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The Chamber Bulks Up, Takes Aim
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is growing its bank account and jumping into grassroots lobbying game now since the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for corporations to spend unlimited money on elections. The Chamber spent more than $144 million on lobbying and grassroots organizing in 2009, far beyond the spending of individual labor unions or the Democratic or Republican national committees. The Chamber is expected to exceed that spending level in 2010. One of the factors causing the rapid increase in money pouring into the Chamber is the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case which handed corporations the free-speech right to spend as much as they want to elect or defeat candidates. The Court's ruling struck down a century of established case law upholding limits on corporate political spending. It also made business executives more comfortable using corporate funds for political purposes. Passing funds through trade groups instead of spending directly on elections has another benefit for corporations: Trade groups can legally avoid disclosing their donors' identities. The Chamber has developed a system where corporations give them money, and they in turn produces issue ads targeting individual candidates without revealing the names of the businesses who are funding the ads. This means that for all the increased influence corporations now have on elections, there is no equivalent transparency. The Chamber's system keeps secret which businesses are influencing a given election, and to what extent.