Last week, a ThinkProgress investigation revealed that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been using foreign money to fund its partisan attack ads this election. The very same day, the Chamber endorsed Bob Gibbs (R) in his campaign against Rep. Zack Space (D) in Ohio’s 18th congressional district. Gibbs said it was “an honor” to have the group’s support. In the nine days since, the Chamber has already pumped nearly $30,000 into the race.
Last night, the topic of anonymous donors to outside groups came up in a debate between Gibbs and Space. ThinkProgress caught up with Gibbs afterward to get his thoughts. He noted that organizations are required by law to segregate their foreign and domestic money and said the Chamber “absolutely” has a firewall in place. We pressed him on whether he just trusts them to enforce their own secret system. Gibbs conceded that he “wouldn’t have a problem with the Federal Election Commission having the ability…to go in and audit them and make sure that they had the firewall.” However, he stopped short of calling for groups like the Chamber to disclose their donors to the public:
TP: One of the interesting things that was discussed in the debate was third-party spending, particularly with the Chamber of Commerce. They’ve been putting up tens of thousands of advertising dollars in the district on your behalf. Are you comfortable with the fact that they refuse to disclose their donors and that many of those are foreign companies and state-backed foreign companies?
GIBBS: Let’s be clear. It’s illegal for them to take donations from foreign nationals, just like it’s illegal in my campaign to do that. There’s absolutely a firewall. They segregate any funds…
TP: So you trust them? Because they’re system, they say they just have a system and just to trust them and their system because they won’t disclose it. You’re willing to trust them?
GIBBS: I wouldn’t have a problem with the Federal Election Commission having the ability – I don’t know if they do or not – to go in and audit them and make sure that they had the firewall.
TP: Do you think the average American citizen should be able to see that as well?
GIBBS: If they’re breaking the law, then we have to have a process in place to make sure that if they’re breaking the law we take care of that situation. [...]
TP: The one thing I would be curious though is, for instance, something like the DISCLOSE Act, which the Chamber fought vigorously against, which would have required them to disclose their donors for their political advertising. Is that something you would be in favor of, having them disclose their donors one way or another through legislation?
GIBBS: I haven’t delved into the issue or the arguments because I’ve been busy doing other things.