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"Celebration" at the U.S. Chamber protests Dark Money

Birthday cake, party hats, boxes of presents, and protest signs calling for an end to the corporate takeover of our elections.

These, along with scores of activists who gathered to deliver birthday messages urging disclosure and accountability to one of the nation’s biggest dark money groups, were the main ingredients of the rally organized by Public Citizen and our partners in the Corporate Reform Coalition on Friday, Oct. 19.

Held in mock celebration of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 100th “birthday,” the demonstration occurred outside of the U.S. Chamber’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., where activists held up signs with messages like “Democracy is NOT 4 sale!” and “End Corporate Rule.”

The Chamber, which has pledged to spend as much as $100 million in corporate money to influence elections across the country,  bears a significant portion of the responsibility for keeping our TV screens clear of useful information and facts, like who really paid for its pro-corporate ads (hint: corporations).

You’ve never seen a political ad that said, “Paid for by Chevron” or “I’m Dow Chemical and I approve this message,” right? But that doesn’t mean these corporations aren’t spending millions to influence our votes. That’s because the Chamber uses its 506(c) trade association status to accept millions from its massive corporate sponsors and spend unlimited corporate funds in elections without disclosing which corporations are actually paying for the ads.

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the poster child for Citizens United,” said Blair Bowie, democracy advocate at U.S. PIRG, during the rally.  “They are the poster child for the unaccountable big money that’s spreading secrets and lies through our democracy and corroding self-government.”

Robert Weissman photo
Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, speaking at U.S. Chamber rally.

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, also spoke at the rally. “What kind of upside down world are we living in when giant multinational corporations are deemed to have a free speech right to spend money, undisclosed, channeled through a variety of organizations, the leading of which being the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to influence the outcome of elections?” Weissman said. “Why do we tolerate such a state of affairs?”

“My message is simple: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn’t speak for small business and it doesn’t speak for me,” said Melanie Collins, a small business owner from Falmouth, Maine. “The Chamber’s dirtiest work is saying they do speak for me and rest of American businesses, while only hurting us and only helping the corporate giants take an even bigger piece for themselves.”

After the rally, activists delivered birthday cards, some depicting U.S. Chamber CEO Tom Donohue and featuring phrases like, “Happy Birthday, U.S. Chamber! I was going to get you an election, but I see you’re already trying to buy one!” that were signed by more than 30,000 activists.  A birthday cake reading, “Happy Birthday, Corporate Shills!” was enjoyed by all (except, of course, the corporations who, not being people, lack mouths, taste buds, etc.).

In response to the Chamber’s scorched earth opposition to disclosure, activists then marched to the Chamber’s front door and chanted, “Hey, ho, corporate rule has got to go!” and “Donohue! Come out! We’ve got something to talk about!”

To coincide with the demonstration, Public Citizen released a report which, by piecing together disclosures from companies (rather than the Chamber) found that more than 24 publicly traded companies have given the Chamber roughly $11 million. In 2010, the Chamber spent an outrageous $32 million on the midterm elections, and this year in an unprecedented corporate power grab will be blowing that number out of the water (on top of lobbying against popular reforms like the DISCLOSE Act and Shareholder Protection Act).

Thanks to grassroots activists fighting for open democracy, the “birthday” demonstration was a grand success.

Help fight the unlimited and undisclosed corporate money that’s distorting our elections. Send a message to your members of Congress today.

Kelly Ngo is a legislative assistant for Public Citizen. To learn more about Public Citizen and the Corporate Reform Coalition’s efforts to unmask the corporate donors behind the U.S. Chamber of Commerce www.fixtheuschamber.org and www.corporatereformcoalition.org.