The US Chamber of Commerce's Multimillion-Dollar Attack Plan To Get Plutocrat Mitt Romney and Other Anti-American Radicals Elected
“Obamacare will be a nightmare for Florida seniors,” a grim voiceover announces. “Did Bill Nelson consider the consequences when he cast a deciding vote for Obamacare?”President of the US Chamber of Commerce Tom Donohue.
“Tell Jon Tester: the Washington way isn’t the solution,” another intones. “We need less government and lower taxes.”
“Sherrod,” a third asks, referring to Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, “what planet are you on?”
If you live in a state where a competitive race could help tip the balance in the Senate this fall, you’ve almost certainly seen ads like these, laden with menacing theme music, light on the facts and funded by the US Chamber of Commerce. The nation’s largest business lobby is showcasing bold ambitions this year in an effort to build on gains made in the 2010 midterms, when at least $33 million of Chamber advertising helped push the nation dramatically rightward. The group began placing ads in swing districts as early as November 2011. Since then, it has rolled out a campaign aimed at influencing at least fifty House and eight Senate races, and according to Politico it has set a goal of $100 million in spending for this electoral cycle.
Watchdog groups believe the strategy in 2012 is similar to that of 2010: the Chamber goes into a district, blitzes it with attack ads to soften up the opposition and then steps back to let other deep-pocket groups come in. The intent is to force Democrats to play defense across the board, thus spreading their resources thin. According to the liberal online publication ThinkProgress, twenty of the twenty-one ads the Chamber released in May were hostile to Democratic candidates.
“The Chamber has spent about $600,000 attacking me,” Tester, the farmer turned Democratic Montana senator, told me in April. “I’ve got a great small-business record. I’ve carried bills the US Chamber has advocated for in the past. [But] they see Montana as a state that they can pick up. They’re dishonest, painting me as something I’m not. They’re trying to paint me as Wall Street, as somebody who’s ‘gone DC.’ It’s about as crazy as anybody can get.”
The organization is maintaining its longstanding policy of not officially taking sides in presidential elections. But even though it has not directly funded anti-Obama or pro-Romney ads, that doesn’t mean its leaders wouldn’t dearly love to oust Obama. Robert Weissman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, says the Chamber hopes to influence the presidential election indirectly—by shaping the contours of the public debate in the months leading up to election day and by bringing conservative voters to the polls.
It is also reportedly coordinating with the top conservative Super PACs to craft a unified message and spending strategy. US Chamber Watch has documented a series of meetings between the Chamber’s counsel and GOP strategists dating back to 2009, when they conceived the notion of creating American Crossroads, the Super PAC headed by Karl Rove. Since then, the watchdog group believes, the Chamber has been holding regular meetings with Crossroads, which claims that it will be able to bring $300 million to the 2012 election fight, and with Koch brothers–backed organizations (including Americans for Prosperity), which have bandied about the figure of $400 million as their target. Further evidence of cross-pollination: Chamber strategist Scott Reed previously worked for the GOP, and former Chamber counsel Steven Law is president of Crossroads GPS, the Rove-affiliated 501(c)(4) “social welfare organization.”
According to the Washington Post, the key players in this alliance have been meeting every couple of weeks to strategize. In May, Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei reported in Politico that the Chamber, Crossroads, Americans for Prosperity and the conservative Congressional Leadership Fund had joined together in a pledge to raise an unprecedented $1 billion to influence the upcoming elections.
Compared to these figures, the $100 million that the Chamber hopes to spend could seem almost paltry. But to view it as such would be a huge mistake—for if recent years have proven anything about the role of money in the country’s politics, it’s that a group with a sizable budget for carefully targeted advertising can exert outsize influence on election day.
All of this adds up to a ton of bad news for the country’s democratic system. Pay-to-play makes it that much harder for ordinary people to get a fair hearing. It wrecks the notion of good governance, and it undermines the idea that the public interest can be well represented by the state and its elected officials.
And yet there are signs that the Chamber has overplayed its hand. Historically, the organization has been careful to camouflage its right-wing economic agenda, claiming it simply champions a “common sense” approach to the country’s problems. But these days the Chamber is struggling to tame the Tea Party beast it helped to unleash, whose destabilizing extremism was on display during last year’s debt ceiling debate. And the Chamber is facing increased scrutiny into its questionable spending of charitable funds for political purposes as well as its alleged misuse of money ponied up by anonymous donors. The Citizens United ruling gave corporations a free pass to influence elections, but with the flood of money has come heightened attention to the organizations that are bundling and spending it, often playing fast and loose with established federal election requirements. That puts the Chamber in an unwelcome—and possibly damaging—spotlight.
