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Dominance of U.S. Chamber spending in congressional races highlights need for disclosure, reform

Washington, D.C.—Among “dark money” groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the biggest or second-biggest outside spender in 28 Senate and House of Representatives races in the 2012 elections, according to a new analysis released today by Public Citizen’s Chamber Watch and the Main Street Alliance. The analysis, Tipping Elections with Secret Cash?, uses data from the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.org to rank “non-disclosing” outside spenders in 35 races where the U.S. Chamber has spent $100,000 or more. These are groups that don’t disclose the sources of the money they spend to influence elections.

“This year, the U.S. Chamber has committed to spend more than $100 million in our elections. The Chamber is flooding the airwaves with partisan political ads, many of them attack ads, and working to put politicians in office to advance its own corporate agenda in the next Congress,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

The Chamber is in the top two non-disclosing outside spenders in 9 Senate and 19 House races, and is the biggest non-disclosing outside spender in 5 Senate and 10 House races, the new analysis finds. This includes between $1.3 million and $4.4 million in seven Senate races and $500,000 or more in four additional Senate races and five House races. As of October 31, the Chamber had spent almost $32 million in outside money on congressional races.

“The U.S. Chamber represents big out-of-state special interests like the health insurance industry, not real Florida small businesses,” said Fred Barr, owner of Barr Creative Services in Orlando, Florida and a leader with the Community Business Association of Central Florida and the Main Street Alliance. “The U.S. Chamber took over $100 million in secret money from the health insurance industry in 2009-2010. Now it’s plowing millions in secret corporate money into our elections while claiming to speak for small businesses. The U.S. Chamber doesn’t speak for small businesses and it doesn’t speak for me.”

The ramp-up of corporate spending in elections since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision is not popular with the public, according to opinion polling released by the Corporate Reform Coalition on Oct. 25. In that poll, nearly 9 in 10 Americans agree that there is way too much corporate money in politics, and 51 percent strongly agree. In addition, 76 percent of Americans support a requirement that companies publicly disclose their contributions to third-party groups like the U.S. Chamber that funnel money into elections (complete poll results here).

“The ultimate solution to the Citizens United decision is a constitutional amendment to stop deep-pocketed special interests from wielding disproportionate power in our elections and our democracy,” added Gilbert. “But that’s going to take time, and in the meantime, we sorely need new disclosure rules to prevent secret outside spenders like the Chamber from tipping our elections in the dark of night. Congress needs to pass the DISCLOSE Act, and the Securities and Exchange Commission should adopt new disclosure rules for publicly traded companies. Shareholders – and voters – deserve nothing less.”

To read the Tipping Elections with Secret Cash? analysis, visit http://www.citizen.org/documents/us-chamber-tipping-elections-with-secret-cash-data-snapshot.pdf.

To read Public Citizen's press release on the Corporate Reform Coalition poll showing over 80 percent of Americans condemn high levels of corporate political spending, visit http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/pressroomredirect.cfm?ID=3748.

To read coverage of Public Citizen's U.S. Chamber 100th birthday "celebration" visit http://www.citizen.org/documents/chamber-birthday-media-hits-package.pdf.

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