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Oct. 19, 2012

One Hundred Years of Secrets and Lies: National groups, small business representatives call on U.S. Chamber of Commerce to disclose the sources of funds behind its dark money electoral advertising

WASHINGTON, DC - The U.S. Chamber of Commerce should disclose the corporate donors behind its electoral advertising, U.S. PIRG, Public Citizen, Business Ethics Network, small business representatives and others said at a press conference today.

The groups gathered in Lafayette Square, between the White House and U.S. Chamber headquarters. After the media event, they delivered over 30,000 petitions to the Chamber calling on it to shed light on the funders behind the millions of dollars worth of political ads the Chamber has purchased throughout the country.

Since the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission decision freed up corporations to spend unlimited money in elections, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a 501(c)(6) corporation, has emerged as one of the biggest “dark money” outside spenders.

“Because direct spending on ads or gifts to newly minted ‘super PACs’ would have to be disclosed, many corporations have chosen to fund political ads through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which does not have to disclose its donors, and in fact, forcefully opposes disclosure requirements through its powerful lobby force,” explained Nathalie Graham of the Business Ethics Network.

Despite actively cultivating an image as representing mom-and-pop small businesses, the U.S. Chamber has used its corporate funding to become the second biggest outside spender in House and Senate races  across the country. The Chamber has pledged to spend up to $100 million in the 2012 elections.

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been getting away with small business identity theft – saying it speaks for small business owners like me while really advancing a big business agenda – for too long,” said Melanie Collins, owner of Melanie’s Home Childcare in Falmouth, Maine and a leader in the Maine Small Business Coalition. “It ends today. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn’t speak for small business, and it doesn’t speak for me.” The Chamber has shelled out $1.3 million in outside spending in the Maine Senate race, making it the largest non-party outside spender in that contest.

“The Chamber’s voice is not representative of the broad array of businesses across the country,” said Bryan McGannon, Deputy Policy Director of the American Sustainable Business Council. “We’re seeing a tremendous growth in main street business organizations, small business organizations, and sustainable business organizations recognizing that there is a different way of doing business that can bring greater value to the economy and to their communities.”

“If the Chamber really represents the interests of small businesses, as it erroneously claims, then it should have no problem revealing the sources of the money it has poured into ads this campaign season,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “However, there’s every reason to believe that it is giant multinational corporations that paid for those ads, and that they did so because they expect the candidates the Chamber backs to advance their interests, not those of small firms. This highlights exactly why voters deserve to know what corporate and wealthy interests are trying to influence their votes.” Public Citizen released a report on Friday analyzing the limited disclosure of corporate contributions to the U.S. Chamber.

“There is a reason why the Chamber of Commerce’s secret donors are bad for democracy.  If elected officials use their positions to carry their corporate benefactors’ water, who will know?  Who will be held accountable?” Asked Jeremy Miller, Policy Director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, whose organization recently helped to uncover a secret contribution from insurance giant Aetna to the U.S. Chamber.

U.S. PIRG Democracy Advocate Blair Bowie concluded the event by saying, “It is important that we hold actors like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce accountable for funneling corporate money into the elections and for their role in opposing solutions that would create a level playing field for all Americans in the political arena. Furthermore, it is imperative that citizens come together to advance those solutions, such as incentives for grassroots donors, disclosure rules, and a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and Buckley v. Valeo, before subsequent elections make this torrent of big money the new normal.”
U.S. PIRG is the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups. State PIRGs are non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy groups that take on powerful interests on behalf of their members.

The American Sustainable Business Council is a growing coalition of business networks and businesses committed to advancing a new vision, framework and policies that support a vibrant, equitable and sustainable economy. 

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life by targeting government officials who sacrifice the common good to special interests.

The Business Ethics Network, or BEN, is the flagship project of Corporate Ethics International, or CEI, which is working to bring corporations back in service to the people.

The Maine Small Business Coalition is a coalition of 3,400 small businesses across Maine and a founding member of the Main Street Alliance network.

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interestsin Congress, the executive branch and the courts.


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