Reporting from Washington —
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been a powerful ally for Republican candidates in this year's midterm campaigns, quietly moved across the aisle this week and bought ads touting nearly a dozen Democratic House members.
The "voter education" spots are running on behalf of 10 members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, many of them in the South, including Georgia's Jim Marshall, Virginia's Glenn Nye, Maryland's Frank Kratovil, Mississippi's Travis W. Childers and Alabama's Bobby Bright.
The ads were spotted by political media trackers. A spokesman for the chamber would not confirm the buys, but filings with the Federal Election Commission show that the Chamber spent a total of $1,899,772 to run two separate ads for each candidate.
The pro-Democratic media campaign marks a sharp pivot for the influential business lobby, which has poured millions of dollars into ads supporting Republicans. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the organization is the top-spending third-party group so far this cycle. This week alone, it dropped nearly $10 million on ads around the country, most of them aimed at lifting GOP candidates.
Though the Chamber is officially bipartisan, it has had a strong pro-Republican bent in the last decade under the leadership of President Tom Donohue. In 2008, the organization's political action committee directed at least three-quarters of its spending to help the GOP.
This year, few Democrats until now had benefitted from its largesse.
The move comes after a week in which the organization has endured a relentless campaign by Democrats suggesting that some of its political spending is being financed by foreign corporations that pay dues to the Chamber. President Obama picked up the line of attack Thursday, telling supporters at a rally in Maryland that "groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections -- and they won't tell you where the money for those ads comes from."
"So this isn't just a threat to Democrats," Obama said. "This is a threat to our democracy. The American people deserve to know who's trying to sway their elections. And if we just stand by and allow the special interests to silence anyone who has the guts to stand up to them, our country is going to be a very different place."
Chamber officials have vehemently denied the charge, saying that money the group gets from its overseas affiliates and foreign members is a nominal amount and funds only international programs.