Tomorrow, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce plans to hold a reception for the Bahrain Banks Association, a trade group for banks operating in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The Bahrain Minister of Finance, Central Bank, and Bahrain Ambassador will be attending, and the event listing invites “banks and investment firms” to attend.
The Bahrain Banks Association includes many foreign investment firms that, as ThinkProgress reported this week, have been sending funds to the Chamber. The funds are deposited in the same 501(c)(6) account that the Chamber is using to run an unprecedented $75 million dollar attack campaign, mostly against Democrats like Jack Conway in Kentucky and Robin Carnahan in Missouri. ThinkProgress has documented at least $300,000 in foreign money to the Chamber from two countries alone. Below are a list of Bahrain Bank Association members which the Chamber has indicated are dues-paying members:
— Bahrain Financial Harbour Holding Company (based in Bahrain) — ICICI Bank (based in India) — TAIB Bank (based in Bahrain) — State Bank of India (state-owned and based in India)
The event occurs as the Chamber continues to refuse to answer simple questions about the legality of its fundraising operation for its political attack campaign. Foreign businesses and foreign agents are prohibited by law from contributing to any American political campaign expenditure. So far, the Chamber denies any inappropriate conduct, but has failed to produce any documentation that it is segregating its foreign dues from its American money. According to Graham Gillette, a participant at an Iowa event attended by Chamber CEO Tom Donohue today, Donohue replied to the controversy by simply attacking ThinkProgress as a “blog supported by George Soros.”
As ThinkProgress reported, the Chamber has internal fundraising departments called “Business Councils” — like the U.S.-Bahrain Business Council and the U.S.-India Business Council — which are run by Chamber development officers. Promotions to join the Chamber have included promises that foreign firms obtain “access to the US Chamber of Commerce and everything that it does,” noting that the Chamber is “enormous within the US.” ThinkProgress has reported that the application to join the Business Councils welcome foreign-owned entities, and the application encourages businesses to wire or send their dues to the same general 501(c)(6) the Chamber is currently using for its political campaign advertisements all over the country. See below for a link and screen shot to one such application:
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the Chamber hosting an event with Bahrain banks, or any foreign-owned banks. The problem arises if the Chamber is using foreign funding to help launch partisan advertising here in the United States.
While the Chamber is trying to characterize ThinkProgress as an “anti-business blog,” that is not true. Think Progress is not disputing the legally permissible contributions from the U.S. operations of foreign companies that may be used for political activities. These U.S. incorporated entities employ millions of Americans and should be permitted to fully participate in the US political process (presuming that they truly represent the U.S. commercial interest). However, it is illegal for foreign nationals/corporations/governments located in other countries to 1) contribute foreign monies to entities that use those funds for electioneering activities, or 2) participate in any decisions about political expenditures in the U.S.