WASHINGTON — — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, under fire from President Barack Obama and other Democrats for allegedly using foreign money to influence next month's elections, is investing in the re-election of Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil of Maryland, records show.
According to Federal Election Commission records, the business lobby put $168,841 into ads that promote Kratovil in Maryland's 1st District, which spans the Chesapeake Bay and takes in the entire Eastern Shore and portions of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties.
The freshman Democrat from the Eastern Shore is in a tight race with Republican challenger Andy Harris, a veteran state senator from Baltimore County.
The new advertising is part of a nationwide buy of some $2 million by the organization on behalf of conservative Democrats like Kratovil, the Los Angeles Times reported. Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, who gained national attention as a media adviser to Howard Dean's presidential campaign, produced the ads, according to FEC records.
The new ads could undercut Democratic attempts to make an issue out of the chamber's spending, which has heavily favored Republicans up to now.
Obama, in a veiled attack on the chamber, described its political activities as "a threat to our democracy" during a speech to a Democratic campaign rally Thursday at Bowie State University.
House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who has worked hard to re-elect Kratovil, issued a broad-gauged attack Friday night that said "well-funded special interest groups like Karl Rove's American Crossroads and the Chamber of Commerce are pumping in millions of dollars, possibly from foreign interests and foreign governments, to try and overwhelm the voices of average Americans."
Chamber officials declined repeated requests to discuss the new ads but they previously denied that foreign money was funding its U.S. political activities. Kratovil's campaign said it had heard reports of the Chamber ads going on the air but did not have details.
The Maryland House contest, a rematch of the closest congressional election in the state two years ago, has begun attracting large amounts of special-interest ad money.
Two outside conservative groups, which have yet to disclose their donors, recently spent more than $316,000 on TV ads designed to help Harris, who fell just 3,000 votes short in 2008. The National Republican Campaign Committee, the party's House campaign arm, has also said it will spend more than $532,000 on the race, and Harris recently reported that he's raised more than $500,000 personally over the past three months.
Kratovil, who is benefiting from spending by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as well as the Chamber, has yet to announce his latest money numbers. On Sunday, former President Bill Clinton will be the draw at a Kratovil fundraising reception at a Washington restaurant.
The Democrat also received the endorsement recently of the National Rifle Association, often an influential force in election contests.