Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Is Foreign Money Involved in the US Election?

United States Chamber of Commerce accused to accepting foreign funds

Speaking recently in advance of the United States midterm elections, US President Barack Obama is attempting a new tactic to stave off defeat:

He's insisted that the United States Chamber of Commerce is running attack ads funded by foreign money.

"We learned that one of the largest groups paying for these ads regularly takes in money from foreign sources," Obama announced. "Are you going to let special interests from Wall Street and Washington and maybe places beyond our shores come to this state and tell us who our senator should be?"

As it turns out, according to ABC News, there is truth to one of these claims, but not the other. The US Chamber of Commerce does, it seems, accept revenue from foreign companies and foreign affiliates. However, there seems to be no evidence that the US Chamber of Commerce is using those funds to pay for their political campaigning.

The Centre for Responsive Politics doesn't seem convinced by Obama and the Democrats' desperate attack.

"We have no idea if the Chamber or any 501(c) organization as defined by the IRS code, is taking foreign money for the purposes of playing politics," exmplained CRP spokesman Dave Levinthal. "Saying that that foreign money is actually going toward attack ads or any type of messaging in the political realm, you just don't know. It's speculation and nothing more."

For the Obama administration, it seems that the issue of foreign money is a manner to attempt to stir up discontent surrounding the Citizens United decision, which lifted restrictions on third-party election spending in the United States.

"The Chamber is throwing tons of money at these races and they haven't done that before and you can't disaggregate it," explained Dartmouth College Political Scientist Ronald Shaiko. "But the Chamber appears to be meeting the letter of the law in what they're doing. Plus, they've got plenty of money and they really don't need to be bringing in foreign money to be doing what they're doing."

To Shaiko's eye, however, there's little difference between outright electoral interference and the manner of lobbying considered more mundane by American standards.

"For over a decade now we've had the door open to foreign influence in the political process, policy process," Shaiko continues. "If we're equating political influence via lobbying with political influence via elections, I wouldn't want to draw the distinction."

But so far as an attempt to stir up discontent, Shaiko expects that this strategy will fail.

"This isn't going to help the White House win votes by doing this," he concludes. "They're grasping at straws."

Perhaps this is because the Democrats themselves have been accepting foreign money as well.

The Democrats have been found to have accepted $1.02 million from Political Action Committees linked to foreign companies.

"This is not foreign money per-se, but these PACs are certainly populated by people who work for foreign companies," explains Levinthal.

These groups have made their donations public via the Federal Election Commission. Meanwhile, the Democrats are demanding that the US Chamber of Commerce reveal its donor lists to the American public.

"All you have to do to clear up the questions is reveal who your donors are from," insists White House advisor David Axelrod. "It is an insidious, dangerous thing when people can contribute huge sums of money to run negative ads in campaigns and never confess or allow to their participation. It opens the door to all kinds of chicanery."

"Any interest group can write a $10 million check to try to defeat a candidate and no one will ever know exactly what their involvement was," Axelrod concludes.

Of course, one can just as easily defeat a candidate with thousands of small cheques -- foreign- or domestic-sourced -- as with one large one.

There's ample reason to suspect that the Democrats have received a large number of foreign donations and used them to fund their campaigns -- particularly small donations that don't need to be reported to the FEC.

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