With structural factors pointing toward significant Republican gains in November, the White House and the Democratic Party are suggesting that the US Chamber of Commerce is funding its ads with foreign money despite a lack of hard evidence to support the charge. President Obama has called the ads "a threat to our democracy" and the DNC released an online ad saying "It appears they’ve even taken secret foreign money to influence our elections" (while showing images of Chinese currency).
On Saturday, the New York Times published a story saying "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." Think Progress, the original source of the charge, claimed that the Times had not refuted its claim, arguing that other funds from international corporations may support the Chamber's ads. However, no proof was provided for the original allegation. As Think Progress acknowledged, "the essential fact is that there are no disclosure requirements that provide oversight to know whether or not the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is obeying the law." (See also this response.)
While more disclosure may be desirable, it doesn't justify the "When did you stop beating your wife?" nature of these allegations, as in this quote from Obama adviser David Axelrod yesterday:
David Axelrod, the president’s senior adviser, was asked Sunday by Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation” on CBS if he had any evidence that the chamber was using secret foreign funds to influence the election.
“Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?” Mr. Axelrod replied. “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.”
The Democratic committee’s spokesman, Hari Sevugan, likewise offered no evidence and suggested it was up to the chamber to disprove the assertions. “Serious questions have been raised,” he said in an e-mail. “If they want to clear this up, they can open up their books.”
Democrats might want to think back to the 1996-2000 period when Republicans repeatedly demagogued the issue of foreign campaign contributions and demanded that the Clinton White House prove its innocence against a litany of allegations. More importantly, with a Republican House seeming likely, the Obama administration might want to consider whether it wants to set up a standard where every charge made by the other party must be disproven.