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U.S. Chamber, Major Corporations Build Secret Attack Ad Machine

America's biggest corporations are once again bankrolling the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's dirty political ad machine.

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Microsoft provides at least $141,000 in yearly dues to the Chamber.

Norfolk Southern Corporation spends at least $50,000 a year in dues to the Chamber.

Xcel Energy provides at least $40,000 in dues to the Chamber.

Xerox provides at least $25,000 to the Chamber.

Hartford Financial Services gave $50,000 to the Chamber in 2010.

Intel gave the Chamber $225,000, according to the most recently available company report.

Abbot Labs Corp. is a Chamber member but does not reveal the dollar amount.

– The Chamber maintains a foreign fundraising effort to bankroll the 501(c)(6) nonprofit the group uses to run attack ads. In 2010, I reported that foreign companies like the Tata Group, the State Bank of India, and the Bahrain Petroleum Company, Bahrain Financial Harbour Holding Company collectively contribute about $885,000 to the Chamber. The Chamber acknowledged this foreign funding for its political organization, but maintains that the funds are somehow segregated from political spending.

The money these corporations give to the Chamber is intrinsically linked with the Chamber’s attack ad budget. In previous years, the Chamber used a traditional political action committee, which spent on elections using limited individual contributions, not corporate money. But now the Chamber PAC is nearly defunct — it has doled out only about $30,000 this cycle, far less than the more than $300,000 it spent a decade ago. Instead, the Chamber spends tens of millions on elections using its regular 501(c)(6) budget, not bothering to use a regulated PAC. The corporations above fund the 501(c)(6).

Why the switch from regulated individual contributions to unlimited corporate money? In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in Wisconsin Right to Life that corporate-sponsored “electioneering communications” were allowed for issue ads. The Citizens United decision three years later knocked down the remaining barriers, and gave the power to corporations to spent unlimited amounts in support of candidates with independent expenditures. The Chamber’s shift from regulated, disclosed PACs funded with limited individual contributions to secret slush funds filled with corporate money came as a result of a big business-friendly Supreme Court.

The U.S. Chamber of Chamber, which maintains little to no connection with most local chambers of commerce, selects candidates based in part by a scoring system of policy issues. The Chamber’s policy website lists its policy positions on their website, including votes they “score.” The Chamber asks candidates to oppose oil speculation regulations, support the bank bailouts, oppose health reform and the public option, support corporate tax cuts, support unfettered free trade, and other big business prerogatives. Recently, the Chamber has pushed controversial Internet censorship legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

For this election cycle, the Chamber hired a corporate lobbyist named Scott Reed to head up their advertising and political strategy. Reed’s specialty? Using corporate front groups to smear politicians who support regulations on big banks, health insurers, and other large companies.