DOJ: CREW and CLC Ask Justice Dept. to Investigate Chamber of Commerce


Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) wrote to the Department of Justice today asking for an investigation into whether the Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber) and its president, Tom Donohue engaged in criminal violations of campaign finance law.

In September 2004, CREW filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging the Chamber and Mr. Donohue violated the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) by making $3 million in illegal corporate contributions to the November Fund, a 527 organization set up as a vehicle to attack John Edwards, then the Democratic nominee for vice-president.

Over four years later, in December 2008, CREW finally received a letter from the FEC explaining that back in 2005, the FEC had found reason to believe Mr. Donohue and the Chamber had violated campaign finance law. In November 2007, the FEC began negotiating a settlement, but in 2008, the commissioners were evenly split on party lines as to how to proceed, so they closed the matter without taking action.

The commission didn't inform CREW of its action until December 2008, leaving CREW only five days under the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit to force the FEC to take action. Even then, the FEC failed to provide CREW with the Republican commissioners' legal explanation for the decision to drop the matter, information CREW would have needed to file suit.

Afraid the Chamber and Mr. Donohue would get off scot-free for clearly illegal conduct, CREW asked DOJ to investigate whether the corporate contributions made by the Chamber and Mr. Donohue violated criminal law.

The Bush administration justice department responded it had no jurisdiction to investigate because the FEC had not found a legal violation. Finding this argument patently ridiculous, CREW and CLC sent a letter to new Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. asking him to reconsider DOJ's earlier decision.

Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director said, "Since when does the Department of Justice rely on the notoriously ineffectual and partisan FEC to begin investigating anyone or anything? We hope Attorney General Holder agrees that those who knowingly make corporate contributions in violation of the law must be held accountable for their actions."

"President Obama and Attorney General Holder have promised to restore the integrity of the Justice Department and investigating these allegations of abuse of campaign finance laws on such a massive scale is a good place to start," said J. Gerald Hebert, Executive Director of the Campaign Legal Center. "The Bush Justice Department chose to turn a blind eye toward millions of dollars in illegal political contributions by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Obama Justice Department having promised change must do better."

To read the letter sent to DOJ by CREW and CLC, click here.