You are hereThe Nation: The US Chamber of Commerce's Multimillion-Dollar Attack Plan

The Nation: The US Chamber of Commerce's Multimillion-Dollar Attack Plan


-By Sasha Abramsky

August 29, 2012- “Obamacare will be a nightmare for Florida seniors,” a grim voiceover announces. “Did Bill Nelson consider the consequences when he cast a deciding vote for Obamacare?”

“Tell Jon Tester: the Washington way isn’t the solution,” another intones. “We need less government and lower taxes.”

“Sherrod,” a third asks, referring to Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, “what planet are you on?”

If you live in a state where a competitive race could help tip the balance in the Senate this fall, you’ve almost certainly seen ads like these, laden with menacing theme music, light on the facts and funded by the US Chamber of Commerce. The nation’s largest business lobby is showcasing bold ambitions this year in an effort to build on gains made in the 2010 midterms, when at least $33 million of Chamber advertising helped push the nation dramatically rightward. The group began placing ads in swing districts as early as November 2011. Since then, it has rolled out a campaign aimed at influencing at least fifty House and eight Senate races, and according to Politico it has set a goal of $100 million in spending for this electoral cycle.

Watchdog groups believe the strategy in 2012 is similar to that of 2010: the Chamber goes into a district, blitzes it with attack ads to soften up the opposition and then steps back to let other deep-pocket groups come in. The intent is to force Democrats to play defense across the board, thus spreading their resources thin. According to the liberal online publication ThinkProgress, twenty of the twenty-one ads the Chamber released in May were hostile to Democratic candidates.

“The Chamber has spent about $600,000 attacking me,” Tester, the farmer turned Democratic Montana senator, told me in April. “I’ve got a great small-business record. I’ve carried bills the US Chamber has advocated for in the past. [But] they see Montana as a state that they can pick up. They’re dishonest, painting me as something I’m not. They’re trying to paint me as Wall Street, as somebody who’s ‘gone DC.’ It’s about as crazy as anybody can get.”

The organization is maintaining its longstanding policy of not officially taking sides in presidential elections. But even though it has not directly funded anti-Obama or pro-Romney ads, that doesn’t mean its leaders wouldn’t dearly love to oust Obama. Robert Weissman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, says the Chamber hopes to influence the presidential election indirectly—by shaping the contours of the public debate in the months leading up to election day and by bringing conservative voters to the polls.

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