Media

How The ‘US’ Chamber Uses Its Money To Pay Pundits, Manipulate Google, And Create Fake News Outlets

Earlier this month, ThinkProgress published an exclusive series of investigative pieces into the fundraising program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the far right corporate lobbying juggernaut. We uncovered millions from corporations like Procter and Gamble, outsourcing giant CSC, and Microsoft, but also discovered that the Chamber has been actively fundraising from foreign corporations like the Bahrain Petroleum Company and the State Bank of India. We provided documentation for over 80 foreign corporations donating at least $885,000 to the same Chamber 501(c)(6) general account the Chamber is now using to run an unprecedented $75 million attack campaign against Democrats.

Responding to our posts, the Chamber launched a massive smear campaign using its large in-house communications staff and a network of well funded public relations firms:

Manipulating Google And Blogs: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce retains public relations giant Fleishman-Hillard for much of their online communications work. Fleishman-Hillard VP Pat Cleary posts on the Chamber’s blog, and says he works closely with conservative bloggers through RedState. Other Chamber lobbyists collaborate routinely with conservative bloggers through the Heritage Foundation’s Bloggers Briefing to help get the message out for business lobbyists. As Cleary has told conferences of business lobbyists, he helps trade associations like the Chamber buy AdWords to promote the business lobby’s message. For example, when anyone Googles the words “US Chamber” and “foreign,” they see a link to the Chamber’s false response that it receives only $100,000 from foreign affiliates.

Paying For Television Pundits: GOP lobbyist John Feehery has appeared on cable television to attack ThinkProgress’ reporting, taken to Twitter call President Obama a “business-hating socialist” for calling attention to this story, and even penned an article in The Hill newspaper to defend the Chamber and lie about our investigation. Feehery never mentioned the foreign corporate direct donations to the Chamber’s 501(c)(6). But more importantly, neither The Hill nor any of television outlets Feehery appears on disclosed the fact that Feehery’s public relations firm, The Feehery Group, counts the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as one of its clients. Shortly after our story broke, Feehery was hired by another public relations/lobbying firm, Quinn Gillespie, which is also a client of the Chamber. Moreover, Fox News’ parent company is an active member of the Chamber, and hate-talker Glenn Beck met with the Chamber’s second in command earlier this year to plot the 2010 election. While Fox hosts and Beck have endlessly defended the Chamber’s secret money, there has been no disclosure of the network’s financial ties to Chamber lobbyists.

The Chamber Owns Fake News Sites: As the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard reported, the Chamber owns a variety of news websites in West Virginia, Illinois, and elsewhere, while also maintaining a wire service called Legal Newsline. All of these websites posture as independently owned and objective journalism outfits, and do not disclose that they are fully owned subsidiaries of Chamber lobbyists.

Unfortunately, the Chamber’s sophisticated smear campaign deceived many reputable media organizations into distorting our reporting. Reporters from the New York Times (Eric Lichtblau), the Associated Press (Alan Fram, Jim Kuhnhenn), McClatchy (David Lightman), Time (Mark Halperin), and other outlets misrepresented ThinkProgress’ reporting by refusing to acknowledge any of our key revelations about the Chamber’s foreign fundraising (the fundraising documents we published, the Bahrainian or Indianian corporate donations). None of these reporters directly contacted ThinkProgress, and instead opted to only interview Chamber lobbyists.

In many cases, these traditional reporters reprinted the Chamber’s lie that it only fundraises from foreign affiliates called AmChams, and that AmChams are composed of only American companies (this has been thoroughly debunked). Ignoring ThinkProgess’ reporting, these journalists reprinted the Chamber’s unproven assertion that it only accepts $100,000 from foreign affiliates. In other cases, these reporters reprinted the Chamber’s false claim that its political operation is equivalent to labor unions. In fact, labor unions face double disclosure because they must reveal their donors to the public through both the Department of Labor and the Federal Election Commission. The Chamber, on the other hand, refuses to disclose both its American and foreign donors to anyone. Although ThinkProgress has demonstrated that the Chamber receives at a minimum of $885,000 in foreign cash every year to its primary 501(c)(6) campaign account, few journalists have bothered to cover the thrust of our story.