WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce this week is airing more than $10 million in advertising in some of the most competitive House and Senate races, a massive infusion by the business lobby against Democratic candidates in about 30 contests.
The amount is the single largest one-week expenditure by a group outside of the national political parties. It represents an escalation in ads by the chamber, which has expressed a goal of spending $75 million in this year's midterm elections.
The boost in spending comes as liberal groups raise questions about the chamber's financial sources. The Center for American Progress and MoveOn.org suggest the trade group could be using foreign money to air the ads, which would be illegal. The chamber denies the claim. It says money raised from foreign corporations is segregated from its political spending.
The chamber is not required to reveal the sources of its money.
The new ads include $1 million spent against Rep. Paul Hodes, the Democratic Senate candidate in New Hampshire, and $1 million against Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida, the Republican-turned-independent who is running for the Senate. The ads also take aim at Democrats in Senate races in Colorado, Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Missouri.
In addition, the chamber is airing ads in nearly two dozen House races, including multiple contests in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The chamber is spending $500,000 for an ad targeting Democratic Senate hopeful Richard Blumenthal in Connecticut as a "sue-first-and-ask-questions-later" attorney general. The ad says Blumenthal's tenure as attorney general has forced some of those companies to go out of business while under investigation.
Blumenthal is in a tight contest with Republican Linda McMahon, a former professional wrestling executive who has spent heavily from her personal fortune on the campaign.
Another ad takes aim at Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, fighting a tough re-election battle in Wisconsin.
In the 30-second spot, an announcer laments that "Russ always said he'd change Washington. Looks like Washington changed him." It cites his votes for Obama's health care overhaul, increasing U.S. debt limits and allowing politicians to spend freely. Feingold, seeking a fourth term, has run into trouble in his campaign against newcomer Republican Ron Johnson.
Questions about the chamber's foreign money were first raised this week by ThinkProgress, a blog of the liberal Center for American Progress. The account pointed to overseas business councils, known as "AmChams," that pay dues that go into the general fund of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. MoveOn.org sent a letter to the Department of Justice calling for an investigation.
Chambers spokeswoman Tita Freeman called the claims "unfounded, deceitful and completely erroneous." She said the AmChams collectively pay $100,000 in dues and that the money is used to pay for international programs.
"No foreign money is used to fund political activities," she said.
Freeman dismissed the claim as the work of a "George Soros-funded, anti-business blog," a reference to the billionaire investor known for his support of liberal causes.
Associated Press Writer Phil Elliott contributed to this report.
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