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VIDEO: Progressive Groups Protest Chamber of Commerce Spending on Elections
Scores of protesters gathered outside of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s office Thursday in response to the news that the trade association’s has pledged $75 million dollars for partisan TV ads. These campaign ads primary targets are officeholders challenging the Chamber’s policy: Rallying against legislations that punish outsourcing jobs and lobbying for free trade agreement with foreign governments. Additionally, a Think Progress investigation revealed that some of the Chamber’s million-dollar pledge is funded by its foreign branches in global economic powerhouses such as China and India.
Speakers from different progressive organizations exchanged turns speaking with only a blow horn to aid some of them, including Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. Public Citizen is a consumer advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader in 1971 to “ensure that all citizens are represented in the halls of power.”
“Nestle, BP, Toyota, Honda—those are foreign corporations doing business in the United States—we know they are contributing to our political process,” Weissman says.
He attributes the Chamber of Commerce as the conduit that allows foreign corporations to influence American elections.
“The Chamber of Commerce hijacked our democracy. They are mocking all of us. It’s up to us to turn the time," he says while various shouts—“It’s not American!”; “Fair elections!”; “Jobs for U-S!”—nearly drawn him out.
Weissman and others gathered in front of the Chamber’s H St office—a stone throw’s away from the White House—after the release of an investigation by Think Progress staff galvanized them.
The Think Progress post concentrated on the Chamber of Commerce’s activity abroad, including opening international chapters all over the world. The Chamber’s branch in Bahrain received special attention, since the Persian Gulf country reportedly provides the Chamber with “over $100,000 a year.” Think Progress’ Lee Fang later reports that “corporations can hide behind the label of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and give additional money."
During the afternoon protest, several men who refused to give their names but claimed to be affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce watched as the protestors gathered. However, a rising protest chant—“Wake up, you’re corrupt!”—caused most of them to return to their offices before the protest ended.
The Chamber’s foreign chapters are referred to as Business Councils—“AmChams” for short. For instance, Bahrain’s and India’s chapters of the Chamber are called U.S.-Bahrain Business Council and U.S.-India Business Council, respectively. Earlier in the day, J.P. Fielder, the Chamber of Commerce’s spokesman, emailed Politico’s Ben Smith. Fielder wrote: “No foreign money—from AmChams of otherwise [sic]—is used to fund political activities. None of the AmCham money is used for political activities.”
While a majority of protest participants were affiliated with progressive organizations, some stumbled upon the demonstration like Wade Montgomery, an unemployed 55-year old D.C. native. Montgomery was attracted to protest because he dislikes the Chamber’s support for outsourcing American jobs and possibly using foreign funds to influence the upcoming elections only 27 days away.
“Americans don’t want it,” Montgomery says, “We are smart people. We can make up our own minds.”
Sabrina Patel, a 24-year old National Wildlife Federation employee, agreed with Montgomery. Patel says if foreign corporations are allowed to fund American elections that would add “another voice” to the political sphere when everyday Americans struggle to get their voices heard.
Patel adds that elections are focused more on raising campaign contributions than creating issue-driven campaigns that appeal to voters.
“People will just take money from wherever they can get it, and worry about the consequences later”, Patel says.
“If people are putting money into something, it means they care about it,” she says before adding, “We don’t need foreign corporations putting their voices in American elections. Election Day is one of the few times Americans can make their voices heard and say what’s important to them.”
Other demonstrators like Peter Lafontaine, 27, viewed the Chamber’s current campaign to sway elections in the favor multinational corporations as another example of the association “doing its best to obstruct the democratic process.”
“It’s just one more thing that they’re doing to undermine their credibility. Protests like these are the only way we can let politicians know that we aren’t going to stand for it.”
Ilyse Hogue, director of political advocacy for MoveOn.org, says the protest was organized to “make sure that the Chamber doesn’t feel like it’s going to get away with” accepting money from foreign corporations to “essentially buy our elections.”
Some political analysts argue that the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case opened the door for increased corporate spending to support pro-business political candidates. In Citizens United, the justices narrowly ruled in a 5-to-4 decision in favor of allowing corporations to contribute to political campaigns, citing that “political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment” and the government should not infringe upon citizens’ constitutional rights.
But some demonstrators view the Supreme Court ruling as a continuation of “politics as usual.”
Bryan Mitchell, a 26-year old freelance writer, says that “a lot of the money could be foreign. They can’t trace it.”
“It’s exactly what we’ve been seeing going on for years”, Mitchell said, “More and more corporate handouts from Republicans and Democrats.”
Derrick Haynes is a journalism intern at Campus Progress.
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