Saturday, October 16, 2010

Election Season And the U.S. Chamber

Think Progress has asked a lot of (still unanswered) questions about the source of the funding used by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to fund partisan attack ads. This past wee, Ezra Klein of The Washington Post and Chris Matthews of Hardball weighed in on the issue and came up with vastly different conclusions.

On October 11, Ezra Klein tweeted "Real talk: Demanding financial disclosures from the Chamber of Commerce will not help Dems win the election." Well, yes, "demanding financial disclosures from the Chamber of Commerce" is fruitless because the Chamber has demonstrated that it will not admit where the money has come from.

The Center for American Progress already has done the heavy lifting on that, revealing the source of the money the trade organization has received from abroad. What we don't know is where it has gone. Interviewed by Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air, Lee Fang, who writes for CAP's, contended

disclose who is paying for these ads; although, the bank account - the campaign account, I should say, that's receiving these foreign funds is comingled with American businesses. It's all combined and then used on the $75 million massive campaign or attack campaign, I should say.

Inasmuch as accepting campaign contributions from foreign nationals or foreign corporations is prohibited by law in the U.S.A., the charge is a serious one, and conspicuously has not been refuted. The Chamber has said it does not comingle the funds but has not said in what manner and given that money is fungible, there must be serious doubt that it has been segregated.

However, in a Post piece appearing October 12, Klein claims "As far as I can tell, no one who has seriously looked into this thinks it's any more than some election-season hardball from the Democrats." He links to a analysis which, not surprisingly, proves nothing of the sort, asserting that the Democrats have made a serious charge and should prove it.... which, of course, is difficult to do without the Chamber explaining how it has kept foreign-derived funds separate from domestic-derived funds.

Klein, though, writing from a far-off planet, argues

I really wish the Democrats' push on this issue was connected to a serious campaign-finance agenda. They're not going to win any races by calling for more financial disclosure from the Chamber of Commerce, but maybe they could at least unite the party around something like the Fair Elections Now Act.

Probably good policy. But as political strategy, this is beyond naive. What, you might ask, is the "Fair Elections Now Act?" We could check it out via Google or perhaps Democratic office-seekers could explain it to the American people, most of whom would understandably not be as catalyzed by the issue as is Ezra Klein. In a larger sense, few individuals care about campaign financing, or campaign financing reform (except possibly in the abstract, in which elections are not held), unless it is connected to an issue that matters to them.

Enter Chris Matthews, who knows less about the economy or health care financing or a lot of other issues than does Klein, but sometimes is singlularly insightful analyzing politics. As it appeared in the conservative blog Newsbusters (which condemned Matthews' remarks), the Hardball host on October 13 commented (video below)

Let me finish tonight by addressing the challenge Bob Schieffer of CBS News issued to the White House this Sunday. Is that the best that you can do?

Bob was challenging David Axelrod on the White House charge that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was using money it raises from overseas to finance Republican political campaigns.

So, why is it so darn important to the average voter out there, that multinational corporations, some of them based outside of the United States, have their fingers in this election?

How about this -- it`s the central economic issue of our times. Look at how the giant corporations get their profit margins up these days. Are they out there selling hot, new products every consumer wants to get their hands on? Or are they doing the job by cost-cutting, cutting down the number of employees for whom they have to pay those tiresome health packages, those costly pensions and 401 plans? Are they doing it through those highly celebrated productivity gains by substituting robotics for people, by outsourcing the cheaper vendors overseas, over where the price of labor is dirt cheap?

No wonder the multinationals want to gift candidates who love to deregulate, love so-called free markets, love tax structures that lead them as free as possible to continue doing what they`re doing -- the kind of free-willing, cost-cutting that meets the quarterly bottom line.

No wonder the U.S. Chamber`s such a popular lobbying body for the multinational operation, in whatever country, it happens to currently find the best haven.

So, the right answer, is this is best that we can do is, is: is this the best America can do? It`s about jobs, and if all of the American people can talk about this election season as this, I say, keep on talking. You`ve finally got your finger on the pulse of this country. It`s about the economy.

There are approximately 4.7 unemployed Americans for every job available. A bill proposed by Senate Democrats to discourage off-shoring jobs is killed by the vigoroous opposition of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the vote of every single Republican in the United States Senate. Now Ezra Klein is talking about the Fair Elections Now Act, whatever that might be. Chris Matthews is talking about jobs for Americans, not Indians or Chinese. And that is- or would be- the way elections in this country are won, circa 2010.

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