Media in Last-Ditch Smear Campaign
by ROGER ARONOFF
October 15, 2010
It is rare when The Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, The Washington Post and The New York Times all agree on something. But President Obama’s attack on the Chamber of Commerce—for supposedly spending “foreign money” on the campaign—caused all of them to cry foul.
The Journal and IBD could be expected to treat Obama’s charges with skepticism. But when the Times and Post object, you know Obama is in trouble. And he now seems to recognize it.
Observers agree that the Obama administration appears increasingly desperate and concerned about the outcome of the election, and is making unsubstantiated charges that have managed to offend conservative and liberal news organizations.
The latest move was to coordinate an attack claiming that the Chamber of Commerce was using “foreign money” to unfairly and perhaps illegally influence the election. No evidence of this sensational charge was presented. But according to White House adviser David Axelrod on Sunday’s “Face the Nation,” the Chamber of Commerce should have to prove it’s not true.
The Chamber of Commerce says it receives about $100,000 a year in dues from foreign-owned corporations with American subsidiaries. They are spending between $50 and $75 million to try to elect people, mostly Republicans, who are pro-business. The Chamber, like many Americans, is concerned about the transformation of the American free enterprise system into a federal government-managed economy burdened with high taxes and debt.
The charge, which originated with the leftist Center for American Progress (CAP), is that some of the money from foreign-based companies somehow spills into the Chamber’s general funds and they are used in the campaign ads. There are rules that govern such transactions, and they require that funds be accounted for in specific ways to avoid violating laws and Federal Election Commission rules. CAP did not offer any evidence that the Chamber of Commerce has violated any such laws.
It is ironic that CAP, a George Soros-funded organization, would raise such a charge, since Soros makes money through foreign investments and currency manipulations. He was convicted of insider trading in France.
The liberal media would usually jump on board with the Democrats and try turning a charge like this into a Republican scandal. But in this case, not only are they not biting, but they are ridiculing the Democrats for their desperate move. This exchange, for example, took place on CBS’s Face the Nation last Sunday with David Axelrod as the guest:
BOB SCHIEFFER: Now I want to ask you about that because the New York Times looked into the Chamber specifically and said the Chamber really isn’t putting foreign money into the campaign. That it does charge its foreign affiliates dues that bring in less than a hundred and thousand dollars a year. A lot of organizations including Labor Unions doing—do that. But the Chamber has an annual budget of two hundred million dollars and it says, along with that, it keeps these foreign dues separate. They do spend heavily in politics, twenty-five million so far. They expect to spend fifty million. But this part about foreign money, that appears to be peanuts, Mister Axelrod, I mean, do you have any evidence that it’s anything other than peanuts?
DAVID AXELROD: Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob? The fact is that the
Chamber has asserted that but they won’t release any information about where their campaign money is coming from. And that’s at the core of the problem here. What we’ve seen in part because of a loophole that the Supreme Court allowed earlier this year, we now see tens of millions of dollars being spent by the Chamber and a number of organizations some of which just cropped up.
The “loophole,” the Citizens United case, does not lift the prohibition on foreign funding of U.S. elections. It only gives corporations the rights already enjoyed by labor unions friendly to the Obama Administration.
The Washington Post, which strongly disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision in that case, was very critical of the Obama Administration. In an editorial this week, the Post argued that “the rhetoric about this development, from President Obama on down, is irresponsibly alarmist. And the popular understanding of how this mess arose—generated by the President and other Democrats and abetted in part by media reports—is ill-informed. The fundamental problem is not the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, although that reflected wrongheaded judicial activism. The real problem lies in a tax code that permits too much political activity to take place in secrecy.”
Regarding the use of secret “foreign money” by the Chamber, the Post said, “The White House seems willing to stoke xenophobia without any evidence for its accusations.” The charge of “xenophobia” is usually reserved for conservatives upset about illegal foreign immigration.
The New York Times also pushed back. They referred to Obama’s statement that “Just this week, we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations...So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections.”
“But,” according to the Times, “a closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the chamber does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents.”
“In fact,” said the Times, “the controversy over the Chamber of Commerce financing may say more about the Washington spin cycle—where an Internet blog posting can be quickly picked up by like-minded groups and become political fodder for the president himself—than it does about the vagaries of campaign finance.”
The “Internet blog posting” was a reference to the charge originating with the Soros-funded CAP.
The Times article continued on:
“Organizations from both ends of the political spectrum, from liberal ones like the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the Sierra Club to conservative groups like the National Rifle Association, have international affiliations and get money from foreign entities while at the same time pushing political causes in the United States.
