Are Foreign Corporations Helping to Elect Free Trade Republicans?
Earlier this year Democrats warned that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United V. Federal Election Commission would open the door for foreign meddling in U.S. elections and, according to an investigation by the Center for American Progress, it appears that those fears are coming to fruition.
The investigation found that one of the nation’s biggest advocates of outsourcing and free trade, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, may in fact be using foreign funds for political activities.
Through mid-September, the Chamber has aired over 8,000 political ads – the vast majority in favor of Republican candidates. Some of that money used to finance those ads, it appears, may have come from foreign companies, possibly even state-owned foreign corporations.
The Chamber uses its general account to fund those ads, according to the report. The general account is made up, at least partially, of members’ due payments. Foreign chapters of the Chamber, or AmChams, collect dues from the foreign companies they represent, and ultimately send that money back to the Chamber’s Washington office.
Foreign corporations have filled the Chamber’s general account with as much as $300,000 in dues, the report found. Because of its status as a 501(c) 6 organization, the Chamber is not required to disclose its donors, so the extent of foreign money being used by the Chamber to influence this year’s midterm elections is unknown.
“We don’t know who’s behind these ads or who’s paying for them,” President Barack Obama warned in his most recent radio address on Saturday. “Even foreign-controlled corporations seeking to influence our democracy are able to spend freely in order to swing an election toward a candidate they prefer.”
Democrats earlier this year sought to pass legislation that would ensure that foreign electioneering was not a problem this cycle, but that effort was thwarted by Republicans.
The Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections, or DISCLOSE Act, was a response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United.
The DISCLOSE Act would seek to close the loopholes created by Citizens United by banning electioneering by any corporation when foreign nationals control 20 percent or more of the voting shares, a majority of the board of directors are foreign nationals, or if a foreign national runs the U.S. subsidiary.
But facing unified Republican opposition and holding only 59 seats, Democrats did not have the votes to break a Republican filibuster and bring the measure to the floor for a final vote. The final tally in a straight party-line vote was 57 to 41, three votes short of the three-fifths majority required to defeat Republican stall tactics.
Judging by their furious lobbying against the bill, foreign corporations seemed to feel as through Citizens United provided them a unique opportunity that they did not want to have taken away through the DISCLOSE Act. As soon as Democrats announced they would be introducing legislation to counteract the effects of the court’s decision, 160 major foreign corporations formed The Organization for International Investment to lobby against the measure.
Now, many of those same corporations could be secretly funneling money to a number of independent conservative organizations that have popped up to spend millions electing Republicans to Congress in the wake of the court’s decision. While many have innocuous or benign names like Americans for Job Security or The America Future Fund, their motives are anything but.
These organizations are determined to elect candidates to Congress that will do their bidding. That means more free trade, more outsourcing, less regulation and less import restrictions.
Thus far in the election cycle, outside interest groups have spent five times as much as they did during the 2006 midterms. Because of the court’s ruling, less than half the donors to those groups have been disclosed. In 2006, 90 percent of donors who spent money on political advertising were disclosed, according to The Washington Post.
Judging by where the money is going, it is not hard to figure out where its coming from. Independent Republican-leaning groups are outspending independent Democratic-leaning groups seven-to-one this election cycle, The Post reports. Business interests are the biggest patrons of the Republican Party, so it is safe to assume that they are funding much of the political activity of these new groups. Business interests are also worldwide today, with subsidiaries in every corner of the globe. And they have a vested interest in lowering the cost of doing business, which oftentimes can be achieved through free trade and outsourcing.
“Organized groups are looking at great opportunity, and therefore there’s great interest to spend money to influence the election,” Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College who studies campaign finance, told The Washington Post. “You’ve got the possibility of a change in the control of Congress.”