In a debate last night in Kentucky, the Senate candidates were forced to weigh in on the controversy over the Chamber’s foreign funding. Democratic candidate Jack Conway was asked to offer his stance on whether “secret donors [are] trying to influence the elections.”
Conway responded by correctly noting that the local chambers in various Kentucky towns are separate from the actions of the national chamber. Indeed, most of the local chambers operate independently. Noting that his father-in-law was a former head of a local chamber, Conway said, “Our local chambers of commerce do a great job.”
Conway continued that the “larger issue” is that the “U.S.” Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads group are “coming in here, and spending, spending, spending, spending, and trying to take your democracy away from you.” He concluded, “I don’t think the U.S. Chamber ought to be in here in support of a candidate [Rand Paul] that’s questioned civil rights and questioned the Americans with Disabilities Act.” (To be fair, local chambers may have supported the Disabilities Act, but the national Chamber did not.)
Republican Rand Paul responded with a full-throated defense of the Chamber:
I see the Chamber as a group that fosters economic development in every community. … In fact, we would encourage you to keep attacking the Chamber because the Chamber is probably more popular than any politician running for office. So please, your side, if you like this — keep on attacking the Chamber. It makes no sense whatsoever. And I think it’s a really, really poor political tactic and untrue.
Paul never explained what exactly is “untrue.” As ThinkProgress has meticulously documented, the Chamber is receiving at least $885,000 from over 80 foreign-based companies, co-mingling those funds into the same account that runs the political attack ads, and righteously refusing to disclose its donors.
Paul seems to be intentionally conflating the local chambers with the right-wing national chamber, hoping the popularity of the independent locally-run Chambers will inoculate him from his connection to the national Chamber. According to a Washington Post analysis, the national Chamber has spent at least $500,000 to defeat Conway, and Rove’s group (American Crossroads) has spent an additional $750,000.
The Chamber has a proud record of defending the outsourcing of American jobs overseas and receiving payments from companies that specialize in outsourcing. Is that the “economic development” that Paul is endorsing?
Moreover, since Paul likes to claim the mantle of transparency, does he think it’s appropriate that the Chamber does not disclose the donors who are funding the political attacks on Kentucky television? According a recent Bloomberg poll, 47 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to support candidates if their “campaign was aided by advertising paid for by anonymous business groups.” 56 percent of voters overall (including 53% of independents) are less likely to vote for a candidate if they know the ads supporting that candidate are paid for by anonymous corporations and wealthy donors.