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Corporate Hijacking of Our Elections Is Well Under Way, with Foreign Companies Chipping in to Destroy Our Democracy

The Supreme Court's ill-fated decision to allow unlimited corporate expenditure in our elections is already causing huge problems.

This week, an investigation by the ThinkProgress revealed that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- once just a conservative-leaning business group that’s been transformed into a heavy political cudgel for the corporate Right under the leadership of president Thomas Donohue -- has been raising money from overseas companies to defeat American candidates.  

That’s a violation of the law, but according to the report, “while the Chamber will likely assert it has internal controls,” money “is fungible, permitting the Chamber to run its unprecedented attack campaign. According to legal experts … the Chamber is likely skirting longstanding campaign finance law that bans the involvement of foreign corporations in American elections.” 

In recent years, the Chamber has become very aggressive with its fundraising, opening offices abroad and helping to found foreign chapters (known as Business Councils or “AmChams”). While many of these foreign operations include American businesses with interests overseas, the Chamber has also spearheaded an effort to raise money from foreign corporations, including ones controlled by foreign governments. These foreign members of the Chamber send money either directly to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or the foreign members fund their local Chamber, which in turn, transfers dues payments back to the Chamber’s H Street office in Washington DC. 

The Chamber has pledged to spend a whopping $75 million this year to defeat candidates who supported health care reform, new financial regulations and a laundry list of other measures of which the Chamber’s leadership doesn’t approve. On Tuesday, the grassroots advocacy group asked the Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation into the practice. 

The Chamber’s spending is just the tip of the iceberg. Elections have consequences. And this November, we’ll witness one devastating consequence of the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004. It was Bush who appointed John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, resulting in a bench that, as Dahlia Lithwick wrote this week, has “taken the law for a sharp turn to the ideological right, while at the same time masterfully concealing it.” 

Arguably, the Roberts court’s most brazen right-wing judicial activism came in its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission which, based on a long stretch of the First Amendment, killed limits on “electioneering” ads run by special interests in the period leading up to an election. The ruling opened the floodgates, and an unprecedented tidal wave of money is flowing into the November midterms. 

At a conference on the ruling in July, Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, described the proceedings in the case. “They wanted to hear the possibility that that’s the way the constitution would read to them,” he said. “So they picked an issue out of the air that nobody had conceived of [as a First Amendment case] because 100 years of settled law meant that corporations cannot buy elections in America, and they not only allowed corporations to buy those elections, but they made it a constitutional right.” He called the decision “a tragedy for us all,” as  “corporations now have rights that human beings can never have.” Grayson, unsurprisingly, is among the Chamber’s top targets

The ruling opened up the spigots for corporations and labor unions alike. Deep-pocketed interests on both sides of the aisle are going all-in this November, which will likely see  the previous record for spending in a non-presidential election year obliterated. McClatchy Newspapers  reported this week that “while big money in politics is hardly new, there never have been sums of this magnitude in midterm elections.”  

Those dollars are not flowing equally to the two major parties, however. According to a study by the Center for Public Integrity, between August 1 and September 20, GOP-aligned business groups had outspent their Democratically aligned counterparts by a 5 to 1 ratio. The Chamber itself has aired 8,000 ads for Republican Senate candidates alone through September 15.  

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