All year, Democrats have been searching for a way to fire up the base and get liberals as enthusiastic about voting as Republicans appear to be. A few weeks ago, President Obama and Vice-President Biden tried the scolding method, but that didn't work. Last week, the party moved on to a new theme: Foreign money is stealing the election! Obama, Biden, the DNC, and MoveOn.org have all accused the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a GOP-friendly business lobby, as well as other independent conservative groups, of illegally using foreign contributions to influence the vote.
The attack started with a report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and took off from there. On October 7, Obama asked a crowd whether they were "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?" On Sunday in Philadelphia, he said:
[S]pecial interest groups are spending unlimited amounts of money on attack ads — attacking folks like Patrick Murphy, attacking folks like Joe Sestak — just attacking people without ever disclosing who’s behind all these attack ads. You don’t know .... It could even be foreign-owned corporations. You don’t know because they don’t have to disclose. Now, that’s not just a threat to Democrats — that’s a threat to our democracy.
Meanwhile, the DNC released an ad saying that "it appears" that the Chamber of Commerce and a group run by Karl Rove called American Crossroads "even take in secret foreign money to influence our elections." And MoveOn.org is trying to drum up pressure on the Justice Department to investigate.
It's true that the Chamber hasn't disclosed its donors, but it doesn't have to. And while it denies using the small amount of foreign donations it receives as part of its electioneering efforts, the Democrats haven't come up with any definitive evidence to back up their claim of illegal activity.
It didn't take long for the liberal East Coast media to start shooting holes in the claim. On October 8, the Times found "little evidence that what the chamber does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual," as many "[o]rganizations from both ends of the political spectrum ... have international affiliations and get money from foreign entities while at the same time pushing political causes in the United States."
A telling exchange about the precariousness of the Democrats' claims took place on CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday between dubious moderator Bob Schieiffer and Obama adviser David Axelrod:
Schieffer: 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?
Axelrod: Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?
According to the Daily Caller, the Schieffer conversation was a signal to Democrats that it was "time for them to try another line of attack,” according to a "senior Democratic Senate leadership aide." Accordingly, Obama dropped any mention of "foreign money" during his fund-raising appearance in Miami last night.
An even bigger mystery than where the Chamber gets its money, though, may be why Democrats thought this was such a winning issue to begin with. Maybe there are some Democratic voters out there who were only going to head to the polls this year if they felt sufficiently threatened by foreign money .... but probably not. And the strategy seems especially ill-suited to attract independents or other swing voters who are way, way, waaaaay more concerned about jobs and the economy. When your message three weeks out from the election revolves around campaign-finance disclosure law, it may be to time to refocus your attention on what people actually care about.
Foreign Money? Really? [FactCheck.org]
SPIN METER: Foreign money in politics? Not proven [AP via Google]
Obama drops foreign money charge from fundraiser remarks, but Biden and DNC continue attack [Daily Caller]