to be the final straw for the public,” Gilbert says. “Keeping foreign money out of our elections should be a crystal clear issue, but now that we’ve opened the floodgates for corporations to play in an unlimited way in our elections, we should not be surprised when foreign corporations want to join in the fun.”
Obama took the unusual step in January, during his State of the Union address to the nation, to directly criticize the Citizens United decision — including for its consequence of opening the floodgates to foreigners trying to buy American elections.
Justice Samuel Alito now appears to have been wrong, when he mouthed the words, “Not true,” during the speech, when Obama raised the specter of foreign influence.
Democrats have been attempting to enact legislation known as the DISCLOSE Act, which would provide some transparency so voters would at least know the funding sources for the influence allowed under Citizens United.
The House approved the bill, but Republicans have successfully blocked it from coming to a vote in the Senate.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.