Shining a bright light on the Chamber

SHINING A BRIGHT LIGHT ON THE CHAMBER…. As part of its $75 million ad campaign this election cycle, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is poised to spend more than $10 million on attack ads just over the next week, effectively making it a campaign committe for a third political party. Nearly every penny the Chamber spends will, of course, be in support of Republican candidates — so it’s less of a third party and more of an appendage to one of the two.

But in light of revelations this week about the Chamber raising funds from foreign companies and foreign governments, the business lobby’s campaign crusade has quickly become a rallying cry for Democrats.

President Obama led Democrats in a coordinated attack against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, painting the business lobby as a corporate interest standing against open elections and U.S. workers.

Obama criticized the Chamber for opposing campaign finance reform legislation that would require corporations and unions to disclose the names of those making donations for political ads. He did so as The Associated Press reported the Chamber is airing $10 million in ads this week, most of which attack Democrats and their policies.

“Just this week, we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations,” Obama said Thursday at a rally in Maryland.

“So 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 comes from.”

We haven’t seen a real coordinated Democratic effort since Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) apologized to BP over the summer, and it’s nice to see everyone on the same page for a change. While the president’s criticism was obviously the most notable, it coincided with Democratic charges at all levels — note David Plouffe called the spending a “big threat to our democracy” — as well as calls for a Federal Election Commission investigation. The past couple of days have seen more Dems pounce on this than anything in quite a while.

The next question, I suppose is, “To what end?” In all likelihood, the vast majority of Americans don’t know a thing about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s ad campaign, so the Dems going on the offensive may seem misplaced.

But I think there’s something to the strategy. For one thing, it ties into other Democratic themes involving outsourcing and excessive corporate control of the GOP.

For another, Dems want to put a hint of doubt in voters’ minds when it comes to these attack ads. With the right blanketing the airwaves to destroy Democratic candidates, Dems are anxious to have voters ask themselves, “Who paid for that ad? What will they expect in return? And was foreign money involved?”

Will voters actually show that level of sophistication/skepticism? I haven’t the foggiest idea. But I suspect there’s a visceral discomfort with secretive groups raising undisclosed sums from wealthy benefactors around the world, all in the hopes of buying an election cycle, and the more the public has these doubts, the better it will be for Democrats.