U.S. Chamber Tangles With Obama Over Foreign Influences

Posted September 18, 2010 at 1:48pm

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce accused President Barack Obama on Saturday of giving misleading remarks in his latest radio address about possible illegal foreign involvement in the 2010 midterm elections.

In his weekly speech, Obama reiterated his oft-repeated criticisms of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, saying the high court’s early 2010 decision to throw out most bans on corporate and union broadcast advertising buys “overturned decades of law and precedent” and “gave the special interests the power to spend without limit — and without public disclosure — to run ads in order to influence elections.”

Now in the electoral home stretch, Obama suggested that many of the television ads bombarding voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania and other battlegrounds might be financed by foreign interests. He said that could have been prevented if Congress had passed the White House-backed DISCLOSE Act, a contentious bill that Republicans and business groups argue benefited labor unions.

“We don’t know who’s behind these ads or who’s paying for them,” Obama said on Saturday. “Even foreign-controlled corporations seeking to influence our democracy are able to spend freely in order to swing an election toward a candidate they prefer.”

In a statement Saturday, the chamber’s top lobbyist, Bruce Josten, defended the recent Supreme Court decision, calling the president’s remarks misleading because bans on direct foreign involvement in elections are already on the books.

“It is disappointing to see the Administration continue to claim ‘foreign contributions would be restricted from spending money to influence elections, just as they were before the Supreme Court opened up this loophole.'” Josten said. “The court specifically wrote it was not addressing, or, therefore overturning, the law’s current ban on contributions from foreign nationals. Federal law bans all foreign nationals from contributing either directly or indirectly to any candidate or political party ‘in connection with a federal, state, or local election.'”

Josten also said the DISCLOSE Act “gives special deals and preferential treatment for organized labor” and “is designed to restrict the political speech of business groups and most other advocacy organizations including citizen groups and would require onerous campaign finance disclosure.”

He said, “The Citizens United decision protects the First Amendment rights of organizations across the political spectrum and is a positive for the political process and free enterprise.”