Ten Democrats Getting Chamber of Commerce's Help, and Happy to Have It

As senior party officals criticize Chamber, some Dems are happy for support.

ByMichael Falcone
October 12, 2010, 6:16 PM

WASHINGTON, Oct. 13, 2010 -- In some corners of Democratic politics the uproar coming from senior party officials about how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is paying for its massive 2010 election advertising campaign is falling on deaf ears.

That's because the Chamber, which has already spent millions on ads boosting Republican Congressional candidates across the country, has also thrown its support behind 10 business-friendly Democrats. In districts from Utah to Virginia, the Chamber has gone on the air with television ads for these candidates and they don't seem to be complaining.

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In Georgia's 8th Congressional District the Chamber recently sponsored an issue ad supportive of Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall, who is battling former Republican state legislator Austin Scott for a fifth term in the House.

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"We're very thankful to have the Chamber's support," Marshall's spokesman Doug Moore said in an interview with ABC News. "We were glad to wake up one morning and have someone supporting us and not attacking us."

Besides Marshall, the Chamber of Commerce is running issue ads on behalf of Democratic Congressional candidates Frank Kratovil in Maryland, Glenn Nye in Virginia, Travis Childers in Mississippi, Bobby Bright in Alabama, Walt Minnick in Idaho, Mike Ross in Arkansas, Jim Matheson in Utah, John Barrow in Georgia and Dan Boren in Oklahoma, according to Federal Election Commission reports and the watchdog group, Campaign Money Watch.

Like the nine other House Democrats the Chamber has put its money behind this year, Marshall voted against the health care reform bill -- a position that the business group highlights in its 30-second spot.

"When seniors look to Washington today, they wonder who will protect them," an announcer says. "With Congress cutting $500 billion from Medicare to pay for their big government health care bill, it's good to know Jim Marshall voted 'no,' telling Washington he's not going to stand for government as the solution."

Moore called the Chamber's help "significant" to the campaign and said he was "not worried about the broader discussion between the president, the vice president and the Chamber."

That "discussion" has turned into an all-out war being waged by top Democrats who are raising questions about whether the Chamber is funding its electioneering efforts with foreign money. Democrats have called on the group -- and other third-party organizations that are investing heavily in the 2010 cycle -- to disclose their donor lists.

2010 Election Maps: Follow the Senate, House and Governors' Races

The Chamber has repeatedly denied that any foreign funds are being used for its political activities.

"We are seeing an attempt to demonize specific groups and distract Americans from a failed economic agenda," Bruce Josten, the Chamber's executive vice president of government affairs said in a statement. "The Chamber will stay focused on representing and advocating our agenda of economic growth and speaking out against policies that are counter to those objectives."

The pushback has not stopped prominent Democrats, like Vice President Joe Biden, from keeping the issue front and center.

"Republicans used to be for transparency," the vice president told ABC News' Terry Moran on Tuesday.

"I'm not taking their word for it," Biden said of the Chamber's assertion that foreign money was not paying for political advertising.

Last week the left-leaning group MoveOn.org called on the Democrats who have received the Chamber's help to condemn the ads and ask that the television spots be taken down.

Maryland Rep. Frank Kratovil, a Democrat who is in a tight race with Republican State Sen. Andrew Harris in the state's 1st Congressional District, has no plans to renounce the Chamber, a campaign spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

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"At the end of the day it shows that Frank is an independent leader," Kratovil's campaign manager Jessica Klonsky said of the ad. Kratovil's campaign website prominently touts his Chamber of Commerce endorsement.

In Idaho, conservative Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick's campaign manager, John Foster, said the Chamber's ads "are about Walt's work in the district." The campaign has no plans to ask that they be taken off the air.

2010 Election Maps: Follow the Senate, House and Governors' Races

"Walt has always maintained his focus on the district first and put a lot less importance on what kind of political intrigue is happening in Washington, D.C.," Foster said in an interview. "We're a long way from the Hill."

And despite the volley of attacks from the White House, the Democratic National Committee and other party affiliates, Democratic leaders have yet to call on the Chamber to remove the ads.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest emphasized that President Obama's criticism of outside groups influencing the election, particularly the Chamber, was about transparency in the political system more than partisan politics, even though so much of the money is benefitting the GOP.

"The president believes it poses a threat to our democracy for a group like the Chamber to spend tens of millions of dollars, from undisclosed sources, in an effort to influence American elections," Earnest said, "regardless of the candidate they are supporting."

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