How the Citizens United Decision is Helping Chemical Companies Squash Efforts to Assess Cancer Risks With Common Household Items
Big chemical companies are quietly buying campaign ads that are polluting the airwaves in a bid to convince Congress not to regulate carcinogenic chemicals or not take other actions to protect health and the environment. The ads have appeared in districts of lawmakers who are poised to impact legislation to overhaul health and environmental standards. You won’t find these ads disclosed on the Federal Elections Commission website. But they are the latest example of how corporate money continues to flood into the election system.
While chemical company influence in government is nothing new, the corporate-funded ad spending indicates that the industry is moving to take full advantage of the new campaign finance landscape made possible by the Supreme Court. A string of decisions, from Wisconsin Right To Life to Citizens United, opened the door for businesses to airs unlimited ads supporting or opposing political candidates.
Since March of last year, the American Chemistry Council has aired at least $2.2 million dollars worth of ads promoting members of Congress. The commercials follow a cookie-cutter script, hailing the members for “working to protect and create jobs.” The Council is a lobby group financed by chemical firms like Dow Corning, DuPont, ExxonMobil Chemical Company, and BASF.
Watch one the ads below:
Like many other corporate interests seeking fund campaign advertising, chemical companies are using a 501(c)(6) trade association to air the ads, rather than branding the commercials “brought to you DuPont” or another company. In this regard, the American Chemical Council is following the pattern set forth by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, another corporate-funded lobbying front that is aggressively airing political ads. Unlike the Chamber though, the chemical industry aired its ads outside the FEC’s “electioneering” window, meaning that it is almost impossible to find disclosures.
As E&E Daily notes, the Council ads are part of a larger lobbying campaign against legislative efforts to overhaul the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act and “require manufacturers to prove their substances are safe before they go to market.” The chemical lobby is also fighting regulatory efforts to assess the health effects of bisphenol A (BPA), styrene, formaldehyde and dioxin, four widely used chemicals that have been associated with cancer. As Republic Report’s Suzanne Merkelson has reported, BPA, which is found in many household products, is also linked to erectile dysfunction and miscarriages. Here’s a list of the chemicals and where you can find them:
— Styrene is commonly found in “white foam coffee cups and food containers and is widely used in building materials.” The greatest cancer risk to the public is from breathing the chemical indoors in places where styrene is used as a building material.
— Formaldehyde, which has been linked to leukemia, is used in some industrial processes, as well as building materials, funeral homes, and some hair treatment products.
The ads benefit lawmakers with sway over chemical laws. The Council’s ads support Congressmen Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and John Shimkus (R-IL), both of whom are chairmen of subcommittees that oversee environmental standards. Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID), a beneficiary of over $140,000 in Council ads, chairs a panel that sets the budget for environmental agencies. Democrats have benefited as well. The Council aired at least $350,000 in ads promoting Congressman Gene Green (D-TX), the ranking member of an environmental subcommittee. The ad campaign has covered 9 other members of Congress, in addition to general ads attacking President Obama’s EPA policies.
The ads appear to be working. As chemical companies ramp up their registered lobbying, PAC donations, and for the first time, an advertising campaign made possible by loosened campaign finance rules, bills like Senator Frank Lautenberg’s (D-NJ) Safe Chemicals Act appear to have stalled.
Cal Dooley, the former Democratic congressman who now serves as head of the American Chemistry Council and thus the chief lobbyist for the chemical industry, says the industry now pouring money into social media as well.
The chemical lobby experimented with direct corporate electioneering for the first time in 2010. During the campaign, the American Chemistry Council purchased ads to boost Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who was running in a special election to fill the seat of the late Robert Byrd. In previous elections, chemical companies were limited to strict campaign contribution limits. But the pro-Manchin ads in 2010 were purchased with direct corporate money through the American Chemistry Council. According to disclosure reports, the Council spent $225,000 in independent expenditure advertisements for Manchin.
The decision by chemical companies to spend corporate cash in congressional elections seems to be paying off. Just last month, Senator Manchin helped keynote an American Chemistry Council event to urge President Obama to promote more natural gas production. And the latest election ads seem to be working as well; Congress is punting on efforts to label and regulate carcinogenic chemicals in everyday American products.