At an event sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, featured speaker Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, took direct aim at the corporate lobbying powerhouse's political activities and called on them to be more transparent.
The summit, titled "The United States and Israel: Building Business Through Innovation," was a two-day event featuring speakers such as U.S. Ambassador to Israel Michael Oren, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Teva Pharmaceuticals President and CEO Bill Marth. The gathering took place right at the Chamber's headquarters, located directly across from the White House.
In his remarks, Waxman expressed concerns with reports that the Chamber may be spending foreign money on its political activities, saying that the group loses credibility with poor disclosure:
On a final note, two weeks from now, this country will hold an election in which the Chamber has poured an unprecedented amount of money -- tens of millions of dollars -- into negative ads attacking candidates. I feel strongly about this issue. I think these practices raise important issues for our democracy and how election campaigns are run.
In particular, the Chamber has been unwilling to show accountability for the funds it has solicited for these ads. The donors have not been disclosed. Moreover, despite the Chamber's strong assertions, it has been unwilling to show conclusive evidence that money collected from foreign corporations isn't being used for political activities.
An event like this conference today is an appropriate use of contributions from Chamber members overseas. Spending such money on an election in any country would be inappropriate. In this country it would also be illegal.
I urge the Chamber to be transparent, to provide full disclosure on the contributions it is making in this election cycle.
Without proper transparency and disclosure it is hard for the Chamber to be a role model for corporate citizenship in America and around the world.
Waxman joins other top Democrats, including President Barack Obama and Democratic National Committee Chair Tim Kaine, in condemning the Chamber on this issue.
"The Chamber welcomes leaders from both sides of the aisle to our events and we don't expect to share the same perspective on all issues," Chamber spokesman J.P. Fielder said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "However, it's disappointing that Mr. Waxman continues to tout a false accusation from an anti-business blog about the Chamber's role in the political process. The Chamber will not be distracted by these attacks and will continue to highlight where candidates stand on issues that impact job creation during the next two weeks."
The Chamber spokesman pointed to several pieces that question reports on whether the Chamber is actually using any foreign funds for political activities. (ThinkProgress, which broke the original story, responded here.)
Waxman also sharply criticized the lobbying organization for its vociferous opposition to clean energy and global-warming legislation. "For too long, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been on the opposite side of this issue," said Waxman. "The Chamber pulled no punches in attacking my legislation. But wrestling each other into a stalemate is not a solution. ... It is my hope that, in the next Congress, we can find a way to work together, on a common-sense basis, to address these issues, and move forward together."
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