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Context of 'April 20, 2011: White House Considers Executive Order Mandating Federal Contractors Reveal Political Donations'

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US Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donahue blasts Senate Democrats for attempting to pass the DISCLOSE Act, which, if approved by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, would force the disclosure of the identities of corporate political donors. The DISCLOSE Act was proposed by Congressional Democrats in response to the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision that allows virtually unlimited and anonymous political spending by corporations and other entities (see January 21, 2010). The USCOC, a trade organization that spends heavily on Republican causes, is one of the “independent” organizations that would be most affected by the DISCLOSE Act (see January 21-22, 2010). Donahue, whose organization is lobbying members of Congress against the bill, says that the bill would infringe upon constitutional guarantees of free speech (see January 21, 2010) because it requires donors to state publicly their political positions, which not every organization or individual wishes to do. “The fact that this assault to the First Amendment is being considered as millions are desperately looking for work is a complete outrage,” Donahue says in a statement. “Despite their best efforts, there is no back room dark enough, no partisan motive strong enough, and no cynicism profound enough to barter away Americans’ freedom of speech.” [The Hill, 7/26/2010] Senate Republicans will successfully block the bill from coming to a vote (see July 26-27, 2010).

Entity Tags: US Chamber of Commerce, Barack Obama, DISCLOSE Act of 2010, Thomas Donahue, US Supreme Court, US Congress

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

An image from a ‘Team Themis’ proposal given to the US Chamber of Commerce in late 2010.An image from a ‘Team Themis’ proposal given to the US Chamber of Commerce in late 2010. [Source: Docstoc (.com)]The liberal news Web site Think Progress, an affiliate of the Center for American Progress, reports that it has discovered evidence of a potentially illegal scheme to entrap and destabilize political organizations, including Think Progress, that support President Obama and other Democrats. The scheme, in development since November 2010 at least, centers around the US Chamber of Commerce (USCOC), a large trade organization that makes large secret donations to Republican candidates and organizations (see January 21-22, 2010 and October 2010), and a law firm, Hunton and Williams, hired by the USCOC. According to emails secured by Think Progress, Hunton and Williams is working with a set of private security firms—HBGary Federal, Palantir, and Berico Technologies (collectively called “Team Themis”)—to develop tactics to damage progressive groups and labor unions. Some of the organizations and unions targeted include Think Progress, a labor coalition called Change to Win, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), US Chamber Watch, and StopTheChamber.com. The last two are small organizations dedicated to exposing some of the secretive practices of the USCOC. One project proposed by Team Themis is an entrapment scheme. The proposal called for the creation of a “false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information,” to give to a progressive group opposing the USCOC, and then exposing the document as a fraud, thus undermining the credibility of the organization. Another proposal involved using potentially illegal computer-hacking techniques to create what the group calls a “fake insider persona” to “generate communications” with Change to Win and to undermine the credibility of US Chamber Watch. The proposal actually advocates the creation of two such personas, one to be used “as leverage to discredit the other while confirming the identity of the second.” Together, “Team Themis” asked for $200,000 for initial background research and another $2 million for an active disinformation campaign. It is unclear from the emails whether any of the proposals were accepted, and if the disinformation campaign was ever launched. Think Progress was recently provided with the emails by members of “Anonymous,” an online “hacktivist” community responsible for attacking the Web sites of oppressive regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, along with American corporations that have censored the online information repository WikiLeaks. The emails were secured from HBGary Federal after one of that firm’s executives, Aaron Barr, tried to take Anonymous down. Barr claimed to have penetrated the group and intended to sell the data he collected to Bank of America (BoA) and to US federal authorities. In return, Anonymous hackers penetrated Barr’s email account and published some 40,000 company emails. Barr intended to approach Bank of America, Think Progress writes, because WikiLeaks is believed to have sensitive information about the firm that it intends to publish later in the year. BoA hired Hunton and Williams and other law firms to pursue WikiLeaks. BoA’s legal team also targeted Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald, an outspoken supporter of WikiLeaks, saying that it had plans for “actions to sabotage or discredit” him. The USCOC posts a response to Think Progress on its blog dismissing the report as “baseless attacks.” And prominent liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler (see April 18, 2009) says that the Think Progress report will probably “cause the Chamber of Commerce to rethink the spying work with HBGary it apparently has been considering.” [Berico Technologies, 11/3/2010 pdf file; Think Progress, 2/10/2011] Liberal blogger Brad Friedman, who has spent years covering voter suppression tactics by political organizations, will soon learn that he is targeted by Team Themis. An email sent by Barr and provided to Friedman “focused on me included names, personal information, home addresses, etc. of myself, family members, and a number of other members of VR,” Friedman will write. (Velvet Revolution is an “umbrella group” that includes StopTheChamber.) “Part of the plan included highlighting me as a ‘Tier 1’ player in a sophisticated disinformation/discrediting scheme that relied on high-tech tools developed for the US government’s ‘War on Terror.’ Team Themis’ US Chamber of Commerce plan was to deploy the very same techniques and technology used to track terrorists, terror organizations, and nations such as Iran, against private non-profit political advocates and citizens in the US.” The email also lists the names of people whom Barr clearly believes to be Friedman’s wife and two children (Friedman says the names listed are not family members—he is not married and has no children). The email also lists a Maryland address as Friedman’s home—another error, as Friedman lives in another state. Friedman will write that obviously Barr and his researchers found another, unrelated person named Brad Friedman and learned personal details about that person and his family. Prominent officials such as Ilyse Hogue of MoveOn.org and Robert Weissman of Public Citizen are also listed for “targeting.” [Brad Friedman, 2/14/2011]

