Bombshell Report: Father Supports Son

June 21, 2024 | Luke Wachob

In 2022, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed then-Rep. Peter Meijer in the Republican primary for Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District. A week later, Rep. Meijer’s billionaire father, Hank Meijer – a member of the U.S. Chamber through his company – donated $800,000 to the group now supporting his son’s candidacy. A few days after that, the Chamber spent $381,000 on an ad praising Rep. Meijer’s record on a range of public policy issues.

These facts form the basis of a recent article in The Hill lamenting that Meijer was able to make his donation privately. The Chamber, a 501(c)(6) trade association, is not required to publicly disclose the identities of its individual members and donors. Nor was the group required to disclose the donors who funded that particular ad, which did not ask voters to support Rep. Meijer in the upcoming election. Instead, the donation came to light only through emails “obtained” by The Hill.

The June 11 article, stretching nearly 2,500 words and written by a former staffer for a pro-disclosure organization, carefully arranges information from those emails to suggest the makings of a scandal. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a longtime opponent of donor privacy rights, fills in the gaps with commentary that voters “deserve to know” about the donation, “especially when that billionaire is a candidate’s own father.”

But what was there to know? Nothing in the article indicates that the Chamber’s actions were influenced by Hank Meijer’s donation in any way. Indeed, Meijer’s donation came after the organization endorsed his son. Nor was the Chamber’s endorsement of Meijer at all out of character for the organization, which frequently backs candidates who support business-friendly policies. Hank Meijer may well have been moved to give to the group because of their endorsement of his son, but there’s no scandal in that.

Whitehouse focuses his ire on the Chamber itself: “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is doing the dirty work of billionaires and Big Oil via a massive litigation, lobbying, and electoral spending operation intended to influence the federal government. The Chamber regularly dumps dark money into American elections to sink candidates who support fighting climate change and growing the middle class.”

Yet, this line of attack makes little sense. The Chamber’s support for Rep. Meijer was fully public. The group made its endorsement publicly via press release and reported the $381,000 spent on the ad to the Federal Election Commission, as required by law. Voters had every opportunity to draw the conclusion Senator Whitehouse wished them to draw – if they agreed with Whitehouse’s view of the Chamber.

Going further to disclose Hank Meijer’s donation would add nothing that voters could not have assumed from the outset: that a father supports his son’s campaign and a pro-business organization supports a pro-business candidate. Moreover, mandating such disclosure for nonprofits would come at an incredibly high price. After all, it isn’t just the family members of candidates who would be at risk. Politicians like Senator Whitehouse want to expose all nonprofit donors above a certain threshold who give to groups that voice opinions on government actions and policy.

That means extremists, corrupt officials, and other bad actors could freely harass and intimidate supporters of advocacy groups they oppose. As a result, burgeoning social movements could be snuffed out before they ever get a chance to win the public’s support. Instead of a free exchange of ideas, political debates would devolve into chaos and conflict. That’s a big risk to take merely to confirm that Hank Meijer supports Peter Meijer.

At the end of the day, Americans want to know where candidates stand on the issues that matter to them. Knowing whose father gave how much money to which nonprofit is of trivial importance in comparison. Indeed, any voter who cares enough about elections to pore over FEC filings is unlikely to need them when deciding how to vote.

Instead of a tool for undecided voters, disclosure primarily serves as a weapon for political operatives and media outlets. The Hill article is a good example of that. Few Americans will read the story. Even fewer will interrogate the timeline to realize there’s no “there” there. But many will see the sensationalized headline – “$800,000 wire transfer from billionaire donor to US Chamber raises curtain on dark money” – and fill in the rest themselves.

That is how disclosure works in the real world. It doesn’t challenge our assumptions or teach us new information. It just confirms our biases, increases our cynicism, and gives us new enemies to hate. Do we really need more of that?