Chamber opposes Citizens United ‘fix’

In a statement Friday, Tom Donohue, the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said his trade group would not be intimidated from campaigning during the 2010 midterm elections. Further, he said, it would fight the campaign finance reform bill being considered by Congress because it feels it would silence the voice of business in the upcoming campaign.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have been working on a legislative response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Citizens United case earlier this year. The court’s decision removed some restrictions on campaign spending by corporations and unions, allowing them to spend unlimited funds on election activities to expressly advocate for or against a candidate’s election.

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Donohue said the leaked summary of Van Hollen’s version of the bill shows the legislation to be “a thinly veiled attempt to hijack the political playing field to his advantage on the eve of midterm elections.”

“It is no secret that Mr. Van Hollen’s campaign committee faces significant losses in the House this fall, and nothing in this ill-conceived and one-sided piece of legislation would change that. We will fight any and all attempts to muzzle and/or demonize independent voices from the election discussion,” Donohue said, adding his group would “not be silenced or intimidated from promoting our programs for job creation, economic growth and prosperity.”

Van Hollen is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. A spokesman for the Maryland Democrat said the Chamber is worried about disclosing its donors for its campaigns.

“It's not really surprising that powerful special interests based in Washington would be throwing temper tantrums over efforts to curb their influence and increase transparency so the American people know who is spending money on our elections. They may feel comfortable making their decisions behind closed doors, but the American people want sunlight in our democracy,” said Doug Thornell, a Van Hollen spokesman.

The Chamber’s opposition to the bill carries significant weight. It is the biggest lobbying force in Washington, having spent $144 million in 2009 alone on lobbying, according to disclosure forms. The business association is a political juggernaut, too, with press reports saying the group plans to spend $50 million on this year’s elections.

A legislative summary of Van Hollen’s bill, obtained by The Hill, shows that it could force the Chamber and other trade groups to disclose some of their donors for the first time. One provision would force trade associations like the Chamber to disclose donors for their campaign-related activity as well as their transfers to other groups for campaign-related activity in under 24 hours to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Specifically, an organization covered under the bill will have to disclose all of its donors of $1,000 or above to its general fund or could choose to set up a “campaign-related activity” fund at the FEC and disclose only those political donors at $1,000 or above. Further, if the organization transfers $10,000 or more to its campaign fund from its general fund, it will have to disclose all its general-fund donors who gave $10,000 or more.

The idea is to let donors restrict their funds from being used for politics and thus not have to be disclosed to the FEC if they so wish. The bill will cover corporations, unions, trade associations, political nonprofit groups and 527 groups, which are organized under the IRS tax code.

Under nonprofit law, the Chamber and other groups do not have to disclose their donors. If Van Hollen’s proposed bill became law, they would have to at least tell the FEC who was funding their political activities.

A Van Hollen aide said the Maryland Democrat hopes to introduce the bill sometime next week. Lawmakers hope to have it passed before the July 4 recess this Congress in time for the upcoming election campaign.

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