“In addition, more than 160 political action committees active in campaigning have been set up by corporations that are based overseas, including military contractors like B.A.E. Systems and pharmaceutical giants like GlaxoSmithKline, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research service.
“Such groups, which collectively have spent hundreds of millions dollars on political causes to advance their agenda, are required by law to ensure that any foreign money they receive is isolated and not used to finance political activities, which would violate a longstanding federal ban. The Chamber of Commerce says it has a vigorous process for ensuring that does not happen, and no evidence has emerged to suggest that is untrue.”
While the Times and Post simply pointed out that Obama’s charge was unsubstantiated and hypocritical, the partisans at MSNBC tried to pump some life into the allegation.
Keith Olbermann, for example, had the editor of CAP’s “Think Progress” blog, Faiz Shakir, on his show to repeat the charge and suggest there is some reason to believe it is true. But the performance fell flat. Shakir is the original source of the dubious charge and provides talking points on a regular basis for MSNBC personalities.
The use of Shakir as some kind of “expert” could be considered payback to White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, who has praised Olbermann and his MSNBC side kick, Rachel Maddow, as personalities who “keep our government honest” and promote “progressive values.” Burton said that Obama “thinks that those folks provide an invaluable service.”
It seems that no charge against the Republicans or their allies is ridiculous enough to be treated with skepticism by the Olbermann/Maddow crew. This is why they are considered valuable by the increasingly desperate Obama Administration.
In addition to the news organizations which dismissed the charge, others took a look and found it wanting. FactCheck.org analyzed the charge and concluded that “Accusing anybody of violating the law is a serious matter requiring serious evidence to back it up. So far Democrats have produced none.”
Kevin Ganster of ChamberPost.com did an excellent job of documenting the various articles exposing the crude allegations and tactics of the Administration in going after the Chamber.
Since there is no evidence for the charge, one must conclude that Obama regards Olbermann and Maddow as his “pets,” in the same way that Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid said that
he considers Democratic senatorial candidate Chris Coons of Delaware to be his “pet.”
But Olbermann and Maddow are pets with bark but no bite. Plus, they are still trying to figure out how to draw Fox News-size audiences.
Since Obama is raising the charge of foreign money in U.S. elections, it is helpful to review what we know with certainty about the subject.
Ken Timmerman previously documented that the Obama presidential campaign received more than $200 million that were from unidentified sources, including some from foreign sources, some of which they ultimately gave back when caught red handed.
Even the Washington Post took note at the time, reporting that “Faced with a huge influx of donations over the Internet, the campaign has also chosen not to use basic security measures to prevent potentially illegal or anonymous contributions from flowing into its accounts, aides acknowledged. Instead, the campaign is scrutinizing its books for improper donations after the money has been deposited.”
With Obama’s charge of foreign money petering out, Peter Baker of the Times has authored a piece, “Education of a President,” in which Obama’s desperation about the election appears to be evolving into resignation, and that there might be a path forward after the midterm elections.
“Obama expressed optimism to me that he could make common cause with Republicans after the midterm elections,” wrote Baker in his 8,000-plus word article. “It may be that regardless of what happens after this election, they feel more responsible,” he said, ‘either because they didn’t do as well as they anticipated, and so the strategy of just saying no to everything and sitting on the sidelines and throwing bombs didn’t work for them, or they did reasonably well, in which case the American people are going to be looking to them to offer serious proposals and work with me in a serious way.’”
It’s not clear that Obama has found a winning strategy, calling opponents who just might be moving into a position of power in Congress “bomb throwers.” It is also a bad use of language, coming from somebody who used to associate with people like Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, who planted real bombs.
The continuing attacks on Republicans may suggest that Obama is counting on a lame duck session after the November elections, during which his party still exercises control of Congress, to pass liberal legislation that has been stalled.
But the stalling hasn’t just been by Republicans. The issue of what to do about the extension of the Bush tax cuts was deferred by Democrats running Congress. No budget bill was passed. No decision was made on where to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. No congressional ethics trials were held before the election in connection with the corruption charges against Reps. Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters.
With the Times article about his “education” being the latest example Obama has seized the stage in recent weeks, bobbing and weaving as he makes charges and then recoils from them, as if he is resigned to losing many of his progressive allies in Congress on November 2.
It seems that George Soros is resigned to the likely outcome. He recently announced that after contributing so much in recent elections, he is planning to sit this one out, because, as he said, he’s not in a position to stop the Republicans from winning control over one or both houses of Congress. “I don’t believe in standing in the way of an avalanche,” he said according to a report in the New York Times.
The Times article about Obama working with Republicans is the latest twist, undoubtedly a realization that if the media won’t accept his charges of tainted money, he may have lost the ally that counted the most. It will never be the same, no matter what happens on November 2.