Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) wants the Federal Elections Commission to investigate whether the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is violating election law by raising money from foreign donors. In a letter to the agency, he also asked the FEC to review its own regulations.
The Chamber raises thousands from foreign individuals and companies through its overseas branches, ThinkProgress reported yesterday. The money reportedly goes into the Chamber’s general fund, which it is using to run a $75 million midterm campaign, mostly against Democrats. (The Chamber denies doing anything illegal, and says it only raises about $100,000 in dues from its foreign branches.)
It is illegal to solicit or accept donations from foreign nationals, directly or indirectly, for election activity.
“I am profoundly concerned by recent reports that foreign corporations are indirectly spending significant sums to influence American elections through third-party groups,” Franken wrote. “I am writing to ask that you investigate these claims, enforce existing laws and regulations prohibiting foreign spending in American elections, and strengthen those very laws through new regulations and policy guidance.”
You can read the full letter here.
The Chamber report is the latest in a slew of stories about questionable spending by third party groups, including the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads. The overwhelming majority of this third-party money is being spent on Republican candidates and causes.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Finance Committee, last week asked the IRS to investigate the use of tax-exempt groups to finance political activity.
“When political campaigns and individuals manipulate tax-exempt organizations to advance their own political agenda, they are able to raise and spend money without disclosing a dime, deceive the public and manipulate the entire political system,” Baucus wrote. “Special interests hiding behind the cloak of independent non-profits threatens the transparency our democracy deserves and does a disservice to fair, honest and open elections.”
Outside groups have also asked the IRS to investigate third-party groups.
The Chamber and Crossroads are organized as non-profits through the IRS. Such organizations are allowed to engage in political activity, but politics cannot, by law, be their “primary” activity.