MSNBC’s Chuck Todd hosted the Chamber of Commerce’s chief lobbyist Bruce Josten this morning to discuss our reports documenting the Chamber’s foreign sources of funding. As he has done in the past, Josten resorted to name-calling as a defense for his organization, suggesting that we’re a “liberal left wing blog” that can’t be trusted.
When Todd pressed Josten on the substantive charge ThinkProgress leveled – that foreign dollars from undisclosed sources are helping to support the Chamber’s political activities – Josten responded, “I think this is a canard, absolutely absurd.” But Josten then ironically offered a huge “canard” of his own, peddling a conservative blog’s report. Josten claimed the Chamber won’t release its foreign donors because a 527 organization that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs worked for in 2003-04 skirted the law by delaying disclosure of their own donors.
In fact, 527s are required to release their donors, and as Todd informed Josten, the group for which Gibbs worked “did eventually disclose.” So Todd pressed the Chamber on whether his organization, which is operating like a 527 by running partisan political ads on television, would hold to the same standard:
TODD: Are you guys eventually going to disclose?
JOSTEN: No! […]
TODD: So your donors are afraid of a public backlash?
JOSTEN: Absolutely. […] Corporations, as I said, have employees, vendors, suppliers, and shareholders of all political stripes. They’re not trying to alienate anybody. They’re looking for representative organizations, such as mine and thousands of others, to be an express organization to advocate for them on their behalf.
TODD: It’s kind of a depressing outlook, the fact that we think that being public about where you stand on an issue, you don’t want to go public because of — you just fear some sort of potentially negative retribution.
“Corporations, I think, sit in a very different space here than individuals,” Josten explained, as a reason for why corporations shouldn’t have to disclose. (But of course, Josten is all to pleased to support the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision establishing corporate personhood.) Watch it:
So there you have it. The Chamber believes that while it is engaged in trying to influence the outcome of elections, it should not be held accountable to the public. And therefore, the Chamber claims it doesn’t have to abide by the rules that apply to other organizations that run political ads on television.
The Chamber has admitted to taking foreign funds for the same 501(c)(6) account they use for attack ads, and ThinkProgress caught them collecting $885,000 from over 80 foreign companies by investigating the Chamber’s own fundraising documents. Normally, organizations take international funds through a 501(c)(3), which is prohibited from political activity. However, what the Chamber is doing, fundraising from foreign corporations and asking them to deposit the money in their 501(c)(6) — an undisclosed, unlimited vehicle for their attack ads — is unprecedented.
As for the Chamber’s concerns that disclosure would lead to negative retribution, Paul Blumenthal at the Sunlight Foundation referred to this as “the coward’s argument against transparency.” He wrote, “The powerful, the wealthy, are hiding behind a cloak of secrecy out of fear that citizens may discover their political positions and hold them accountable. Shiver.”
As I told Raw Story, “It seems like the Chamber has a problem with democracy. They run ads on behalf of corporations that are afraid to reveal their agendas to the public. If the Chamber wants to engage in the democratic process to influence the outcomes of elections with paid TV advertisements, they shouldn’t be ducking a debate over their donors.”