…by Meg White
The place Meg puts the stuff she wrote
Stop the Chamber; I Want to Get Off!

by Meg White

It’s 2010. Do you know which corporate pocket your representative is in?

There is no better analogy for the outsize influence of corporations upon government than the behavior of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of late. The “world’s largest business federation” has transformed itself into a lobbying machine for some of the nation’s dirtiest corporate crooks in a series of misleading campaigns against climate change legislation, affordable healthcare, the employee free choice act, campaign spending reform, corporate responsibility, consumer protection, and keeping social security private.

All the more reason to know who they’ve been wining and dining on the Hill.

Velvet Revolution, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to clean and honest government,” issued a statement today announcing they plan to target political candidates who accept contributions from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“If a candidate gets support from the Chamber, we are going to call him or her out for accepting tainted money — money from big business that is not going into creating jobs, providing health care, and cleaning up Wall Street.  We will demand that candidates renounce the Chamber’s support, return any funding, and condemn the Chamber’s advertisements and policies. If they do not, we will expose them,” said Kevin Zeese, spokesman and attorney for Velvet Revolution in a statement.

Today’s news release is part of Velvet Revolution’s larger “Stop the Chamber” campaign (to which BuzzFlash has signed on), which seeks to expose the Chamber’s lobbying efforts against all kinds of reform, as well as to precipitate an investigation into allegations of the organization’s illegal activities:

Polluters like Big Coal, Big Asbestos, and Big Oil only need call the Chamber to stop any accountability for their toxic destruction. Wall Street banks and CEOs need only make sure that they have paid their Chamber dues to ensure that they can continue to rip off the taxpayers. And killers like Big Tobacco need only form a partnership with the Chamber to ensure that they will be given immunity from lawsuits that seek accountability for the death and sickness of millions of Americans…

Not only is the Chamber lobbying and advertising against the interests of Americans, it is also committing fraud and violating campaign finance laws by creating fake astroturfing front groups, with patriotic names like Citizens for a Strong Ohio, and then illegally funneling millions of anonymous dollars into those groups to attack candidates and judges who won’t do their bidding.

This announcement doesn’t come a moment too soon. Not only are primary elections coming up, but the Chamber of Commerce just recently signaled its plans to spend record amounts of money in the 2010 elections.

So which candidates might find themselves targets of some embarrassing ads in the near future?

According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ campaign contribution site OpenSecrets.org, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee (PAC) has already given more than $42,000 to 14 different candidates in the 2010 election cycle.

While 88 percent of that has gone to Republicans who might actually take pride in being associated with the Chamber’s anti-reform lobby, Democratic Reps. Melissa Bean of Illinois, John Barrow of Georgia and Adam Smith of Washington might find that the Chamber’s support costs more than it’s worth. So, while Velvet Revolution presents itself as nonpartisan, they would probably do better to concentrate their efforts on the left side of the aisle.

The Commerce PAC has given more to other PACs than it has to individual candidates in this election cycle. Some of the top beneficiaries of Chamber money are the BRIDGE PAC benefiting Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), the New Democrat Coalition and the Blue Dog PAC.

This is where it gets tricky. For example, the Chamber’s PAC gives to the BRIDGE PAC which gives hundreds of thousands of dollars out to dozens of Democratic candidates, some of whom are quite progressive. So, in the case of PAC money, sussing out who is under the Chamber’s thumb won’t be that easy.

But even if the newest effort from Stop the Chamber does succeed in keeping Commerce lobbyists away from certain congressional doorways, it does nothing to halt the millions of dollars the Chamber is pouring into an effort to trick Americans into believing consumer protection is a bad thing.

The Chamber of Commerce’s new “free enterprise” campaign is dressed up by proponents as being a public service campaign promoting capitalism. But in actuality, it was formed in opposition to the Obama Administration’s efforts to create a new consumer protection agency. Valerie Jarret, a White House business policy advisor, told the Huffington Post that the Chamber’s “strategy of running a negative ad campaign instead of having constructive dialogue seems wasteful, wasteful of an opportunity and wasteful of money.”

It appears that the Chamber might be throwing its weight around as well as its money.

In response to an ad Velvet Revolution took out in the Washington DC City Paper offering a $200,000 reward to anyone with information leading to the arrest and conviction of Chamber President Tom Donohue, the organization says it has received hundreds of death threats. The threats had the flavor of an organized campaign according Zeese, who wrote a letter to the FBI requesting an investigation of the situation early last month:

We have been exposing wrongdoing for more than five years against those at the highest levels of Government yet we have never been attacked and threatened with death in such a direct, overt and coordinated manner until we launched our campaign against the Chamber. It seems the Chamber, and those closely allied with it, may believe that they are above the law and can use thuggish and criminal tactics to scare us away from our legally protected activities and freedom of speech.

Whether or not these threats came from members of the Chamber or not is tough to say, but reading the extreme reactions of those threatening Velvet Revolution shows just how high the stakes are in this case. The facts are difficult to ascertain here, as the Chamber isn’t even being honest about how many members it even has.

Up until a couple of months ago, the Chamber was using fuzzy math to claim that it represented more than 3 million entities. But after the magazine Mother Jones published a piece challenging that number, the Chamber dropped its membership numbers back to an earlier claim of just 300,000.

At the same time, the group is losing members for a different reason: Their increasingly public opposition to climate change legislation spurred heavy-hitters such as Apple, Nike and Exelon Energy to renounce their membership. When the king of sweatshop shoes calls you a bad corporate citizen, perhaps you should consider reorganizing your priorities.

Alas, the Chamber appears to be shameless. Here’s hoping the candidates for office this year can be convinced to see the situation differently.


Originally published at BuzzFlash.com.

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