U.S. Chamber puts millions into GOP ads

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By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 9, 2010

The long-simmering feud between Democrats and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has erupted into a full-scale war.

The chamber, one of Washington's most influential lobbying groups, emerged from the background of the midterm elections this week, spending millions of dollars on ads to help Republicans and fending off Democratic allegations that the effort may include money collected from foreign firms.

The chamber told the Federal Election Commission that it spent $10.5 million in 31 House and Senate races this week, all in favor of Republicans. The disclosure marks the opening of the floodgates for the business group, which has spent a total of $25 million so far and has vowed to spend up to three times that much by Election Day.

Democrats have responded by attacking the chamber as part of a coalition of conservative groups spending tens of millions on political ads without having to reveal donors. The party and President Obama also have seized on allegations from a liberal think tank that money from overseas chamber affiliates may be polluting the U.S. election process - a charge the business group adamantly denies.

"Just this week, we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations," Obama said at a rally this week, in a clear reference to the chamber. "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."

R. Bruce Josten, the chamber's executive vice president for government affairs, said in an interview Friday that the group "has never and will never" use dues collected from overseas business councils, known as "AmChams," for U.S. political activities. He said the chamber is the victim of "a smear campaign" orchestrated with the involvement of the White House.

"This is an outlandish act of desperation from people who are not able to run on their record," Josten said. "They have stooped to smear campaigns."

Republican unity

The developments mark a further escalation of tensions between the business lobby and the White House, which has clashed with the chamber over policies including health-care reform and Wall Street regulations. Democrats won several of the biggest policy votes but now business groups, are spending big in the hopes of helping Republicans win control of Congress.

Many Republicans noted that independent liberal groups spent tens of millions of dollars with little oversight during previous elections and that some were doing the same this year.

The chamber's ad buy this week is its largest so far and dwarfs the spending of any group other than the political parties. The spots comment on about two dozen House races and many key Senate contests.

The chamber said it spent at least $1 million per race targeting Senate candidate Paul Hodes (D) in New Hampshire; Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) in California; and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a disaffected Republican running as an independent against Marco Rubio (R) and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D). The group is also running ads against endangered Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold in Wisconsin and Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal in Connecticut, who is in an unexpectedly tight race with Linda McMahon, a former wrestling executive who is tapping her personal fortune for the campaign.

Josten said the chamber also went on the air Thursday with ads that were supportive of 10 Democrats who had voted against Obama's health-care reform legislation. Spending figures for the spots were not yet disclosed on Friday.

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