White House escalates war of words with U.S. Chamber of Commerce

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Jon Ward
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      Jon Ward

      Jon Ward covers the White House and national politics for The Daily Caller. He covered the last two years of George W. Bush's presidency and the first year of Barack Obama's presidency for The Washington Times. Prior to moving to national politics, Jon worked for the Times' city desk and bureaus in Virginia and Maryland, covering local news and politics, including the D.C. sniper shootings and subsequent trial, before moving to state politics in Maryland. He and his wife have two children and live on Capitol Hill. || <a href="mailto:jw@dailycaller.com">Email Jon</a>

The war of words between the Obama White House and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over campaign spending is escalating: The Chamber vowed Tuesday night to “ramp up” its involvement in the election and the administration Wednesday insisted that it and other conservative groups reveal their donors.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs had little patience for questions Wednesday morning about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s position that disclosure of their donors would expose them to harassment, such as protests by labor unions at the homes of health insurance executives.

ABC News’ Jake Tapper read a few portions of his interview with the Chamber’s top lobbyist, R. Bruce Josten, detailing why they did not want to disclose their donors.

Gibbs, conducting an off-camera briefing with reporters in the West Wing, stood next to the press room podium and listened. When Tapper finished, Gibbs said simply: “So the answer is no?”

“Well the answer is no, because they don’t want to subject their donors to, in their view, harassment and intimidation from allies of the administration,” Tapper said.

“They had me at no,” Gibbs replied. “If they want to end this argument, open their books. This isn’t just the Chamber. American Crossroads. American Groups for Blue Skies, Mom and Apple Pie. There are all these great groups out there, that we now know they’re doubling down on even more money in this election to influence its outcome.”

Gibbs was referring to reports out Wednesday morning that groups like Crossroads are part of a new $50 million spending initiative in House races designed to maximize Republican gains on Nov. 2.

“This is simple. Just open up the books, every one of these groups. Show people who your donors are,” he said.

Chamber Chief Executive Tom Donohue was defiant in a letter to the group’s board of directors that was released to the press Tuesday night.

“It’s sad to watch the White House stoop to these depths to try to salvage an election. That’s clearly what this is all about … They hope that by demonizing those who oppose their failed policies, they can fire up their dispirited and disappointed base and silence our voice,” Donohue said. “Nor will the Chamber be silenced. In fact, for the next three weeks leading up to Election Day you will see us ramp up efforts to educate voters about the positions of candidates of both parties who are committed to free enterprise and economic growth.”

“We will not be deterred from full and vigorous participation in the political process. And, we will continue to successfully protect the rights and privacy of our members as they exercise their Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of association in supporting the Chamber’s programs and activities,” Donohue said.

The high-profile spat between the White House and the Chamber is the latest in what has been a combative relationship for much of Obama’s presidency, and will do nothing to repair Obama’s reputation among many as an anti-business president. Obama has shown some sensitivity to this perception in the past, but any concern about it now seems to be collateral damage as pressure mounts less than three weeks before midterm elections that many expect to be a harsh repudiation of the president’s policies.

“The White House attacks reinforce a perception that Mr. Obama is antibusiness at a time when job creation is the issue that will decide this election,” Karl Rove, a former top adviser to President George W. Bush who is an informal adviser and fundraiser for American Crossroads, wrote.

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  • pepito

    This White house is quite mad by attacking the Chamber of Commerce as if they’re Al-Qaida or something. This is the classic example of an anti-business administration who’s lost their rockers. The DemocRATS have gotta go.

  • Jim Treacher

    Gotta love Gibbs’ style: “All you have to do is give up and I’ll stop hitting your fist with my face.”

  • soso

    The potential of foreign dollars involved in our elections should concern all Americans. No matter the Party affiliation, we need real answers on this one. Thought Americans were fed up with corrupt politicians? This is not a Party issue, but American, if true. Calling the White House on this is a win win for all. If they’re lying we’ll all know and if not, we can fight back against foreigners wanting to destroy America from within.

  • gatortarian

    This is so easy for the Chamber. All they need to do is make a deal. Tell the White House if Obama releases the names of every single contributor to his campaign, the Chamber will release its donors. I would throw in that I wanted Obama’s school records for fun and bargain it away if I had to. Take out ads making the challenge, scream it from every news channel that will put a camera in front of you. I’d love to see someone show some sack.

  • joltinjoe

    The depths of despair of this White House is so evident. Robert Gibbs is the epitome of a stooge. He continues to obfiscate, mislead, retract, and blatently lie every time he opens his mouth. I guess when your boss is the emblematic hero of obfiscation, misleading, retracting, and blagtently lying it is the accepted way to keep your job. No honorable man would keep this job for this administration. Now you know!

  • robb32

    Gibbs..“If they want to end this argument, open their books”

    Same argument was made time and again with the Obama birth certificate.
    Keep throwing that back at Gibbsy. Smarm in a suit.