Election fraud attorney Bob Fitrakis is sending letters today to attorneys representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads requesting that they retain all documents, emails, accounting records and other records. This "document hold" is the first step toward legal action based on the groups' alleged laundering of illegal campaign contributions from large corporations.
Fitrakis, in a telephone interview, explained, "We are planning on notifying the groups [as part of our] investigation and we're requesting that they hold all those documents pertaining to what we believe is an illegal money laundering scheme."
The Chamber, run by its CEO Tom Donohue, serves as the political attack dog for big business, spending hundreds of millions to crush attorneys general and judges who they deem are unfriendly to corporations. In 2008 alone, the Chamber spent nearly $35 million almost entirely on Republican pro-business candidates in state and federal elections. According to SourceWatch, the Chamber has an aggressive strategy to rein in "activist judges and attorneys general," and challenge anti-business measures in court, taking a lead role in tort reform and supporting pro-tort reform candidates.
The strategy is brilliant. Donohue solicits millions from corporations facing class action suits and tort liability to fund these campaigns, all the while providing anonymous cover for corporate giants. In many cases, the Chamber masks its own involvement through front groups. Fitrakis says the Chamber has funneled illegal campaign contributions through groups like Citizens for a Strong Ohio, the Law Enforcement Association of America and many others, serving as the central point of a wide scale money laundering scam.
"We know in the past the Chamber directly solicited various major donors - primarily people connected with transnational corporations. So that was part of that process. And also we know that they used then Governor Taft in Ohio back in 2002 and he ended up, of course, pleading guilty to multiple misdemeanor charges of accepting gifts from lobbyists. So it appears well known politicians are solicited and in some cases, the Chamber twists the arms of people but sometimes they don't have to do that to get these anonymous donations. And then they kind of steer them all to one organization and they move them around to targeted politicians."
The goal, Fitrakis says is to create an unbalanced right wing court.
"What they really want to do is control the Supreme Court here in Ohio as they successfully did in Texas because that allows them to do a variety of things. They can promise things like pro-corporate decisions because they know if they eliminate the entire opposition, which is what they did in Ohio. They took a moderate court in the '90s which was 4-3 Republican to Democrat [sic] and with a couple of Republicans, at least one, having a very moderate, slim vote and they were able to essentially stack the entire court with Republicans that all lean strongly towards corporations. And if you don't really have any balance on the court itself none of the other judges, if they're all from one party and one mindset are all pro-corporate, you know those people aren't going to raise the ethical issues in private or in public and that's what you want - clearly judges that have a multi-national corporate perspective that know they've been elected by essentially illegal, anonymous money laundering schemes."
Fitrakis says there's also a connection between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the 2004 presidential election in Ohio as well as in other areas of the country. He says the Chamber is now directly linked to American Crossroads, a Republican political organization led by Karl Rove and its recent 501c4 spinoff, American Crossroads GPS. Former Chamber counsel Steven Law is now working for American Crossroads.
"It looks like a systematic attempt connected to the Chamber, which was [previously] recognized by the Ohio Election Commission to move anonymous money into the state, and the question now is whether or not American Crossroads involves the same people. Because Karl Rove has been tied to a lot of these tactics in the past and it looks like American Crossroads may be little more than the latest extension following the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. There's a variety of groups moving in trying to set up anonymous donations now in the state."
Last January, a sharply divided Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the government may not ban corporate political spending in candidate elections. But the Court did uphold the right of states to enact other campaign finance laws including those requiring the disclosure of contributions. But Fitrakis says that donating to the U.S. Chamber or to American Crossroads runs counter to these laws.
"When you look at why you do that, you know they're doing more than mere public advocacy. They're creating something where they can hide who's really behind the curtain and the job of course, is to rip that curtain back and when you do, it's usually the same people - large companies, corporations that want the entire economy deregulated and that's why in fact you create the 501c4 and eventually they'll create a 501c3. Because really all you have to do is adjourn the meeting, the non-profit meets and we have a long tradition of anonymous donations and then the 501c4 meets and it can do a little more in advocacy but it's not a 527. But the key factor is that the donations can be anonymous. It's a great business without transparency, without being accountable."
Fitrakis may be on to something. According to a letter from a U.S. Chamber of Commerce employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, companies that give money to the Chamber are promised their donations will not be disclosed, even to the Government.
"They are given specific instructions on how to circumvent campaign finance regulations. This is what Mr. Donohue uses to up the ante with companies so they will give more money. Mr. Donohue has given these same instructions to our lobbyists to pass on to companies... Mr. Donohue also promises companies that the Chamber's lawyers, lobbyists and public relations will provide a wall of protection for them in case they have any troubles with regulators or law enforcement officials, and he uses examples of past members who have been able to hide behind the Chamber.... It is a fact that the Chamber coordinates directly with the Republican Party on issues, ads, legislation, candidates and everything else. Steve Law is in daily contact with Mr. Donohue and he was chosen to lead the Karl Rove group American Crossroads so there would be that coordination. That group is the de facto Republican National Committee."
The insider adds Donohue is also milking the Chamber's corporate donors to support his lavish lifestyle but could not confirm whether the Chamber has filed false reports to the IRS.
"I can say for certain that there is a vast amount of secrecy about what money comes in and what it is used for. I can say that there have been large cash transactions that have taken place that I do not believe have been ever placed in any accounting system. I also know that money meant for one thing has actually been redirected to another thing on orders from Mr. Donohue and without the knowledge of the company that gave the money. I also know that if there was an audit done of the Chamber's finances and cross referenced to those companies that gave money, there would be vast discrepancies between income and outlays."
The whistleblower says Donohue is arrogant enough to believe that even if he is exposed that he can still beat the system.
"Can he be caught? Here is his attitude. The Federal Election Commission will not do anything to him because it has no power. Congress will not do anything because he owns too many of the members. So the only thing he fears is the United States Department of Justice, but he already has a game plan if he hears even a words that they are going to investigate him - attack, accuse the DOJ of a political hit job, call on his Republican allies to demand Eric Holder's job."
Bob Fitrakis served on the legal team that sued the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for creating a front group called Citizens For A Strong Ohio. The organization solicited corporations for funding by promising them anonymity and used those funds to run attack ads against Ohio Supreme Court Justice Alice Resnick, in violation of Ohio's campaign finance laws. In 2003 the Ohio Elections Commission and three courts ruled that the Chamber had to reveal the names of campaign ad backers.