Last week, ThinkProgress published an exclusive story about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s foreign fundraising operation. We noted the Chamber raises money from foreign-owned businesses for its 501(c)(6) entity, the same account that finances its unprecedented $75 million dollar partisan attack ad campaign. While the Chamber is notoriously secretive, the thrust of our story involved the disclosure of fundraising documents U.S. Chamber staffers had been distributing to solicit foreign (even state-owned) companies to donate directly to the Chamber’s 501(c)(6). We updated our investigation with a chart showing over 80 foreign companies giving at least $885,000 to the Chamber.
We documented three different ways the Chamber fundraises from foreign corporations: (1) An internal fundraising program called “Business Councils” used to solicit direct, largely foreign contributions to the Chamber, (2) Direct contributions from foreign multinationals like BP, Siemens, and Shell Oil, and (3) From the Chamber’s network of AmCham affiliates, which are foreign chambers of the Chamber composed of American and foreign companies. The Chamber quickly acknowledged that it receives direct, foreign money, but simply replied, “We are not obligated to discuss our internal procedures.” Instead of providing any documentation or proof to demonstrate foreign money is not being used for electioneering purposes, the Chamber launched an aggressive media strategy to first, attack ThinkProgress with petty name-calling and second, to confuse the media by highlighting the Chamber’s relatively minor AmCham fundraising, which the Chamber says (also without documentation) totals “approximately $100,000” from all 115 international AmCham chapters. The media largely ignored ThinkProgress’ revelation about the Chamber’s large, direct foreign fundraising to its 501(c)(6) used for attack ads, and helped the Chamber bury our scoop with misinformation.
Now, the Chamber is peddling a new spin. Yesterday, the Chamber’s Tom Collamore alleged that the Chamber’s foreign Business Councils are run as “independent organizations.” Repeating that myth today on hate-talker Glenn Beck’s program, Chamber lobbyist Bruce Josten claimed that the Chamber’s foreign Business Council fundraising programs are “completely unaffiliated with us.” However, the Chamber’s own website refutes Josten’s claim:
— The Chamber’s U.S.-Bahrain Business Council states that it is “under the administrative aegis of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and is intended to operate as a tax exempt business pursuant to Section 501(c)(6).” Similar language applies to the other Business Councils.
— All of the Chamber Business Council fundraising applications highlighted by ThinkProgress direct applicants, including foreign corporations, to make their checks out to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with related documents specifying its general 501(c)(6).
— Promotions to join the Chamber have included promises that foreign firms obtain “access to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and everything that it does” as well as pledges to help the foreign firms promote free trade policies in America. Chamber staffers from the Chamber’s Business Councils have claimed they help their foreign (and domestic) members wage a “two-front battle to knock down trade barriers abroad and keep our markets open at home.” Currently, the Chamber has attacked Democratic lawmakers for resisting a free trade deal with Korea.
The Chamber could have asked its foreign members and other foreign businesses to deposit their contributions in the Chamber’s Center for International Private Enterprise, an international Chamber-run 501(c)(3) nonprofit that does not run ads or any other type of political expenditure. Instead, ThinkProgress revealed that the Chamber had asked foreign businesses to donate to the Chamber’s 501(c)(6), a tax identity allowed to run unlimited political attack ads.
On top of the Chamber’s latest deception about its foreign fundraising program, the Chamber has little credibility. The Chamber illegally moved money from AIG’s tax exempt foundation to fund its attack ads in 2004. The Chamber also claims its current attack ad campaign is about “issues.” But the Chamber begged President Obama to pass the stimulus (as long as he stripped out tough “buy-American” provisions), and is now running attack ads against Democrats for voting for the stimulus. Many of the ads the Chamber is currently running are filled with misinformation and flat out lies. In fact, some responsible local television stations have even refused to run some of the Chamber’s partisan attack ads. On Tuesday, appearing on Fox News, Josten claimed that only 60 multinational companies are members of the Chamber, and it receives only $100,000 from its foreign affiliations. However, ThinkProgress blew this claim out of the water with proof that the Chamber is accepting at least $885,000 in direct donations from over 80 other foreign firms (in addition to the multinational members of the Chamber like BP, Siemens, and Shell Oil).