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The Chamber has been developing a carefully structured political strategy since the early 1970s, when Lewis Powell (who would later become a US Supreme Court justice) penned a famous memo advising the group on how to tackle what he believed to be the growing anti-business environment in the United States. To reclaim influence over the political and regulatory processes, and to shape public opinion in corporate America’s favor, he urged a more aggressive lobbying effort and called for the creation of a network of think tanks and research groups that could promote pro-business messages.
In recent years, as Powell’s suggestions have taken root, the Chamber has served as a sort of clearinghouse for megacorporations that want to shape policy without leaving any fingerprints. During the debate over the Affordable Care Act, for example, AHIP (the industry group representing health insurance companies) donated more than $100 million to the Chamber of Commerce, according to National Journal. The anonymity of the process allowed insurers to claim they were cooperating with the Obama administration’s attempts to improve efficiency, rein in costs and expand access, while in reality their dollars were hard at work drumming up opposition to reform.
Other donors have contributed money with the understanding that it would be used to push for their own priorities: an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, rollback of any number of environmental or financial regulations. Alan Grayson, a progressive Florida Congressman defeated in his 2010 re-election bid, says the general consensus among his Democratic colleagues is that the Chamber has become “a means for individual corporate entities to launder their sewer money,” giving donations in exchange for verbal commitments to advance favored policies.
The Chamber has been particularly tough on the markedly mild Dodd-Frank financial reforms. In early 2012, the group issued a “report card” for the bill, handing out a C- for its impact on US competitiveness and a C for its attempts to regulate the notorious derivatives markets. The report also expressed concern that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, established as part of Dodd-Frank, “could limit access to credit in the marketplace for consumers and small businesses.”
So rigid have the Chamber’s positions become that last year it backed the Regulatory Accountability Act, a House bill that would impose an endless series of reviews before any new regulations could kick in. It also supported the REINS Act (for “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny”), which aims to prevent new regulations from being enacted unless they’re passed by both houses of Congress with no amendments—“which means never,” as Weissman dryly notes. It even opposes aggressive enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which allows companies that engage in bribery overseas to be prosecuted in the United States.
To advance its far-right agenda, the Chamber relies on a language of doublespeak, one that preaches American-as-apple-pie values while advocating policies that are anything but commonsensical and fair. Healthcare reform is thus mislabeled as a “job killer,” while the evisceration of safety-net programs like Social Security and Medicare becomes “entitlement reform.” In the aftermath of a fiscal collapse largely caused by lax regulations and obscene risk-taking by too-big-to-fail banks, such measures as strengthening regulations and restoring progressive taxation ought to be considered common-sense proposals. Yet the Chamber has repeatedly stymied such reforms, claiming they’re harmful to America’s economic well-being and arguing that cutting taxes and regulations even further is the way to restore the country’s fiscal health. The implicit assumption behind its language—analyzed by Occidental College politics professor Peter Dreier in his Cry Wolf Project—is that any attempt to make businesses pay their fair share is by definition “anti-business” and therefore “anti-American.”
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The US Chamber of Commerce has been a dominant partisan player in Washington for years, with hundreds of state and local chapters reinforcing its message around the country. But the national group has noticeably stepped up its political game since 2008. In the two years following Obama’s election, the Chamber spent about $300 million lobbying for conservative legislation and against the regulatory, social welfare and tax reforms proposed by Democrats. When the 2010 midterms came around, it played a decisive role. According to several reports, the organization pumped $32.1 million into Congressional elections that year. The Chamber-backed candidate won in thirty-eight of fifty-nine races (64 percent), helping to secure the GOP House majority and significantly weakening the Democrats’ hold over the Senate. Chamber campaigns targeting judicial figures who opposed tort reform were also instrumental in defeating several progressive judges in their re-election efforts that year.
US Chamber Watch estimates that 93 percent of the money the Chamber spent on the 2010 midterm elections went to help elect Republican candidates, including major GOP Senate candidates such as Marco Rubio (Florida), Rand Paul (Kentucky) and Mark Kirk (Illinois). All told, election watchdog groups estimate the Chamber spent more in its lobbying efforts throughout 2010 than the next five largest lobbying outlays combined.
A lot of Americans are probably feeling pretty good after the Democratic Convention. Democrats seem to at least understand most of the problems we face and have plans to continue, the steady, if slow, progress toward fixing the economic train wreck Republicans left in 2008. The Chamber and Mitt Romney will have us go back to 1850 - a nation with a hand full of super wealthy authoritarians wielding power for and by the super rich. Anyone who thinks elections cannot be bought is not paying attention - the same people and groups mentioned in that research article bought the House for the most radical anti-American conservatives they could dig up in 2010.
Another angle Republicans are working is the modern version of Jim-Crow laws, keeping seniors and non-white from voting - Civil Rights Icon John Lewis: GOP Voter Suppression Laws Are ‘Not Right,’ ‘Not Fair,’ ‘Not Just’
Why has brazen lying become intrinsic to GOP strategy? Because the party’s actual agenda is so unpopular, so unworkable and so dangerous.