U.S. Chamber planned dirty tricks, smears against unions

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Investigators have found that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce paid a law firm to initiate a campaign of political sabotage against unions and other progressive groups that have opposed its policies.

ThinkProgress announced Feb. 10 that it had learned that Chamber lawyers hired private security companies to develop tactics for damaging progressive groups and labor unions, in particular Change to Win, the labor coalition, the Service Employees International Union, U.S. Chamber Watch, Stop The Chamber.com and ThinkProgress itself.

One of the campaigns developed by the security companies, according to the ThinkProgress investigation, was an entrapment scheme.

The proposal called for first creating a "false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information," to give to a progressive group opposing the Chamber, and then to subsequently expose the document as a fake to undermine the credibility of the Chamber's opponents.

In addition, the security groups proposed creating a "fake insider persona" at the Chamber to "generate communications" with Change to Win.

The investigation showed the security firms hired by the Chamber lawyers had hoped to get $200,000 for their initial background research and then charge the Chamber as much as $2 million for the entire campaign of disinformation against the progressive groups. The ThinkProgress investigation may have short-circuited the Chamber's ability to carry out the final plans.

Leaked emails show the Chamber's law firm, Hunton & Williams, met with the security companies to plan the sabotage in late 2010, including a Nov. 3 meeting at the offices of the law firm and a phone discussion on Nov. 8.

On Jan. 13, 2011, another email indicated that the security companies assumed the project was on.

A Feb. 3 email, however, showed that the Chamber lawyers wanted the security companies to produce the campaign without being paid, "and then present jointly with H & W to the Chamber" on or around Feb. 14. The lawyers said that after that meeting the companies could collect their pay at the agreed upon rates.

ThinkProgress says, in view of the release of its investigation, it is not clear whether the Feb. 14 meeting was actually held.

The Chamber has said, meanwhile, on its website, that the allegations in the investigative report are "baseless attacks" because "the Chamber has never seen the document in question."

The Chamber response, according to most observers, amounts to a carefully worded denial that actually does not deny the findings in the ThinkProgress investigation.

The Chamber can claim not to have "hired" private security companies for a sabotage campaign because, until as recently as Feb. 3, at least, the security firm was working without pay.

Even the saboteurs, it turns out, may have been "victimized" by the Chamber, having done a month of dirty work for free while the Chamber decided whether it wanted to officially hire them.

The Chamber also covered itself by using the law firm as a go-between, never actually meeting with the saboteurs directly.

The private security firms involved were HBGary Federal, Palantir and Berico Technologies (collectively referred to in the e-mails as "Team Themis").

ThinkProgress raised the Chamber's ire after publishing numerous articles last year about its efforts to coordinate a lobbying campaign on behalf of JPMorgan and its efforts to kill financial reform,.

In October, ThinkProgress published a series of articles exposing Chamber solicitation of donations from foreign corporations using the same account the Chamber used for attack ads against Democrats in the midterm elections and other articles exposing the Chamber's participation in secret fundraising meetings with billionaires David and Charles Koch.

Image: U.S. Chamber of Commerce offices in Washington NCinDC // CC BY-ND 2.0

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