Politics & Government

Georgia Democrat Marshall refuses to reject chamber's ads, money

WASHINGTON — Rep. Jim Marshall of Macon is a rarity — a Democrat being supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

That puts him in an unusual — and perhaps uncomfortable — position, one shared by about a dozen other Democrats, because the Democratic National Committee is blasting the chamber for its campaign largesse and suggesting foreign money may be involved.

An e-mail from the liberal MoveOn.org last week urged supporters to call Marshall to urge him to condemn chamber TV ads that the organization claims are funded in part by foreign corporations and attack fellow Democrats.

"If candidates hear from voters that these ads are backfiring, they'll help us to get this dirty corporate money out of our elections," the e-mail said.

That's just not going to happen, said Marshall spokesman Doug Moore.

"We're not going to denounce these commercials, they're following the law," Moore said. "Furthermore, MoveOn.org didn't contact us to call or repudiate these ads, which is fine because we're not going to do so."

Marshall is locked in a tough re-election battle against Republic Austin Scott.

The chamber plans to raise and spend $50 million to $75 million this election cycle, most of it going to Republicans.

The chamber's endorsing nearly a dozen other Democrats — mainly Southern and Midwestern members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, including Reps. Walter Minnick of Idaho, Frank Kratovil of Maryland, Glenn Nye of Virginia, Travis Childers of Mississippi and Bobby Bright of Alabama.

MoveOn sent out e-mails similar to the one targeted at Marshall to those lawmakers' districts.

While the Democratic National Committee is running ads calling the chamber, as well as other Republican-allied independent groups, "shills for big business," Democrats getting chamber money were advised to use their own judgment about the aid.

"Individual campaigns are going to have to make up their own minds," said DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan.

Some groups friendly to Democrats are appalled at the chamber's support.

"These ads are being run on behalf of candidates who have supported the Chamber's right-wing agenda, which includes giving giant corporations tax breaks to ship jobs overseas," said the e-mail from MoveOn.org to Marshall supporters. "Your representative, Jim Marshall, is one of these folks, and there are Chamber ads flooding the airwaves in your district right now."

Vice President Joe Biden waded into the fray this week at a fundraiser in Pennsylvania, saying he challenges "the Chamber of Commerce to tell us how much of the money they're investing is from foreign sources. I challenge them. If I'm wrong, I will stand corrected."

Chamber spokesman Tom Collamore said the organization accepts the vice president's challenge and is happy to provide an answer:

"Zero. As in, not a single cent," Collamore said. "We hope this clears it up, and hope the vice president keeps his word and stands corrected."

Collamore blasted the accusations about foreign money as "ridiculous and false," adding: "The U.S. Chamber will continue to support candidates from both political parties who support a pro-jobs, pro-growth agenda. We've been strong advocates for economic growth, jobs, and opportunity for 100 years and we won't be deterred now."

The chamber's spending is expected to soar past the $33.5 million it spent in the 2008 election. So far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent research group, the chamber has spent $20.8 million.

The furor over foreign money started last week when ThinkProgress, a liberal blog, said the chamber is allowing foreign money collected by chamber-affiliated groups_ American Chambers of Commerce abroad_ to ultimately help fund U.S. campaigns.

It's common for American Chambers of Commerce to be formed in other countries to represent U.S. firms in those countries. About 115 AmCham affiliates contribute about $100,000 to the U.S. chamber's general fund, and that money is spent on international programs, not American political campaigns, said Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber.

In an interview with McClatchy, Josten called the sums "nominal dues payments to us because the issues of concern to them here are few and far between."