Although experts from plenty of liberal-leaning news agencies agree that the Obama administration's complaint about the Chamber of Commerce allegedly spending foreign money on campaign issue ads is overblown, Time's Joe Klein is dead set on griping about the non-scandal.
From his Swampland blog post yesterday:
Karl Rove is a great American patriot, a genius, a statesman, even. And now he has proven his phenomenal, overflowing patriotism by setting up a secretive finance group, in conjunction with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce--that's right, our very own, United States Chamber of Commerce--to run sleazy political ads, funded by foreign investors. I can't imagine why all these foreign companies are just itching to hook up with Rove and influence American politics...can you?
I'm sure Klein's die-hard groupies found that wickedly witty. But even writers further to the left of Klein and the center-left mainstream media, like the folks at Mother Jones magazine, think the complaint is just plain lame.
The crux of the administration's argument stems from a ThinkProgress.org report that posits that because the Chamber receives dues from foreign-owned businesses affiliated with the Chamber, the Chamber is effectively violating federal law when it runs political issue ads, even if the international dues are not earmarked for political action.
Money, after all, is fungible, the argument would go.
But as Nick Baumann of Mother Jones notes, that argument is extremely hypocritical for Democrats or left-wing groups to make, considering they use accounting gimmicks all the time:
Mother Jones has criticized the Chamber's pratices in the past (see our full coverage here), but, in this case, there are a number of problems with the Dems' "foreign money" attacks. If the Chamber is indeed funelling foreign money into campaigns (and that remains an open question), it's a relatively small amount—perhaps several hundred thousand dollars. That's a tiny percentage of the Chamber's overall ad spending—the group aims to spend $75 million this cycle. But there's also an accounting issue here. Kevin Drum hinted at this in a post this weekend, when he asked whether foreign donations to the Chamber go into the group's general fund. The Chamber has said that it has a "system in place" to prevent foreign money from being used to fund political ads. It has also said that "No foreign money...is used to fund political activities." That's pretty explicit, and it suggests that the Chamber almost certainly has some sort of accounting scheme in place to segregate funds from foreign and domestic sources.
Here's the point: people believe in "accounting gimmicks." They're used in politics (and business) all the time. They're even used in non-profits: the Center for American Progress, which is organized under section 501(c)3 of the tax code, shares staff with its sister organization, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a 501(c)4.
If Democrats really want to criticize the Chamber of Commerce, they should stop harping on accounting and focus on the larger issue: the vast sums of money that domestic corporations are spending, without any disclosure or accountability. It's easy to pick on scary foreigners. But if Democrats don't want to get buried under a tidal wave of corporate cash, they're going to have to toughen up and focus their criticisms on the US-based companies that are trying to take them out. If Dems don't have the stomach for that, they had better get used to the new landscape.
The liberal-leaning Columbia Journalism Review, no fan of Karl Rove or conservatives it, dismissed the Think Progress complain at "pretty thin gruel" that probably focus-groups well but is transparently xenophobic.