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K Street Files: Big Business Fights Majority on Campaign Bill

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Calls Democrats’ Citizens United Measure an Attack on Freedom of Speech

U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Bruce Josten predicts there’s little chance that a Democratic-backed campaign finance bill, which his group opposes, will reach President Barack Obama’s desk this year.

“They clearly lack the necessary votes in the Senate,” Josten said Tuesday morning. “For most Senators, this is a problematic piece of legislation on both sides of the aisle.”

Despite that confidence, Josten’s organization will continue its attack on the measure.

Speaking to reporters at the chamber’s downtown headquarters, Josten sketched out the organization’s ongoing assault against the DISCLOSE Act, legislation designed to blunt the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision.

In its 5-4 ruling in January, the high court threw out most restrictions on political advertising paid for by corporations, trade associations and other nonprofit organizations.

While Josten said the DISCLOSE bill may pass the House, he predicted that it will wither in the Senate. He said the motivations of the bill’s primary authors, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and ex-Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), are clearly aimed at the chamber and other Republican-leaning organizations that invest heavily in political spending.

“The bill places onerous restrictions on corporate free speech, violating the First Amendment, and ... ignores completely the immense political influence of organized labor,” he said.

Josten added: “The purpose here, it seems to us, is to hobble associations that give a voice to their members’ views in the political process and in the policymaking process. ... It appears to be an attempt to fix election rules to give organized labor and Democratic incumbents particularly the upper hand.”

And perhaps offering a glimpse at how he’s selling the chamber’s opposition to the bill, Josten compared the DISCLOSE Act to another contentious piece of legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act. The chamber’s primary legislative villain of the 2008 elections, the pro-union “card check” bill has been relegated to the Congressional back burner since the election of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) ended the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority earlier this year.

“To us, this is very similar to card check,” Josten said. “It’s not lost on the business community that this is changing the rules in the middle of the game to clearly benefit one side and to clearly disadvantage one side’s voice.”

Freshmen in the Green

Vulnerable House Democratic freshmen are making the most of their ties to the financial sector, a new report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington claims.

According to the CREW study provided to K Street Files, freshman Democratic Reps. Alan Grayson (Fla.), Jim Himes (Conn.), John Adler (N.J.) and Gary Peters (Mich.) and their fellow Financial Services Committee freshmen outraised their other underclassman colleagues by 55 percent.

According to CREW’s research, Financial Services freshmen raised an average of $140,000 from the political action committees of investment banks, insurance companies and real estate firms. In contrast, freshmen who did not sit on the panel brought in roughly $25,000 from industry PACs, the group’s research discovered.

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