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The Transparently Secretive Chamber of Commerce

Well, the Big Business guys are transparent about one thing: They can’t stand the idea of the public holding them to account for their attempts to buy elections and influence policy, or even that they be prevented from corrupting the government contracting process through campaign spending.

The latest: They are so terrified of having their political spending disclosed that they are pushing in Congress legislation that would prohibit the government from requiring contractors to disclose their campaign-related spending.

Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, is carrying their water, with the Orwellian “Keeping Politics Out of Federal Contracting Act,” a bill that recently passed the Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs and may well become law unless the public demands otherwise. To take action to stop this abomination, go here.

The Collins initiative is in response to an excellent initiative floated by the Obama administration, but which the White House failed to implement. The simple idea was to require government contractors to disclose their campaign-related spending, including the kind of secret corporate campaign expenditures enabled by the Citizens United decision.

Contractor disclosure is important for two key reasons. First, virtually every major corporation enters into contracts with the government, so if contractors are required to disclose their campaign spending, that would cover most giant businesses. Second, the corrupting pall of campaign-related contributions is worst in the area of government contracting, since this is where the direct payoffs to corporations from political spending are highest. Disclosure will help mitigate the campaign-contractor corruption nexus.

Last year, it leaked that the Obama administration was considering an executive order requiring contractor disclosure.

The response from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s lead lobbyist, Bruce Josten: “We will fight it through all available means. To quote what they say every day on Libya, all options are on the table.” (As I mentioned at the time, just imagine if a prominent figure on the left — one with an office across Lafayette Park from the White House — used such charged, violent rhetoric.)

The Big Business guys have been unwavering in their strident opposition to disclosure of corporate campaign spending.

Said Chamber CEO Tom Donohue last week: “The disclosure thing is all about intimidation.”

The Chamber has certainly been consistent on the point. Here’s what Donohue said after the 2010 elections, in which the Chamber spent more outside money than any other group: “It is important to the Chamber not to change its practices [of not disclosing donors] because when it is known who made a contribution, it gives others the opportunity to demagogue them, attack them, or encourage them not to do it.”

As Carl Forti, one of the co-founders of the Karl Rove-affiliated Crossroads operations said after the 2010 election, “Disclosure was very important to us, which is why the 527 was created. But some donors didn’t want to be disclosed and, therefore, a (c)4 was created.”

The Big Business worry is simple enough. If their spending is disclosed, consumers and shareholders may hold them accountable. This is what Donohue calls “intimidation.”

Back in the real world, the intimidation works the other way. Under relentless attack from the Chamber of Commerce and other business interests, the Obama administration declined to issue the contractor disclosure executive order — despite a strong public call for such action, and strong support from public interest advocates and Members of Congress.

Although there’s not much chance of the Obama administration issuing the contractor disclosure executive order in advance of the 2012 election, it’s conceivable that a second-term Obama administration would do so.

Which is why we’re confronted with the spectacle of legislation that would prevent the government from trying to reduce the likelihood of corruption through a simple disclosure requirement.

If we have any respect for our democracy, we can’t let such a proposal become law. Act now: http://action.citizen.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=10608.

Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen.

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ROBERT WEISSMAN is president of Public Citizen.

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