Democrats and their allies, moving to counter millions of dollars flowing to Republican campaigns from groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have accused the international business organization of using foreign money to influence American elections.
The effort to paint conservative political groups as fronts for multinational corporations and foreign billionaires gathered steam this week after an affiliate of the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress charged that the chamber was using funds from foreign corporations to finance its political operations in Washington.
Foreign spending in U.S. elections is against the law. Tita Freeman, vice president of communications at the chamber, called the Center for American Progress report "unfounded and completely erroneous." The foreign companies cited in the report "pay nominal dues" that "do not support U.S. chamber political activities," Freeman said.
The liberal group MoveOn.org planned a rally outside the chamber's Washington headquarters Thursday to bring attention to the charges.
The issue of campaign fundraising is casting a shadow over this year's races after a Supreme Court ruling in January allowed unlimited campaign spending by corporations, labor unions and interest groups — some of which are not required to disclose their funding sources.
Corporations and interest groups, operating outside official political party committees, have provided a potent source of cash for Republicans. Democratic-allied groups have attempted to match the spending but lag far behind.
The liberal organization Think Progress said on its website that an investigation found that dues and fees collected from the chamber's overseas chapters and foreign business members goes into the same account used to fund its political activities.
Freeman called the allegation "an attempt to silence businesspeople, to silence those who support free enterprise, and an intentional diversion in advance of the midterm elections."
The chamber and two new groups cofounded by Republican strategist Karl Rove — American Crossroads and its affiliate, Crossroads GPS — are expected to spend more than $100 million on media campaigns in the final month before election day. Allies of Democrats have attempted to counter the overwhelming budgets of right-leaning groups with their own meager but pointed ad buys.
On Wednesday, Campaign Money Watch, a Democratic-leaning group that advocates for public financing of elections, took out a $750,000 ad to oppose the Republican candidate for governor in Colorado. The move came a day after American Crossroads spent about the same on ads opposing the Democratic incumbent.
Also Wednesday, the National Education Assn. committed to spending $15 million this cycle and began airing television ads for Democratic incumbents in Arizona and Ohio.
But with less than one month to go, the big money still trended in Republicans' favor.
On Tuesday, Crossroads GPS spent more than $1 million on advertising against Alexi Giannoulias, the Democratic candidate for President Obama's former Senate seat in Illinois, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Meanwhile, two nonpartisan groups that advocate stricter campaign finance controls urged the Internal Revenue Service this week to investigate Crossroads GPS. The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 said the Rove group is organized in a way that "allows its donors to evade the public disclosure requirements" that otherwise would apply if the organization was registered differently.