The Chamber’s “Secret” Donations List

After an exhaustive investigation of all available public records, Americans for Limited Government (ALG) News Bureau has uncovered the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “secret” donation list. In recent days, Barack Obama has accused the Chamber of accepting foreign donations to influence the elections, which would be a violation of the law.

“You don’t know,” Obama told a Philadelphia rally for Joe Sestak. “It could even be foreign-owned corporations. You don’t know because they don’t have to disclose.”

Only, they do have to disclose. Obama’s statement is actually provably false. You see, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce actually operates a political action committee, which is required to file reports with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).

You can read the U.S. Chamber PAC’s filings for yourself at http://query.nictusa.com/cgi-bin/cancomsrs/?_10+C00082040.

Additionally, the PAC’s “secret” donor lists are at http://query.nictusa.com/cgi-bin/com_ind/2009_C00082040 and http://query.nictusa.com/cgi-bin/com_rcvd/2009_C00082040. These are all FEC filings. PAC’s are already required to disclose donors under federal law.

In fact, this is a part of the Chamber that is expressly engaged in electioneering, subject to full disclosure. Here are the PAC’s expenditures, all public for the world to see: http://query.nictusa.com/cgi-bin/com_supopp/2009_C00082040.

While it is true that the Chamber’s 501(c)6 filings are not public, that does not mean such disclosures do not exist. Many of them actually should already be available to the Obama Administration. How?

“Any organization, whether or not it engages in electioneering must file tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which include who donates,” Americans for Limited Government President Wilson recently explained. He’s right.

Organizations must file form 990’s, which include Schedule B’s for disclosing donations over specified amounts depending on the type of organization. Minimum net donations which must be included in the forms can range from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the group.

If the Obama Administration has reason to believe that the Chamber — or any other organization — is using foreign donations to engage in electioneering, it could have the IRS simply conduct an audit, which would quickly get to the truth of the matter.

So, no change of the law is necessary. There already is disclosure for the Chamber of Commerce, and every other tax-exempt organization in the entire country. That disclosure is to the IRS.

This has not prevented White House advisor David Axelrod from saying, “If the Chamber opens up its books and says, ‘Here’s where our political money’s coming from,’ then we’ll know. But until they do that, all we have is their assertion.”

Or, Axelrod could advise Obama to put his money where his mouth is. StopTheChamber.com wants a complete audit of the Chamber, and a criminal investigation (which requires a warrant) of the claims based on a… blog post. A blog post that asserts (but does not prove) that foreign money is being used by the Chamber to engage in electioneering.

However, it’s doubtful that the posting from the Center for American Progress would constitute “probable cause” under the Fourth Amendment by which to launch a criminal investigation.

There’s also another problem with the Center’s claims: It presents no proof. The ads the Center links to as being “electioneering” do not appear to be election ads. For example, the ad about Jack Conway the Center links to actually calls on viewers to call Conway and tell him to stop cutting Medicare. There’s no express advocacy in that ad.

Another ad about Senator Barbara Boxer the Center was concerned with apparently, according to the Los Angeles Times “faults Boxer for supporting tax increases and ‘voting to add trillions to the national debt’”. The Center did not actually post the ad, which, if all it does is criticize Boxer, is technically not electioneering because it does not contain express advocacy for or against a candidate.

As for the ad the Center worries about against California gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, it according to MSNBC apparently “cites a comment that Brown, the state’s attorney general, made in 2008, when he said he had 1,100 attorneys at the Department of Justice waiting to file lawsuits.” Again, if that’s all the ad contains, that’s not electioneering.

An ad against Joe Sestak, as reported by the Morning Call, evidently “links Sestak to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, in an effort to make Sestak look like a lackey of liberal policy.” Not electioneering, if that’s the correct context of the ad.

And in Virginia, according to Appomattox News, “the Chamber of Commerce has spent $1,342,545 running attack ads, including $94,740 against Rep. Perriello immediately after the House of Representatives voted to pass the Affordable Health Care for America Act on November 7, 2009.” That’s not electioneering, either.

If the ads do not even contain electioneering, then there is absolutely no basis for legal action against the Chamber for any violation of the law.

But that’s not even the entire story. Even if some ads do contain electioneering, 501(c)(4), (5), and (6) organizations are legally allowed to engage in a certain amount of political campaign activity — without public disclosure. As long as it is not the primary activity of the organization.

If there was a claim of a violation of the law on this count, that too could easily be investigated by the IRS, along with any suspected foreign donations being used for electioneering.

So, what is the Center going on about? How can the Center accuse the Chamber’s 501(c)6 component of using foreign money for electioneering, when it cannot even present a single instance where the Chamber even engaged in electioneering? It certainly has a long way to go to prove that the Chamber’s “primary” activity is express advocacy for or against candidates.

But it doesn’t matter. Either the Chamber used foreign donations for electioneering or it did not.

If Obama has any evidence that foreign donations have been used for electioneering, he has the full weight of the executive branch and the law behind him to prosecute any potential lawbreakers. He has not done so.

Every day Obama does not file legal action makes it appear that he just made it up. If there is no evidence — which appears to be the case — Obama owes the Chamber an apology. And if there is never was any evidence, Obama should also be investigated by Congress for using the threat of legal action to intimidate perceived political opponents.

Robert Romano is the Senior Editor of Americans of Limited Government (ALG) News Bureau.

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