J'Accuse! President Obama Says Chamber of Commerce Using Foreign Funds to Influence US Elections

President Obama this afternoon joined the gang of Democrats and liberal groups alleging that the US Chamber of Commerce is using foreign funds to influence American elections.

Referring to a study by the liberal group ThinkProgress that – correctly – notes that the US Chamber of Commerce has some funding sources abroad, including foreign corporations and American Chambers of Commerce around the world (or “AmChams”), the President said, “just this week, we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations.”

The president then took this step, saying, “groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections, and they won’t tell you where the money for their ads come from.”

Chamber officials say that money coming from foreign donors cannot be used for political activity under the 1907 Tillman Act, and that the charge is false.

Tita Freeman, vice president of communications at the Chamber, said “this coordinated effort is a desperate attempt to silence those who support free enterprise and a diversion from their lack of progress on job creation.”

The Chamber is planning on spending more than $75 million to help Republican candidates they perceives as business friendly. ThinkProgress says that the Chamber “funds its political attack campaign out of its general account, which solicits foreign funding. And while the Chamber will likely assert it has internal controls, foreign money is fungible, permitting the Chamber to run its unprecedented attack campaign. According to legal experts consulted by ThinkProgress, the Chamber is likely skirting longstanding campaign finance law that bans the involvement of foreign corporations in American elections.”

Chamber of Commerce director of media relations J.P. Fielder says that money from the AmChams and foreign corporations go to the general fund and then the international division so it is kept away from any political activities.

Speaking at a Democratic rally in Bowie, Maryland, the president today suggested, however, that he did not believe the Chamber – and he said this is not just a threat to Democrats but to democracy.

Attacking the independent third-party groups that can now – thanks to the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United – solicit unlimited corporate funds to attack candidates in TV ads, without ever having to disclose the donors, the president said, “the American people deserve to know who’s trying to sway their elections….It could be the oil industry, the insurance industry, Wall Street - you'll never know. Their lips are sealed, but the floodgates are open. And almost every one of them is run by Republican operatives, even though they're posing as nonprofit, nonpolitical groups, with names like Americans for Prosperity, or the Committee for Truth in Politics.”

He said, “if we just stand by and allow the special interests to silence anybody who’s got the guts to stand up to them, our country is going to be a very different place.”

-Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller

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