Foreign-funded ˜U.S. Chamber of Commerce running partisan attack ads against many champions of climate action and clean energy

The Chamber of Commerce is one of the leading lobbyists against — and promoters of disinformation about — clean energy and climate action  (see “Luddite U.S. Chamber seeks “the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century” on global warming).

Since clean energy and low carbon technologies will be one of the biggest sources of job creation this century — and since the nearly billion dollars a day Americans send out of this country to buy oil harms our economic security — the Chamber is not merely working to destroy the health and well-being of our children and countless future generations, but also to undermine US competitiveness (see Seventh Generation founder: “The US Chamber of Commerce doesn’t act in the best interest of business”¦. I think it’s a reputational risk to be associated with the Chamber, given their behavior”).

A Think Progress investigation details the extreme lengths this effectively extremist organization is going to elect members of Congress who will work tirelessly to ensure that the US never regains its leadership in clean energy and that we fail to act in time to avert catastrophic human-caused global warming.

The largest attack campaign against Democrats this fall is being waged by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a trade association organized as a 501(c)(6) that can raise and spend unlimited funds without ever disclosing any of its donors. The Chamber has promised to spend an unprecedented $75 million to defeat candidates like Jack Conway, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jerry Brown, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), and Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA). As of Sept. 15th, the Chamber had aired more than 8,000 ads on behalf of GOP Senate candidates alone, according to a study from the Wesleyan Media Project. The Chamber’s spending has dwarfed every other issue group and most political party candidate committee spending. A ThinkProgress investigation has found that the Chamber funds its political attack campaign out of its general account, which solicits foreign funding. And while the Chamber will likely assert it has internal controls, foreign money is fungible, permitting the Chamber to run its unprecedented attack campaign. According to legal experts consulted by ThinkProgress, the Chamber is likely skirting longstanding campaign finance law that bans the involvement of foreign corporations in American elections.

In recent years, the Chamber has become very aggressive with its fundraising, opening offices abroad and helping to found foreign chapters (known as Business Councils or “AmChams”). While many of these foreign operations include American businesses with interests overseas, the Chamber has also spearheaded an effort to raise money from foreign corporations, including ones controlled by foreign governments. These foreign members of the Chamber send money either directly to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or the foreign members fund their local Chamber, which in turn, transfers dues payments back to the Chamber’s H Street office in Washington DC. These funds are commingled to the Chamber’s 501(c)(6) account which is the vehicle for the attack ads:

– The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has created a large presence in the small, oil-rich country of Bahrain. In 2006, the Chamber created a local affiliate called the “U.S.-Bahrain Business Council” (USBBC), an organization to help businesses in Bahrain take advantage of the Chamber’s “network of government and business relationships in the US and worldwide.” As the USBBC’s bylaws state, it is not an actual separate entity, rather it is simply an office of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 501(c)(6) trade association. Many of the USBBC’s board members are Bahrainian, including Aluminum Bahrain, Gulf Air, Midal Cables, the Nass Group, Bahrain Maritime & Mercantile International, the Bahrain Petroleum Company (state-owned), Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company, and First Leasing Bank. With each of these foreign board members to the USBBC contributing at least $10,000 annually, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce raises well over $100,000 a year in money from foreign businesses through its operation in Bahrain. Notably, the membership form provided by the USBBC directs applicants to send or wire their money directly to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The membership form also explicitly states that the foreign-owned firms are welcomed.

– Like the Chamber’s involvement in Bahrain, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce operates in India through a group called “U.S.-India Business Council” (USIBC), which has offices around the world but is headquartered in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Dozens of Indian businesses, including some of India’s largest corporations like the State Bank of India (state-run) and ICICI Bank, are members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce through the USIBC. Annual membership dues range from $7,500 to $15,000 or more, and the money is given directly into the Chamber’s 501(c)(6) bank account. Like the USBBC, the USIBC generates well over $200,000 a year in dues for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce from foreign businesses. On the USIBC website, many of the groups lobbying goals advocate changing American policy to help businesses in India. Under the manufacturing policy goal, USIBC boasts that it “can play a helpful role in guiding U.S. companies to India, while supporting various policy initiatives that will enhance India’s reputation as a major manufacturing and investment hub.”

– Many foreign “AmChams” or Business Councils operate outside the direct sphere of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce but nonetheless send dues money back to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. For instance, the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt is a separate entity based in Cairo that raises hundreds of thousands of dollars from both Egyptian firms and American businesses. However, the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt calls itself “the most active affiliates of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the” Middle East. Another foreign chamber, like the Abu Dhabi AmCham, which includes American firms and Esnaad, a subsidiary of the state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, claims that it is a a “dues paying member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and part of the global network of American Chambers of Commerce.” In Russia, the relationship between the American Chamber of Commerce there and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce here is opaque. This might be because many of the dues-paying members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia are Russian state-run companies, like VTB Bank, and controlled by the Russian government. Asked by ThinkProgress if the Russian Chambers pay dues back to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Ksenia Forsheneva, the membership development manager at the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, replied, “Unfortunately the information that you require is closed for the public.”

Previously, it has been reported that foreign firms like BP, Shell Oil, and Siemens are active members of the Chamber. But on a larger scale, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce appears to rely heavily on fundraising from firms all over the world, including China, India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Russia, and many other places. Of course, because the Chamber successfully lobbied to kill campaign finance reforms aimed at establishing transparency, the Chamber does not have to reveal any of the funding for its ad campaigns. Dues-paying members of the Chamber could potentially be sending additional funds this year to help air more attack ads against Democrats.

