How Donohue and the Chamber operates

HOW DONOHUE AND THE CHAMBER OPERATES…. This week, ThinkProgress unveiled an important item, documenting the fact that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is investing $75 million in attack ads against Democrats in the midterms, may be using foreign funds to influence the outcome of American elections.

Tuesday, the Chamber offered a vague, half-hearted defense, which only reinforced concerns that the secretive, conservative lobbying group was doing something it shouldn’t be. Yesterday, as the significance of the revelations grew, the business lobby went after ThinkProgress with a vengeance.

The Chamber’s pushback may have been aggressive, but it did not address the underlying concerns. Faiz Shakir explained late yesterday:

[The Chamber’s] smoke-and-mirrors response serves to obfuscate the basic facts which ThinkProgress revealed:

1) The Chamber acknowledges that it receives foreign sources of funding.
2) The foreign funds go directly into the Chamber’s general 501(c)(6) entity.
3) At least $300,000 has been channeled from foreign companies in India and Bahrain to the account.
4) The foreign sources include foreign state-owned companies, including the State Bank of India and the Bahrain Petroleum Company.
5) The Chamber’s 501(c)(6) entity is used to launch an unprecedented $75 million partisan attack ad campaign against Democrats.

Nothing the Chamber has said in response to our story refutes those basic set of facts. The right-wing business group claims that it has a “system” in place to ensure that money is not being used for illegal purposes, namely to influence U.S. elections. But the Chamber refuses to explain how that “system” works, and is instead demanding that the public simply trust-but-not-verify.

Just to flesh this out a little further, let’s also note that the Chamber’s president and CEO, Tom Donohue, has a certain m.o. when it comes to creating walls between accounts — or in his case, not creating walls.

When Donohue left the American Trucking Associations in 1997, his successor, Walter McCormick, publicly accused Donohue of leaving the ATA in a financial mess, as the National Journal reported in 1999. McCormick even hired a Washington litigator specializing in white-collar crime to investigate the ATA’s finances under Donohue, although no lawsuit resulted. The Chamber claims that the investigators concluded ATA “was one of the best run trade associations” and its chief financial officer received an apology from the association’s board. But an ATA employee brought on by McCormick with intimate knowledge of the organization’s finances at the time offered a different view.

“There was a whole bunch of organizational units which were odd,” says the employee. “All of those units were separate entities, separately incorporated. Money was moving around from one to the other to the other.” Adds journalist John Schulz: “He said to me once, ‘It’s just sort of one big pot and how we divide it up is immaterial.'”

Donohue — and his accounting practices — are now at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is raising money hand over fist, from countries and governments from around the world, to elect candidates who’ll disregard the needs of American consumers and workers. The Chamber claims to have a “system” to stay within the law, but Donohue also has a track record of creating “one big pot” — and concluding that how it’s divided up is “immaterial.”