"Happy birthday, corporate shills!" reads the purple frosting atop the giant birthday cake delivered to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Friday.
About two dozen representatives from advocacy organizations, including the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Public Citizen, Business Ethics Network and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington rallied near the White House today to speak out against the Republican-leaning business group's refusal to disclose the donors behind its election advertising.
They threw a tongue-in-cheek birthday party for the Chamber, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and delivered 30,000 petitions on "birthday cards" to the group's D.C. office.
Tax-exempt organizations like the Chamber, a a 501(c)(6) corporation, can spend millions on political advertising without being subject to the disclosure requirements that apply to candidates, parties and PACs. That anonymity makes donations to such corporations more popular with folks who don't want their name tied to a donation. In the 2010 midterms, for example, tax-exempt groups outspent super PACs by a 3-to-2 margin.
"The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the poster child for Citizens United.They are the poster child for the unaccountable big money that's spreading secrets and lies through our democracy and corroding our right to self government," Blair Bowie of U.S. PIRG said, adding "In America, in a democracy, the size of your wallet does not determine the volume of your voice."
Melanie Collins, a small business owner from Maine, also spoke at the rally. Collins, who runs a childcare center from her home in Falmouth, emphasized her disappointment with the Chamber's attack ads in Maine, where it has spent substantially on attack ads against independent Senate candidate Angus King.
"To the rich CEO they say, give us your money, we'll do your political dirty work without leaving your fingerprints on it. That ain't right." she said, adding "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn't speak for small businesses, and it doesn't speak for me. The chamber's dirtiest work is saying they do speak for me and the rest of American businesses, while really hurting us and only helping the corporate giants take an even bigger piece for themselves. That ain't right."
The Chamber drew a sharp contrast in a statement about the race in Maine.
"We believe voters have a clear choice between candidates who support the free enterprise system, and those who consistently support more government ... We will remind the voters of Maine that Angus King was a major disappointment as governor, with his record of more spending, high taxes, and a billion dollar shortfall," the Chamber's Blair Latoff said.
This post, originally published at 4:08 p.m. on Friday, has been updated.
Photo by Erin Mershon