The White House slanders a venerable institution.
In an effort to limit the damage from what promises to be a political tsunami in November, President Obama and his surrogates are smearing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Republican candidates for accepting “secret foreign money,” according to a DNC ad, and contributions from “foreign-owned corporations,” according to the president.
This is nothing more than a tempest in a teapot—and one overflowing with a toxic mix of hypocrisy and cynicism—for lots of reasons. But here are just a few.
First, in the president’s smearing of the Chamber’s legitimate involvement in the political process and in his deriding of money from “the oil industry” and “the insurance industry” as “a threat to our democracy,” there is an implication that money in politics is inherently evil and that he somehow has transcended this sin.
We’ll address the latter in a moment, but on the matter of money in politics, it pays to recall that money and what it can buy have always played a role in U.S. politics.
In 1757, as he ran for a seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses, George Washington spent a small fortune on rum and whiskey. The book Money Matters estimates that he bought more than a quart of liquor per voter in that first campaign. He won, thanks in part to this special campaign expense. James Madison refused to follow Washington’s example in his bid for re-election to the same body. Perhaps predictably, he lost.
Money Matters also notes that long before the Constitution was ratified, individuals and political parties alike were using “money to purchase newspapers and other printed materials to publish their partisan writings.” The resulting clash of ideas produced such influential works as The Federalist Papers and The Anti-Federalist Papers, laying the groundwork for a political system controlled not by the government, but by the people and the candidates they supported. In many respects, it’s a system we have never abandoned.
Second, the president’s somber intonations that the “American people deserve to know who’s trying to sway their elections” carry no weight coming from a man who raised hundreds of millions from undisclosed donors. As Newsweek reported in October 2008, tens of thousands of dollars poured into the Obama campaign from “individuals” with names like “Doodad Pro” of Nunda, New York, and “Good Will” of Austin, Texas. Pamela Geller of the blog Atlas Shrugs reported on this earlier in the 2008 campaign season.
“Good Will,” Newsweek observed, “listed his employer as ‘Loving’ and his occupation as ‘You,’ while supplying as his address 1015 Norwood Park Boulevard, which is shared by the Austin nonprofit Goodwill Industries.” As for Obama-backer “Doodad Pro,” he/she/it listed no occupation and no employer. And his/her/its address was Lloyd and Lynn’s Liquor Store, which knew nothing about the donations.
How’s that for “secret” money?
Third, Bill Clinton, the Democrats’ ace-in-the-hole campaign dynamo this election cycle, is the poster child for illegal campaign donations from foreign sources:
- As The Washington Post reported in 1997, John Huang, a Commerce Department official under Clinton, “attended dozens of briefings involving classified information, even as he maintained ties to the Lippo Group, the Indonesian conglomerate for which he had been head of U.S. operations.” The DNC ultimately returned nearly half of the money Huang raised, “determining that it was improperly raised or came from questionable donors, some of them from overseas.”
- Democratic Party fundraiser Johnny Chung pled guilty to a range of fundraising crimes, some of which gave Chinese businesses direct access to the White House.
- Indonesian businessman James Riady pled guilty to campaign finance violations after funneling money from foreign corporations into Clinton’s presidential campaigns.
- Charlie Trie raised $1.2 million for the DNC and the Clintons’ legal defense fund, and was indicted after it was discovered that much of what he raised was from illegal foreign sources.
How’s that for “foreign” money?
Fourth, in launching their attack, the president and his henchmen have veered into McCarthyite tactics. For example, when Bob Schieffer of CBS asked presidential advisor David Axelrod if he had any evidence that secret foreign funds were being used to influence the election, the response was chilling: “Do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?”
Vice President Joe Biden pressed the prove-you’re-innocent line of attack. “I challenge the Chamber of Commerce to tell us how much of the money they’re investing is from foreign sources,” Biden demanded.
"We accept the vice president's challenge here and now, and are happy to provide our answer: Zero. As in, ‘Not a single cent,’” the Chamber’s Tom Collamore said in response.
Indeed, the allegation that the Chamber is relying on shadowy foreign sources to subvert democracy has not a shred of evidence to support it. The political watchdog FactCheck.org has traced the original claim to former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, the head of the Center for American Progress, who offered no substance whatsoever to back up his charge. Moreover, to the limited extent that the Chamber relies on foreign funding, which is kept separate from its political activities, those funds are raised legally and violate no election laws -- a fact confirmed by that stalwart Republican ally, the New York Times.
No matter. The smear and the damage had already been done to a venerable organization that dares to stand up for free enterprise and smaller government—which puts the Chamber squarely at odds with this administration, which helps explain this administration’s thuggish attack.
Alan Dowd writes on politics and policy.