After consulting with the Chamber of Commerce’s chief lobbyist Bruce Josten, the New York Times and the Washington Post publish articles today largely dismissing concerns about the Chamber’s foreign sources of funding as a means to raise money to air political attack ads.
Both the Times and the Post articles fail to appreciate the scope of the Chamber’s foreign sources of funding, focusing instead too narrowly on independently-run, foreign-based “AmChams.” The Times casually disregards our report as part of a “Washington spin cycle” (which apparently also involves the New York Times editorial board). Eric Lichtblau writes:
“People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” said Bruce Josten, chief lobbyist for the chamber, as he recalled the 2008 allegations.
He accused Mr. Obama of using “smear tactics” in bringing up the issue at two separate campaign stops this week in order to deflect attention from his own record as the midterm elections approach. “This is a White House that seems to like to pick an enemy and use it as a foil to advance an agenda,” he said.
Mr. Josten said the Chamber of Commerce had 115 foreign member affiliates in 108 countries, who pay a total of less than $100,000 in membership dues that go into its general fund.
Similarly, the Post’s Dan Eggen writes:
R. Bruce Josten, the chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs, said in an interview Friday that the group “has never and will never” use dues collected from overseas business councils, known as “AmChams,” for U.S. political activities. He said the chamber is the victim of “a smear campaign” orchestrated with the involvement of the White House.
In fact, as ThinkProgress has noted, “AmChams” are only a small piece of the puzzle. Most of the Chamber’s foreign sources of funds come from large multi-national corporations which are headquartered abroad, like BP and Siemens. Direct contributions from foreign firms also are accepted under the auspices of the Chamber’s “Business Councils” located in various foreign countries. Here’s a visual graphic that demonstrates the Chamber’s foreign sources of funding:
Neither the Times nor the Post appear to have pressed the Chamber to answer two critical questions:
1) How many foreign sources of funding does the Chamber have? The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent received this statement from a Chamber spokeswoman: “[Of] the Chamber’s 300,000 members, a relative handful are non-U.S. based companies.” How many is a “relatively handful,” and how much do they contribute?
2) Are the foreign funds being directed into the same general account that is used to pay for partisan attack ads? Again, the Post’s Greg Sargent pressed on this point. The Chamber, which is running more than $10 million in political advertising just this week (the largest expenditure in one week by an outside group), said, “We are not obligated to discuss our internal accounting procedures.”
As David Donnelly, national campaigns director for Public Campaign Action Fund, told Politico: “They basically say, ‘trust us’ when there’s mounting evidence they’re outsourcing the funding of their political attacks ads? Yeah, right.” Apparently, the New York Times and the Washington Post were just fine with trusting the Chamber.