U.S. Chamber of Commerce Won’t Disclose Donors Without a Fight

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For years, big (and often unpopular) corporations like drug and tobacco companies, have used innocuous-sounding trade associations to lobby on their behalf, without having to disclose who picks up the tab. But a new law Congress passed earlier this year is designed to put an end to the practice. Under the threat of criminal penalties, the lobbying reform act requires trade groups to disclose members who contribute more than $5,000 in a quarter and who are involved in planning or directing lobbying activities. Not surprisingly, big businesses are not happy about this, particularly the criminal penalty part.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers fired the first shot across the bow yesterday, sending a letter to the Secretary of the Senate and the clerk of the House asking for “guidance” on how to interpret the new reporting requirements. They’re essentially asking to exempt a lot of people who might otherwise be outed by the new law on the grounds that the law is an unconstitutional intrusion into their inner workings.

The chamber isn’t fond of disclosure. For instance, the Institute for Legal Reform, the chamber’s $40 million-a-year tort reform lobbying arm, failed to disclose to the IRS four years and millions of dollars worth of taxable spending on political races. A few years ago, it secretly bought its own newspaper in Madison County, Illinois, where it was spending millions to defeat liberal state court judges. The paper generated a regular stream of chamber propaganda that got treated like bona fide news until its owners got outed by the Washington Post. Despite the chamber’s complaints about the evils of the American legal system, yesterday’s letter is a pretty good indication that it will spend some time there before it ever gives up exactly how much radioactive industries contribute to its lobbying efforts.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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