October 5, 2010
Honorable Lanny Breuer
Assistant Attorney General—Criminal Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530
Dear Mr. Breuer:
On behalf of the more than five million members of MoveOn.org Political Action
across the nation, I am writing to request that the Department initiate an immediate
criminal investigation into the use by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of contributions by
foreign nationals to pay for advertising advocating the election or defeat of candidates for
federal office. Information brought to light today by Think Progress, a project of the
nonpartisan nonprofit organization Center for American Progress Action Fund, strongly
implies that the Chamber has willfully violated federal campaign finance laws that outlaw
the use of foreign cash in U.S. elections.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a nonprofit organization claiming exemption
from taxation under section 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code. According to a
study by the Wesleyan Media Project, as of September 15, 2010, the Chamber had spent
an estimated $6,747,900 running 8,462 advertisements referencing candidates for U.S.
According to the Washington Post online, the Chamber spent more than $1.25 million
just during the week ending October 3, all of it promoting Republican candidates for U.S.
The Think Progress investigation found that the Chamber funds this political
advertising out of its general account, which solicits contributions from foreign
corporations, including numerous companies controlled by foreign governments. These
contributions are made through foreign affiliates of the Chamber or directly to the
Chamber. The investigation found that the Chamber had raised at least $300,000 from
foreign businesses and foreign nationals just from two countries—Bahrain and India—
and that the Chamber has similar operations in foreign countries all over the world.
More critically, it has been widely reported, as reflected in the investigation, that
companies make substantial contributions to the Chamber, beyond their regular dues, for
the purpose of funding the chamber’s political advertising. And the Chamber has
dispatched former Ambassador Frank Lavin to speak before foreign Chamber affiliates
about what is at stake for business in the 2010 midterm elections. If, as it appears, the
Chamber is soliciting contributions from foreign corporations and foreign nationals while
communicating to them the importance of the U.S. elections, the Chamber is at least
indirectly soliciting contributions from foreign nationals for use in connection with U.S.
As you know, the ban on foreign money in U.S. politics was greatly strengthened
in the McCain-Feingold law (Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002). Under the law
as amended, it is unlawful for any foreign national, “directly or indirectly, to make” an
expenditure or independent expenditure, or disbursement for an “electioneering
communication.” 2 U.S.C. §441e(a)(1)(C). The Chamber’s broadcast advertisements
run within 60 days of the November general election, of course, constitute
“electioneering communications” under the law. 2 U.S.C. 434(f)(3). And their
advertisements expressly advocating the defeat of Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate
and U.S. House are “independent expenditures.” 2 U.S.C. §431(17).
But it is not only unlawful for a foreign national to make such a contribution,
directly or indirectly, it is also unlawful for anyone “to solicit, accept or receive” such a
contribution “from a foreign national.” 2 U.S.C. §441e(a)(2). That is precisely what the
Chamber appears to have done here: it has solicited foreign companies, including state-
owned companies fronting for foreign governments, for money to be used to pay for
electioneering communications and independent expenditures.
The Chamber has claimed that it “has a system in place” to prevent foreign
funding of its political activities. But the solicitation of foreign money, from companies
being told simultaneously of the importance of the U.S. elections, and the use of that
money by the Chamber at a time when it is spending millions on political advertising, is a
violation of this ban on indirect receipt and acceptance of foreign contributions, even if
the Chamber purports to maintain some artificial segregation of the funds its uses for that
Under the Federal Election Campaign Act, any person who knowingly and
willfully violates the provisions, where the violations involve more than $25,000 a year,
is guilty of a federal felony. 2 U.S.C. §437g(d)(1)(A).
The Chamber’s conduct here involves huge sums of money—millions of
dollars—is clearly undertaken willfully and knowingly, and implicates the fundamental
security interests of the United States. Furthermore, the amounts of money the Chamber
is spending on its political advertising are sufficiently large that its apparently unlawful
use of foreign money could actually influence the outcome of certain elections for federal
office. In these circumstances, we believe that a serious, immediate investigation is
warranted as to whether the Chamber has criminally violated the Federal Election
Campaign Act’s ban on use of foreign money in U.S. politics.
Thank you for your time and immediate attention to this request.