When President Obama warned in last January’s State of the Union address that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision “will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our election,” right-wing Justice Samuel Alito infamously mouthed the words, “Not True.” Watch it:
Yet we now know that Alito’s remark was, well, “not true.” As Lee Fang reported yesterday on ThinkProgress, the Chamber of Commerce raises hundreds of thousands of dollars from foreign corporations every year, and then funnels that money into “the Chamber’s 501(c)(6) account which is the vehicle for the attack ads.”
The Chamber has issued a series of weak denials of Fang’s reporting, alleging that they “have a system” to ensure that money donated by BP or other foreign corporations does not directly fund attack ads, but they provide no details on this elusive system. Referencing ThinkProgress’ work, the New York Times points out in a well-written editorial today that the Chamber has lobbied hard to maintain the cloud of secrecy over it corporate electioneering:
Because the United States Chamber is organized as a 501(c)(6) business league under the federal tax code, it does not have to disclose its donors, so the full extent of foreign influence on its political agenda is unknown. But Tuesday’s report sheds light on how it raises money abroad. Its affiliate in Abu Dhabi, for example, the American Chamber of Commerce, says it has more than 450 corporate and individual members in the United Arab Emirates who pay as much as $8,500 a year to join.
Because of a series of court decisions that culminated in the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling earlier this year, these and similar 501(c) nonprofits have become huge players in the year’s election, using unlimited money from donors who have no fear of disclosure. (Not surprisingly, the chamber has been a leading opponent of legislation to require disclosure.) One such group, American Crossroads, organized by Karl Rove, announced on Tuesday a $4.2 million ad buy to support Republican candidates, bringing the group’s total spending to about $18 million so far.
Money is fungible. So, when the Chamber or other wealthy corporate interest groups spend foreign corporate donations on general operating expenses, that frees up other money in their operating budget to be spent on attack ads or other expenditures. In other words, it now looks pretty clear that President Obama was right, and Justice Alito was wrong, about the impact of the Supreme Court’s most infamous recent decision.