Entity Tags: Democratic Party, Change to Win, WikiLeaks, Berico Technologies, Barack Obama, Bank of America, Aaron Barr, US Chamber Watch, Think Progress (.org), US Chamber of Commerce, Service Employees International Union, Ilyse Hogue, Marcy Wheeler, Hunton and Williams, Glenn Greenwald, HBGary Federal, StopTheChamber.com, Robert Weissman, Palantir, Brad Friedman

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The press learns that the Obama administration is considering having President Obama (see January 27-29, 2010) issue an executive order that would force federal contractors to disclose donations over $5,000 to political organizations. Such firms seeking government contracts would be required to disclose contributions to groups that air political ads either attacking or supporting candidates. Both Republicans and Democrats say that if issued, the order would have an immediate effect. Groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce (USCOC), a large Republican donor that has made large undisclosed donations to Republican-supporting candidates and organizations (see January 21-22, 2010 and October 2010), attacks the White House over the considered executive order, saying it proves Obama is using his executive power to punish political adversaries and reward supporters. USCOC spokesperson Blair Latoff calls the proposed order “an affront to the separation of powers [and] to free speech” (see January 21, 2010) that would create a litmus test for companies wanting to work with the federal government. The order, Latoff adds, could mean “prospective contractors that fund political causes unpopular with the government or the current administration may find that they don’t get a contract award due to political discrimination.” Republican senators will raise the same concerns in a letter sent to the White House the next day. Lawyer Jan Baran, who has worked for both the USCOC and Republican interests, acknowledges that the order could curtail fundraising attempts for the 2012 elections. White House officials and Congressional Democrats say the order would prevent the 2012 elections from being taken over by wealthy anonymous donors on both sides of the political aisle. Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a nonprofit group that favors stricter campaign finance rules, says, “The fact that Congressional Republicans may oppose disclosure does not mean that efforts to obtain it are, by definition, partisan.” [United Press International, 4/20/2011; Los Angeles Times, 4/21/2011; New York Times, 4/27/2011] A week later, Bruce Josten, the top lobbyist for the USCOC, will assail Obama and the White House over the proposed executive order, telling a reporter that the organization “is not going to tolerate” what it considers a “backdoor attempt” by the White House to silence private-sector opponents by disclosing their political spending. Josten will even indirectly compare Obama to Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi; citing the Obama administration’s efforts to hasten the deposing of al-Qadhafi, Josten will say of the order: “We will fight it through all available means. To quote what they say every day on Libya, all options are on the table.” White House spokesman Jay Carney will say in response to Josten’s attack, “What the president is committed to is transparency, and he certainly thinks that the American taxpayer should know where his or her money is going.” Josten is joined by the Business Roundtable, a powerful business association made up of a number of chief executives, which will call the proposed order “yet another example of regulatory over-reach,” and will claim the order would increase paperwork and drive up costs for businesses. [Think Progress, 4/27/2011] Lee Fang, a reporter for the liberal news Web site Think Progress, will write that the executive order could have a powerful impact on the USCOC. “[T]he White House’s disclosure rule threatens the entire existence of the Chamber,” Fang will write. “This is because the Chamber only exists to hide the identity of corporations seeking to fight nasty political battles without having their name or brand exposed. As the Wall Street Journal noted, the Chamber’s ‘most striking innovation has been to offer individual companies and industries the chance to use the chamber as a means of anonymously pursuing their own political ends.’ The Chamber’s members include defense contractors, bailed out banks, and other donors likely to be affected by the government contractor campaign disclosure rule.” Fang will also cite a recent plan by the USCOC to sabotage organizations that support Obama and Democratic candidates by using legally questionable tactics such as false entrapment strategies and even computer hacking (see February 10, 2011). The funding for the scheme was never made public. He also cites recent monies secured by the USCOC from foreign entities that, because of the Citizen United decision, could be flowing into US political activities without disclosure (see October 2010). [Think Progress, 4/27/2011] Republicans in Congress will move to pass legislation that would thwart the order, if it is ever issued (see May 26, 2011 and July 15, 2011).

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Fred Wertheimer, Blair Latoff, Business Roundtable, Jan Witold Baran, US Chamber of Commerce, Lee Fang, Wall Street Journal, Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, Obama administration, Bruce Josten

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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