Earlier this month, the White House floated the possibility of an executive order to require “companies seeking government contracts” to disclose contributions to groups that air political ads. And a few days ago, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) filed a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission to demand rules mandating donor disclosure.
The move by the White House has been met with a fierce denunciation by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which ran one of the largest ad campaigns using secret corporate money in the midterm election last year. In an interview with the New York Times, Chamber executive Bruce Josten compared President Obama to Muammar Qaddafi, claiming that the Chamber will fight the order with the same resolve as military leaders currently bombing Libya:
The lobbyist, R. Bruce Josten, said in an interview that the powerful business bloc “is not going to tolerate” what it saw as a “backdoor attempt” by the White House to silence private-sector opponents by disclosing their political spending.
“We will fight it through all available means,” Mr. Josten said. In a reference to the White House’s battle to depose Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, he said, “To quote what they say every day on Libya, all options are on the table.”
The Chamber’s threat is not idle talk. As ThinkProgress exclusively reported, the Chamber’s lawyers recently met with a group of military contractors to devise a potentially illegal plot to sabotage liberal critics, including Change to Win, Chamber Watch, MoveOn.org, and even ThinkProgress. The plan included an effort to use fake online identities to hack computers and submit false documents to progressive groups in a bid to discredit the Chamber’s perceived political opponents.
Moreover, the White House’s disclosure rule threatens the entire existence of the Chamber. This is because the Chamber only exists to hide the identity of corporations seeking to fight nasty political battles without having their name or brand exposed. As the Wall Street Journal noted, the Chamber’s “most striking innovation has been to offer individual companies and industries the chance to use the chamber as a means of anonymously pursuing their own political ends.” The Chamber’s members include defense contractors, bailed out banks, and other donors likely to be affected by the government contractor campaign disclosure rule.
Questions about the legality of the Chamber’s own campaign contributors linger. Last year, we broke the story that the Chamber actively solicited dozens of donations from foreign corporations from India, Bahrain, and other countries. The money, according to documents we unearthed, were deposited in the same legal entity the Chamber later used to pay for political attack ads, mostly against Democrats. The Chamber admitted to the direct foreign donations, but never proved that the money was properly segregated from domestic money. The Federal Election Commission did nothing to look into the matter.