Conservative Republican Ron Johnson defeated incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) in the Wisconsin senate content this year. Many of the ads attacking Feingold came not from Johnson, but from outside groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the big business lobbying organization. The Chamber used outright falsehoods against Feingold, including one ad that falsely stated that he supported a “government takeover” of health care.
In response to the Chamber’s pivotal contributions to the race, the Los Angeles Times reports that last week Johnson visited the Chamber to personally thank Chamber CEO Tom Donohue:
When it comes to money in politics, the new normal is already on vivid display. It could be seen last week in posh restaurants and corporate townhouses on Capitol Hill, where politicians held fundraisers at a record pace. It was evident at Washington’s blue-chip law firms, where campaign finance lawyers began work setting up new political committees to collect unlimited donations. It was apparent in the halls of Congress, where lawmakers swapped strategies about how to contend with muscular interest groups looking to take them out. The unusually intense December bustle is the product of this year’s elections, where spending surged to $4 billion in sharp-edged campaigns across the country — a record for a midterm. [...] In a sign of the new order, a newly elected Republican senator, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, paid a personal visit last week to U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue to thank him for the chamber’s unsolicited support of his candidacy.
Earlier this year, ThinkProgress reported that, in addition to donations from health insurance companies and Wall Street banks, the Chamber had solicited donations from foreign businesses, including state-run oil companies in Bahrain and outsourcing firms in India. To his credit, Johnson was one of the few Republican candidates who called for the Chamber to disclose the funding of its ads. The Chamber so far has refused any voluntary disclosures — but will the newly elected senator from Wisconsin continue to press the Chamber for transparency? Historically, the Chamber fundraises for its political program by telling corporations that they may more effectively lobby by funneling donations through the Chamber. While its clear Johnson appreciates the help from the Chamber, what will he do in return?