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Tilting at Windmills

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October 5, 2010

BUYING ELECTIONS WITH FOREIGN FUNDS?.... President Obama recently delivered a speech warning of a "corporate takeover of our democracy" in the post-Citizens United landscape, with shadowy groups raising millions in secret to help buy elections for Republicans.

"None of them will disclose who's paying for these ads," the president said. "You don't know if it's a Wall Street bank. You don't know if it's a big oil company. You don't know if it's an insurance company. You don't even know if it's a foreign-controlled entity."

That last point is of particular interest, since the idea of foreign funds buying elections probably strikes most Americans as problematic. With that in mind, ThinkProgress has a fascinating item today.

The largest attack campaign against Democrats this fall is being waged by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a trade association organized as a 501(c)(6) that can raise and spend unlimited funds without ever disclosing any of its donors. The Chamber has promised to spend an unprecedented $75 million to defeat candidates like Jack Conway, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jerry Brown, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), and Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA). As of Sept. 15th, the Chamber had aired more than 8,000 ads on behalf of GOP Senate candidates alone, according to a study from the Wesleyan Media Project.

The Chamber's spending has dwarfed every other issue group and most political party candidate committee spending. A ThinkProgress investigation has found that the Chamber funds its political attack campaign out of its general account, which solicits foreign funding. And while the Chamber will likely assert it has internal controls, foreign money is fungible, permitting the Chamber to run its unprecedented attack campaign. According to legal experts consulted by ThinkProgress, the Chamber is likely skirting longstanding campaign finance law that bans the involvement of foreign corporations in American elections.

The Chamber's political activities are an ongoing point of interest here, but ThinkProgress' research raises new questions. The Chamber has been raising money hand over fist to influence the outcome of congressional elections, and to boost its coffers, it's sought out funds from foreign corporations and businesses run by foreign governments.

The result is an unwelcome development for the American political system: an interest group is spending $75 million this year to boost Republicans, but not all of that money is American money. Indeed, some of the attack ads you've seen from the Chamber may very well have been financed, at least in part, by foreign governments.

Are voters O.K. with this? Is it the kind of development that might draw legal scrutiny?

For what it's worth, a spokesperson for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce quickly responded to the news, telling Politico that it's "careful" to comply with the law and that it has "a system in place for ensuring that they are not government-controlled entities."

What kind of system? It didn't say. There's nothing like vague, terse responses from an already-secretive, conservative lobbying group to set minds at ease.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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Since there's profit to be made from politically enforcing a continuation of The Global War on Everything Forever, why not simply suggest that Republicans---and, of course, the CoC masters---are secretly receiving massive funding from Osama bin Laden and his cronies on the Saudi Peninsula? I "triple dog dare" them to prove it isn't true---and there's only 28 days to the elections.

Posted by: S. Waybright on October 5, 2010 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Remember that Scalia mouthed, "Not true," in response to President Obama's warning on this very issue in his State of the Union address.

Shows what he knows.

Posted by: dob on October 5, 2010 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Nothing about Citizen's United passed the legal or ethical smell test. This particular gift to republicans is probably the worst judicial intervention towards totalitarian corporate control imaginable. Fox News is a foreign owned corporation influencing our elections already. The outrage needs to ratchet up--the country can't survive this power grab. We all stated this obvious outcome from the beginning here. The way the GOP has kissed up to China should give everyone cold chills.

Posted by: Sparko on October 5, 2010 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

Righties regard it as just another good aspect of globalization.

Posted by: Bob M on October 5, 2010 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

It doesn't matter to law enforcement when drug dealers keep legal and illegal funds separate. Everything is seized as "ill-gotten gains".

Since Republicans are such big fans of the War on Drugs, I'm sure they won't mind if their buddies on the CofC are held to the same standard.

Of course, those standards were never intended to apply to rich, white guys.

Posted by: SteveT on October 5, 2010 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

They say that they have a system for making sure money doesn't come from "government-controlled entities." How nice. But what about foreign corporations or individuals?

Why do we let any non-citizen participate in an election, please?

Posted by: Charles on October 5, 2010 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Don't get all huffy over this as the US has been buying foreign elections with US Dollars for decades.

Posted by: blowback on October 5, 2010 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Are voters O.K. with this?

It doesn't really matter.

We are under the illusion that our votes really make a difference.

With voting machines still (STILL!) not subject to any kind of universal, verifiable trail, there is no reason to think our votes matter. Until and unless all voting is subject to bright sunshine, we can never know what's going on. Which is the point. Do people remember Ohio in 2004? And do people recognize that every meaningful effort to address what happened has been stymied?

