Money and Democracy

Published — July 18, 2012 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Daily Disclosure: Chamber of Commerce spends big on four-state ad blitz

New express advocacy ads allow Chamber to keep its donors secret


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country’s largest pro-business trade association, has reported spending more than $1.1 million on ads in four contested U.S. Senate races, according to Federal Election Commission records.

While the Chamber says it is a bipartisan group, the four spots are designed to aid Republican candidates in Nevada, Hawaii, New Mexico and North Dakota — battleground races that could lead to GOP control of the Senate next year.

  • In Nevada, the Chamber’s boxing-themed ad “Hit” criticizes Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., for siding with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on healthcare reform and “fighting” to raise energy prices. It touts Republican incumbent Sen. Dean Heller, on the other hand, as being on the side of small business owners ($489,000).
  • In Hawaii, the group’s ad touts former GOP Gov. Linda Lingle as having a “positive, bipartisan agenda” ($250,000).
  • In North Dakota, the Chamber says Democratic Senate candidate and former state attorney general Heidi Heitkamp “can’t make up her mind” and implies she’ll “say anything to get elected” ($202,400).
  • And the group praises Republican Senate candidate and former congresswoman Heather Wilson of New Mexico for “fighting for New Mexico energy,” ($220,901), countering an ad campaign that began yesterday from the Sierra Club’s political action committee called “Dirty Water, Dirty Politics” which criticized Wilson’s record on environmental issues.

The spots are “express advocacy,” meaning they urge viewers to vote for or against a candidate. They appear to be the first from the U.S. Chamber since its pledge to halt “electioneering communications” which name a candidate but do not tell viewers which way to vote. A recent court decision required groups that make electioneering communications to reveal their donors — something the Chamber has called “intimidation.”

Campaign finance reform advocates see the move as “expected but nevertheless troubling.”

“The Chamber is evading disclosure to protect its members from shareholder accountability,” said Paul S. Ryan, an attorney at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.

“This move removes any pretense that the Chamber is involved in issue advocacy,” Ryan continued. “This move makes clear that the Chamber is all about influencing elections.”

The ads began running July 17, but it is unclear how long they will air. A spokesman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In other outside spending news:

  • On Monday, Majority PAC, a super PAC that supports Democratic Senate candidates, released “Bottom Line,” an ad opposing John Brunner, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri. Brunner is running against Todd Akin and Sarah Steelman in the Republican primary on August 7. The winner will challenge Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in the fall.
  • reported spending more than $35,000 on TV advertising and banner printing on Monday opposing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
  • A super PAC called Progress for Washington reported spending more than $111,000 Monday on TV advertising in the primary in Washington’s 1st Congressional District. The super PAC, nicknamed “MamaPAC” by its critics, is financed by Margaret Rothschild, the mother of Democratic candidate Laura Ruderman, who the PAC supports. The August 7 primary is a “two-top” primary, meaning Ruderman is running against several candidates across party lines and the top two finishers will compete again in November.
  • Pro-David Dewhurst super PAC Texas Conservatives Fund reported spending $1.35 million Monday on advertising opposing Republican Senate candidate Ted Cruz in Texas. Cruz is running against Republican David Dewhurst in a run-off election, which will be held on July 31.

Reporter Michael Beckel contributed to this report.

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