Today The New York Times ran a front-page story about the nefarious political influence of corporations that, to the paper's credit, did not so much as mention Citizens United. According to the official, presidentially endorsed narrative, which the Times generally has been eager to promote, that Supreme Court decision, which overturned restrictions on election-related speech by corporations, opened the floodgates for a disastrous, democracy-destroying deluge of dollars that is drowning out the voice of the people, which is why you can't hear them cheering for the Democrats. But it would have been hard to explain how that decision, handed down in January, permitted big donations that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce received last year from Prudential (which was resisting new financial regulations) and Dow Chemical (which was opposing "tighter security requirements on chemical facilities"). It would be even harder to draw a connection between Citizens United and donations that the Chamber of Commerce received from Goldman Sachs, Chevron Texaco, and the insurance company Aegon "in recent years." Those contributions, which had nothing to do with the election-related rules overturned by the Supreme Court, are nevertheless the lead examples in a story with the headline (in the national edition) "Large Donations Aid U.S. Chamber in Election Drive."
The Times says these donations "suggest that the recent allegations from President Obama and others that foreign money has ended up in the chamber's coffers miss a larger point: The chamber has had little trouble finding American companies eager to enlist it, anonymously, to fight their political battles and pay handsomely for its help." Wait a minute. The Chamber of Commerce gets money from big businesses? And they expect it to help shape public policy in their favor? How long has this been going on?
Although the chamber's efforts include "issue ads," they consist primarily of lobbying, on which the organization spent $144 million (about three-quarters of its budget) last year. It looks like the breakdown this year will be similar. In other words, the main complaint of the chamber's well-informed critics is really its petitioning of the government, as opposed to its freedom of speech (although it's hard to do the former without the latter). Is there cause for concern? To the extent that the chamber is pushing bad policies, yes. But the same could be said of every other interest group that tries to influence the government—AFSCME, for instance, or the staff of the (corporate-owned!) New York Times. In this case, the Times, in both its news and editorial pages, is pushing the DISCLOSE Act, which restricts speech in the name of transparency (in a way that just happens to favor its Democratic sponsors). Go here for an explanation of why that would be bad policy.
I discussed Obama's "foreign money" smear in my column last week.