For more than a decade, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been known for its sizable lobbying expenditures, but now it’s embarking on what CNN is calling “the most aggressive political cycle in its 102-year history.”

The world’s largest business association reported spending $35 million on behalf of candidates in 2012, likely spending $50 million total, including unreported expenditures. So far, during the 2014 election cycle, the Chamber has spent about $17 million on U.S. Senate and U.S. House races, getting involved early, in primaries, to an extent it hasn’t done previously. It’s promising to spend at least $50 million once again in this cycle. Given that the Chamber’s membership is secret, these tens of millions come from corporate sources that are mostly unknown – though we do know that most of the Chamber’s donors are large.

Unlike its more moderate incarnations in decades past, the Chamber now strongly favors conservatives. As CNN notes, the Chamber this cycle has endorsed 258 Republican candidates and just two Democratic candidates, though it says more of the latter are on the way. Six years ago, it endorsed 38 Democrats.

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This week the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing entitled “The U.S. Tax Code: Love It, Leave It, or Reform It!” where the focus was on the corporate tax maneuver called inversions.

Inversions occur when corporations purposely renounce their American citizenship, usually by merging with a foreign corporation and reincorporating in a low- or no-tax country (also called a tax haven) in order to be treated as a foreign corporation and escape U.S. tax liabilities. However, in reality, the move is just on paper — these corporations can in fact be owned by up to 79 percent of the former shareholders of the U.S. company and keep their business operations here in America.

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), chairman of the Finance Committee, referred to tax inefficiencies and loopholes like inversions as “chronic diseases,” “infections” and “contagions” since they are eroding the U.S. tax base and allowing these multinational corporations to escape paying their fair share of government services. The exact words of Sen. Wyden were: “The inversion virus now seems to be multiplying every few days.”

There has definitely been a growing rash of attempted inversion deals. The largest inversion deal to date, the drug maker AbbVie (formerly Abbott Laboratories) recently agreed to purchase a European competitor, Shire, with the goal of reincorporating in Britain. Other health-related companies have announced plans to invert such as Medtronic, Pfizer and Mylan.

Even “America’s drugstore” – Walgreens — may soon be a Swiss company, as it is in the process of determining whether to reincorporate there. This decision is particularly virulent since Walgreens receives around a quarter of its income from taxpayer supported health programs like Medicare and Medicaid. (The full list of companies that have inverted can be found here, which is much broader than the recent spate of health-related defections.)

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by David Arkush

Next week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold field hearings in Denver, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., on the carbon pollution rule it proposed on June 2. The EPA calls it the Clean Power Plan. We care a lot about the rule, and you’ll be hearing more about it in the coming year. Also, Public Citizen members, activists and staff will be attending and speaking at the hearings. You’ll hear more about that next week.

Right now, I just wanted to note something odd in this story from The Hill: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky.) is complaining about the ID requirements to get into the federal buildings in which the hearings will take place. The ID requirements mean that some of his constituents won’t be able to attend!

Ahem. Voter ID laws, anyone? It’s really rich to hear a Republican leader complaining about ID requirements in a disenfranchisement-y way. Also, the requirements are from the 2005 REAL ID Act, passed by a Republican Congress and signed by a Republican president.

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by Emily Peterson-Cassin

As the Senate Rules Committee meets today to discuss transparency in elections, there’s a valuable asset in the fight against secret money that won’t be on the agenda: an IRS rulemaking that could change the definition for political activity by nonprofits and put a speed limit on dark money spending.

Nonprofits registered under tax code sections 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) have been spending millions attempting to sway voters, particularly after the Supreme Court’s devastating decision in Citizens United that allowed corporations to spend unlimited money to influence elections. These political operatives avoid disclosing their donors, and their influence is growing. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, three times more dark money spending has taken place in 2014 than at this point during 2012. This is notable since 2012 was a presidential campaign year and political spending is generally lower in midterm election years.

The IRS’s current, vague standard for what counts as political activity is like a traffic sign that says “go whatever speed you want.”

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by Burkely Hermann

Recently, 1305 members and supporters of Public Citizen responded to a survey question asking whether they have personal stories and/or why they care about the work Public Citizen does.

It was enlightening and inspiring to sift through all of the comments. Many harkened back to the 1971 founding of Public Citizen by consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Others raised contemporary concerns on issues such as the increasing amount of money in the political process, so-called “trade” agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and fighting the power of Big Pharma.

Some told stories of losing their jobs because of their sexuality, taking a pay cut when a state governor believed they were overpaid, having a hard time getting benefits from health insurance companies, and much more.

Others shared more positive stories. One writer said that Public Citizen prompted him to run for an Idaho State Senate Seat and win the Democratic Party’s primary election. Another said that he uses Public Citizen’s materials to teach “medical students and house staff regularly.”

Two commenters praised Public Citizen’s publications: one commenter said that our ‘Health Newsletter’ has been important to them “personally and politically,” while another said that our member newspaper kept them “well informed.” One person from Virginia was even more specific, saying they enjoy “watching the Public Citizen President Mr. Weissman on TV appearances” and the “webcasts and conference calls with Rick [Claypool] and Kelly [Ngo].”

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