Even though election day in the general election is still months away, we are already being bombarded on television by blistering political attacks masquerading as “issue ads.” These ads are being paid for by the SuperPACs. An example of the ads is one in Missouri in the United States Senate race that ends with: “Call Claire McCaskill. Tell her Missouri doesn’t need government-run health care.” This ad, and more like it, was sponsored by none other than the United States Chamber of Commerce. Interestingly, the Chamber claims that it is merely “educating voters about the issues” rather than telling them “how to vote.” If you believe that line, you are a prime candidate for buying beach front lots in New Mexico.
It should be noted that just a few weeks ago a federal judge handed down a ruling that should have dealt a blow to this system of so-called issue ads. In his decision, the judge required that the donors for these sort of ads must be publicly disclosed. Interestingly, that’s exactly what Congress intended in its 2002 campaign finance law. But, as you may already know, the Federal Election Commission incorrectly applied the intent of the law and changed the rules. The question now is “will the Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors more political advertising than any other group, follow the clear language of the court order and begin revealing the names of its donors?” What do you think? Or maybe we should ask, “What do you believe the Chamber should do?”
Unfortunately, secrecy is at the core of the Chamber’s political strategy. It’s obviously worried that the public might learn which companies are paying for the barrage of negative ads which obviously are political in nature and designed to affect elections. For one thing, the Chamber knows disclosure would allow the public to decide whether they should take their business away from those companies. Also, they know disclosure would tell voters whose money the Chamber was using in their efforts to elect candidates.
R. Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs, speaking at a Washington breakfast recently, had a response and here is what he had to say: “We’re not going to pull back from anything we’re doing. It’s full steam ahead.” That tells the world that the Chamber is going full bore with its agenda, which is bad news for the vast majority of Americans.
The New York Times wrote about the Chamber’s involvement in the political arena in a recent editorial. I am enclosing a portion of that editorial below:
Mr. Josten noted that the court order applies only to issue ads, known legally as “electioneering communications.” It doesn’t apply to old-fashioned “independent” political ads, the kind that say vote for Senator A or against Congressman B, and he suggested the chamber is considering going in that direction to avoid disclosing donors. It’s true that the law permits secret donors to certain independent groups that sponsor political ads, one of the biggest flaws in a campaign regulation system that has almost completely broken down. Unless a check to the chamber is explicitly earmarked for political purposes as opposed to dues or the general fund — something no check writer would do — it can be kept secret.
The only good news is that the chamber’s highly partisan loyalties will now be fully exposed. It has always claimed that it is not a Republican or Democratic group, but simply one that supports the interests of American business. But the $33 million it spent in the 2010 elections on issue ads was almost entirely in support of Republicans and against Democrats, as will be the estimated $50 million it may spend this year. When the chamber is overtly advocating the election of Republicans — rather than hiding behind phony issue ads — it will be impossible to deny that it has become a very well-financed arm of the party. And companies that contribute to the chamber will be unable to claim that they are paying dues to an independent business league.
Disclosing the source of a political ad’s financing, despite the chamber’s fears, isn’t about encouraging boycotts of donors. It is about giving voters more information to evaluate the truthfulness of an ad’s claims. Any company that helps pay for the ads run by the chamber ought to step up and disclose its contributions.
New York Times
May 28, 2012
I totally agree with the views of the editorial writer. The American people – when they go to the polls this Fall – deserve to know what individuals and corporations are paying, not only for the Chamber ads, but any ads where the identity of the paying party is kept secret and hidden from the public view. If those who run the SuperPACS are afraid to let folks know where their hundreds of millions of dollars are coming from, there must be something very sinister and dangerous going on at the Chamber of Commerce and with those men running the SuperPACs.
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