Here’s how it works. Regular dues from American firms to the Chamber can range from $500 to $300,000 or more, depending on their size and industry, and can be used for any purpose deemed necessary by the Chamber leadership. For example, the health insurance giant Aetna has reported that it paid $100,000 in annual dues to the Chamber in the past. But for specific advocacy or advertising campaigns, corporations can hide behind the label of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and give additional money. Last year, alongside their regular dues, health insurance companies like Aetna secretly funneled up to $20 million to the Chamber for attack ads aimed at killing health reform (publicly, health insurance executives claimed they supported reform). Last week, Politico reported that News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, gave an extra $1 million to the Chamber for its election season attack campaign.

There are many reasons foreign corporations are seeking to defeat Democratic candidates this November. The Chamber has repeatedly sent out issue alerts attacking Democratic efforts to encourage businesses to hire locally rather than outsource to foreign counties. The Chamber has also bitterly fought Democrats for opposing unfettered free trade deals. To galvanize foreign businesses, the Chamber has commissioned former Ambassador Frank Lavin “” who served as the McCain-Palin Asia campaign director and has appeared on television multiple times recently saying a Democratic Congress is bad for business “” to speak before various foreign Chamber affiliates to talk about the stakes for the 2010 midterm elections.

Because campaign finance laws prohibit foreign entities from contributing to political races here in America, we asked the Chamber to defend the legality of its fundraising operation. We have yet to receive a response. But as word of our investigation began to leak out yesterday, the Chamber informed Politico’s Mike Allen that it is now “preparing a response.”

The US Chamber of Commerce has responded to this post in a statement to the Politico’s Ben Smith. The Chamber’s Tita Freeman did not dispute that the Chamber’s 501(c)(6) organization running attack ads receives foreign funds, and simply claimed, “We have a system in place” to prevent foreign funding for the Chamber’s “political activities.”

Lee Fang, in a Think Progress Cross-posted.

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12 Responses to Foreign-funded ˜U.S. Chamber of Commerce running partisan attack ads against many champions of climate action and clean energy

  1. James Newberry says:

    Chamber of Communists. Good by democracy, good by America. Hello fiscal and ecological unsustainable debt. The US Treasury barn doors are wide open from “unregulated plutocracy.” A nation of laws? More like a nation of flaws.

  2. mike roddy says:

    Having worked with them off and on for years, I can say that industry trade groups are set up to protect their weakest and most reactionary members, and the Chamber is no exception.

    The culture of the US Chamber appears to be so hopeless that an alternate organization should be formed among disgruntled or former members. This new organization would not be afraid to become a competitor, and highlight its own forward thinking policies- which are much more supportive of American business.

    Parallel to this should be a Department of Justice investigation into enabling agents of foreign governments to interfere in American democracy. This is a crime, and the evidence is clear enough. Let’s see if the Obama Justice Department has the heart for this battle, including achieving separation from Middle East oil oligarchs. If so, they’d better start soon, before the Republicans take over Congress.

  3. greenpatriot says:

    Hey Joe,

    I’m wondering if you have readily available information on case studies in the last five years that show where an industry that got hit with environmental regulations actually ended up creating jobs because the regulations required them to innovate. If you have anything, please let me know. Thanks for all the great work you do!

    [JR: This is Michael Porter’s view — but I haven’t seen anything from him in a while.]

  4. homunq says:

    Of interest: there’s already an organization devoted to fighting the chamber. A number of large companies, including Apple, have left the Chamber recently over the latter’s radical pro-pollution stance; others, such as Toyota and Nike, have stated that they disagree with the chamber “but prefer to work from the inside”, whatever that means.

    I remember reading something about an alternative group, pro-business but not off the deep end; and the US Chamber was pressuring its members not to join, but I can’t find anything on it right now.

  5. homunq says:

    I was wrong. Nike eventually did quit the chamber.

  6. homunq says:

    No, I was right the first time. Nike quit the board, but not the chamber. Sorry, there are conflicting reports on this.

  7. Rick Covert says:

    Does this mean that the US Chamber of Commerce should register as the agent of foreign governments?

  8. homunq says:

    Another org on the job: Fix the US Chamber

  9. Doug Bostrom says:

    Running the EPA’s C02 regulation into the ditch is the mostly invisible elephant in the room during this election cycle.

    If you care about slowing down climate disruption, don’t let your discontent deter you from voting. If you’re hesitating to vote, just picture the EPA being forced to carve out an exception for the most important pollutant of our time.

  10. paulm says:

    This group of jokers should be disowned and disbanded by its current members.
    Shouldn’t they be at least under investigation by the AG?

  11. BBHY says:

    During the Bush Administration, Democrats were investigated purely for political purposes, on completely imaginary charges. Now we have evidence that an organization is clearly violating the law. Laundering money from foreign corporations and governments to interfere with the US elections is borderline treason and yet there is no investigation.

    The Republicans treat politics like a knife fight, the Democrats are playing badminton.

  12. Jeansez says:

    Sign the petition to urge the Federal Election Commission to investigate the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for violating federal election law. The Federal Election Campaign Act prohibits soliciting funds from any foreign national, government or corporation to contribute, donate or spend funds in connection with any federal, state, or local election in the United States, either directly or indirectly.