If voting made a difference (read: would actually have a chance to curb corporate interests), voting would be illegal.

Posted by: terraformer on October 5, 2010 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

President Obama recently delivered a speech warning of a "corporate takeover of our democracy"

How ironic since Obama's education 'reforms' constitute the transfer of public dollars to affluent or well-to-do students http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2010/09/respectable-academics-standing-up-to.html

yet are marketed as saving poor kids from teacher's unions

and funnel RttTop public funds to hedge fund managers

Who is buying elections? It's not average or low income Americans.

Posted by: jcg on October 5, 2010 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

terraformer wrote: "If voting made a difference (read: would actually have a chance to curb corporate interests), voting would be illegal."

If voting made no difference to corporate interests, corporations would not be spending millions of dollars to influence the outcome of elections.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on October 5, 2010 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Are voters O.K. with this?

It's OK if you are a Republican.

Posted by: Stephen on October 5, 2010 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

New Donkey campaign cliche at the end of EVERY single one of their political advertisements and distributed free as bumper stickers:

"GOP congress critters. The best cronies corporate and foreign campaign contributions can buy".

Run with it LOUD AND OFTEN.

Posted by: Chopin on October 5, 2010 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

What S. Waybright said: Challenge the Republicans with the source of their funding including foreign entities, including bin Laden, Iran and various drug dealers. If they do not disclose their sources, then keep hammering them with this accusation. Of course, the Dems have to also be willing to disclose, which may preclude this strategy.
Love to hear the response to this!

Posted by: st john on October 5, 2010 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

But why are the hapless Democrats not leveraging all this spending for themselves, by identifying with massive ad buys in every market in the country that the ads for the Republican are coming from unknown interest groups of billionaires and may include foreign money as well? Then every time they run an attack ad on a Democrat, it hurts the Republican because it reminds people that Republicans are in bed with the wealthy. Guerrilla marketing is just that: figuring out how to use the other side's strength -- money -- to your own advantage.

Apparently the Democrats never heard of that concept. Indeed, can the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or Obama for America do anything -- anything -- right when it comes to messaging? It's all laying right there for them to destroy the Republican Party as it exists today, and they are sitting around wringing their hands like simpering fools. The President wants to know why "the base" is disgusted? This criminal passivity in failing to create a story to counter the one Reagan built to the country's detriment is a major reason.

Posted by: urban legend on October 5, 2010 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

Regarding Chopin's hopes, I've seen a couple of bumper stickers.
"A GOP congress. The best that corporate and foreign money can buy"
and old favorite---
"Invest in America-Buy A Congressman!"
I just haven't seen enough of them.

Posted by: -syzygy- on October 5, 2010 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK

The CoC claims that foreign governments aren't involved. Well, whoopie twang. How about foreign corporations who would like a piece of the US government for their own benefit and that have absolutely no more allegiance to the well-being of the US than US corporations do?

Allow me to comment on American investment in other country's elections. During the last election in Mexico the Republican party was involved up to their earlobes with money and personnel driving the campaign for the eventual "winner", Calderon. Mexicans were furious about it, but there wasn't much they could do.

The same thing applies to us now. Even though Aramco and Shell Oil may be buying a piece of the action, what exactly are we supposed to do about it? Chinese renewable energy corporations may also be buying in, but even though they are going to want to distort manufacture and trade to their own advantage, what can we do? All we get is a front row seat while their pet Congress critters give them the store. And you know that Roberts, Scalia, Alito & Co. are going to twist the law into a godawful tangle just to make it look legitimate.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on October 6, 2010 at 12:03 AM | PERMALINK

I don't rule out the C of C tapping foreign capital for campaign spending, but it seems unlikely. Being found out would be crippling, and there's plenty of American corporate cash to accomplish their ends.

Posted by: beejeez on October 6, 2010 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

I don't rule out the C of C tapping foreign capital for campaign spending, but it seems unlikely. Being found out would be crippling, and there's plenty of American corporate cash to accomplish their ends.

Posted by: beejeez on October 6, 2010 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

When I was traveling trough the US during the 08 elections I was careful not to buy official shirts for fear of later finding out I was contributing to a campaign.

Now I could set up a "Europeans act blue PAC" and raise tens of millions among the European anti-Bush left and no one could complain.

Posted by: wasd on October 6, 2010 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

What is the guilible citizen to do? The Supreme Court made a major faux pas. No one listened to the President when he said that "corporate America would takeover our Democracy."

Posted by: loiseisenberg on October 6, 2010 at 7:47 PM | PERMALINK



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