Bruce Josten and the Chamber of Secrets

Bruce Josten, chief lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce, explains exactly what’s wrong with the organization keeping its corporate donors secret:

The major supporters of us in health care last year were confronted with protests at their corporate headquarters, protests and harassment at the C.E.O.’s homes,” said R. Bruce Josten, the chief lobbyist at the chamber, whose office looks out on the White House. “You are wondering why companies want some protection. It is pretty clear.”

The chamber’s increasingly aggressive role — including record spending in the midterm elections that supports Republicans more than 90 percent of the time — has made it a target of critics, including a few local chamber affiliates who fear it has become too partisan and hard-nosed in its fund-raising.

So there you have it. The Chamber’s political finance arm exists, in essence, to help Republicans win elections. But many people are not Republicans! Even George McGovern got 37.5 percent of the vote. So individuals, as consumers and as citizens, may choose to not support businesses that take their money and spend it on a political party they don’t like. Naturally, no sensible business executive wants to do that. Michael Jordan was famously reluctant to get involved in partisan politics because “Republicans buy sneakers too.” Anonymity is so much more convenient.

But does it serve the public interest for this to be kept secret? It seems that for all the reasons the Chamber’s members don’t want you to know what they’re doing that you do want to know who they are. Since these very same business interests successfully beat back congressional efforts to make disclosure legally mandatory, it becomes essentially a journalistic problem. It’s possible for diligent reports to find out who the donors are, which is what my ThinkProgress colleagues have been looking into and today’s Times piece sheds some further light on. For example, “Prudential Financial’s $2 million donation last year coincided with a chamber lobbying effort against elements of the financial regulation bill in Congress.”