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After four-and-a-half years of inaction by the Federal Election Commission, two ethics watchdog groups have taken another tack on a campaign finance complaint they filed in September 2004. They’ve asked Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate allegations that the Chamber of Commerce illegally contributed $3 million to a so-called 527 political committee.

The Campaign Legal Center and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, in a letter today, requested that, in light of the decision by the FEC not to act, the Department of Justice open an investigation into the 2004 Chamber contributions to the November Fund, which ran ads in the 2004 general election criticizing Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which calls itself “the world’s largest business federation,” is a tax-exempt 501©(6) organization. According to the Campaign Legal Center’s David G. Vance, since the Chamber is incorporated, it is not permitted to donate its corporate treasury funds to a political committee. The Chamber of Commerce did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The ethics watchdog groups said they only recently learned that the FEC actually began negotiating a settlement with the Chamber in 2007. Ultimately, though, the commissioners deadlocked on how to proceed. In the Center’s Broken Government investigation, we noted that the Federal Election Commission’s structure is such that even when it has a working quorum to make decisions — something it lacked throughout the 2008 primary season — its 3-3 partisan split leads to a deadlock on almost every issue. This was the case here, as the Republican commissioners forced the FEC to drop the Chamber of Commerce matter.

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