Wed Jun 27, 2012, 09:25 AM
Segami (9,017 posts)
NY PROBES Chamber of Commerce Political FUNDING
" Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York has begun investigating contributions to tax-exempt groups that are heavily involved in political campaigns, focusing on a case involving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been one of the largest outside groups seeking to influence recent elections but is not required to disclose its donors. Mr. Schneiderman issued a wide-ranging subpoena on Tuesday to executives at a foundation affiliated with the chamber, seeking e-mails, bank records and other documents to determine whether the foundation illegally funneled $18 million to the chamber for political and lobbying activities, according to people with knowledge of the investigation.
The investigation is also looking at connections between the chamber’s foundation, the National Chamber Foundation, and another philanthropy, the Starr Foundation, which made large grants to the chamber foundation in 2003 and 2004. During the same period, the National Chamber Foundation lent the chamber $18 million, most of it for what was described as a capital campaign. In a complaint filed last year with the attorney general, watchdog groups asserted that the loan had been used to finance lobbying for “tort reform” legislation in Congress and to run issue advertising in the 2004 presidential and Congressional campaigns, most of it against Democrats.
A spokeswoman for the chamber declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Mr. Schneiderman.
Mr. Schneiderman’s investigation is the first significant one in years into the rapidly growing use of tax-exempt groups to move money into politics. The biggest such groups, including Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, which was founded by Karl Rove and other Republican strategists, are expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars this year on issue advertisements against candidates to sway the outcome of the presidential and Congressional elections. But the sources of that money are largely obscured from public view by mazes of transactions between allied groups and laws that allow tax-exempt organizations — unlike candidates and “super PACs” — to shield their donors.
Calls from Democrats and ethics watchdogs for tighter oversight of the groups’ political activities have resulted in little action by either the Federal Election Commission, which is deadlocked over the issue, or the Internal Revenue Service, which regulates charities at the federal level. But the subpoena from Mr. Schneiderman, a Democrat who made tougher campaign finance laws a centerpiece of his 2010 election campaign, suggests that he — like his predecessors Eliot Spitzer and Andrew M. Cuomo — is preparing to aggressively exploit the unusually broad regulatory powers of his office to vault onto the national stage.
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