There is an interesting story that is starting to pick up steam about political advertisements paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this year. The Chamber, with its very official sounding name, is not a part of the government but an independent entity that lobbies on a very important subject, “Commerce”.

This year, the Chamber has decided to put its money on Republicans and has spent heavily on advertising that supports Republican candidates. A blog called ThinkProgress noticed that the money for these ads comes out of the same 501(c) (6) that accepts donations from anonymous foreign donors.

Why is this a problem? The main reason is that it’s illegal for foreign companies to contribute to American political campaigns, directly or indirectly. Do I really care who the groups are that are donating to the Chamber? I kind of do, actually. After all, why would a Saudi Arabian or Chinese company provide money dedicated to help U.S. businesses? What are they hoping to influence?

Not to be outdone by the supply chain analysis of ThinkProgress, the Chamber and other leading Republicans have gone on Fox News (exclusively) and countered that:

1 - ThinkProgress is a liberal blog linked to The Center for American Progress which is run by John Podesta, who was the head of the Obama’s transition team. Therefore the criticism is simply partisan in nature.

2 - The Center For American Progress also accepts funds from anonymous donors which may (or may not) be foreign.

3 - The Center makes sure that their foreign donations are not used to pay for political ads.

Well yes, it’s true that The Center for American Progress and other liberal organizations also have donors. But in this particular case, those organizations are not putting out political ads, and that’s the difference. If the Chamber was so sure that foreign funds, which went into the same bucket as domestic, weren’t used for ads, why not show the documentation that proves it?

Following the money has gotten increasingly difficult, even on the domestic front. The McCain-Feingold bill was supposed to ensure that anyone running a political ad clearly spell out who paid for the ad. To get around the rule, advertisers set up phony Political Action Committees (or PACs) for the sole purpose of putting a great sounding name at the end of a campaign commercial, where someone says, this as was paid for by “such and such”. These groups form, take in tons of corporate money, place ads for or against a candidate, and then disappear, which makes tracing back funding very difficult.

Does understanding the supply chain for political advertising matter? I think it does. After all if you are trying to avoid disclosure, chances are you have something to hide.
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Joe Payne

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