Media Parrot Far-left Blog's Smear Campaign Against Chamber of Commerce, Ignore Identical Activities by Unions

A number of media liberals are up in arms over a far-left blog's inconclusive investigation - replete with innuendo and assumption - purporting to show that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has illegally spent funds obtained from foreign entities on political campaigns in the United States.

Of course near-identical efforts by a handful of the most powerful labor unions have not been mentioned.

The New York Times and MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Ed Schultz have all opined on the horrors of the Chamber's use of foreign funds. They all unquestionably parroted a report by the Center for American Progress's ThinkProgress blog that doesn't actually show that foreign funds have been spent on domestic political races. Meanwhile, labor unions have been given a pass, despite the amazing resemblance their political spending bears to the Chamber's.

Before getting into the media's parrot-like approach to Think Progress's claims, it's first worth taking a look at those claims. In sum, Think Progress's investigation has found three things: the Chamber has foreign offices, those offices contribute dues to a general fund controlled by the Chamber's headquarters in Washington, and Chamber HQ spends money from the general fund on political advertisements. That's all they can actually show.

In order for there to actually be a violation of the law, ThinkProgress would have to show that funds sent from Chamber offices abroad, known as AmChams, were spent on American political activities. But ThinkProgress readily admits that it cannot demonstrate that connection. Instead, it has challenged the Chamber to prove that it doesn't use foreign funds for domestic political activities.

The Chamber, meanwhile, insists that no foreign funds are used for political activities. Obviously the Chamber's claims, like those of ThinkProgress, should not be taken at face value and without scrutiny. But ThinkProgress has made an allegation that it acknowledges it has no concrete facts to support, and is trying to shift the burden of proof onto the accused.

For a few prominent media outlets, this lack of substantive evidence is apparently not a strong enough deterrent. In fact, neither the New York Times nor MSNBC seemed to really care about the lack of evidence. They used the ThinkProgress report to bemoan foreign influences on the American political process, apparently accepting at face value - despite the total lack of evidence - ThinkProgress's insistence that those influences actually exist.

Chris Matthews toed the ThinkProgress line hard, asking rhetorically: "If you throw a pile of dollars into a pile of dollars, what difference does it make?"

Matthews apparently searched out the most imbalanced panel he could possibly find to report on the "scandal". First he hosted Faiz Shakir, Editor in Chief of Think Progress, who noted that his blog had not been able to actually show that foreign funds were spent on domestic political races, or demonstrate the inadequacies of the Chamber's methods for preventing such illicit spending of foreign funds.

After Shakir finished his rout, Matthews brought on Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Van Hollen again noted the lack of evidence for ThinkProgress's claims. "We need to get to the bottom of it," he said, "and the easiest way to do it is for the the chamber to disclose."

In other words, the onus is on the Chamber to prove that these unsubstantiated allegations are not true. 

Once again, Matthews accepted this guilty-until-proven-innocent attitude at face value, failing to undertake event the most basic journalist task of questioning the claims of hyper-partisans like Van Hollen and Shakir.

Ed Scultz did much of the same on his show. He accepted the ThinkProgress report at face value, then brought on Salon Editor in Chief Joan Walsh to do the same. 

But Schultz managed to draw even more out of the "scandal" than Matthews. While the "Hardball" host was content with claiming that the Chamber was funneling foreign money into domestic elections to screw the American worker, Schultz went a step further: the Chamber policy actually shows that conservatives don't support the troops. Seriously:

You've got the chamber of commerce now going to be sending some money to run against Joe Sestak. And the conservative say that they love the troops. Excuse me? Mr. Sestak is the highest ranking military officer ever elected to the congress. He's running for the senate and he's got foreign money, allegedly, working against him. How can the conservatives say, hey we support the troops?

The New York Times also opined on the ThinkProgress report, repeating near-verbatim the far-left blog's claims about the fungibility of money. Of course the Times did not present any new evidence of wrongdoing, so readers were left once again with an argument based on implication and assumption.

While these three reports were busy bashing the Chamber of Commerce for maybe, sort of indirectly taking in money that may or may not (but does not, the Chamber insists) fund the organization's political activities, more than half a dozen labor unions were doing the exact same thing. The Center for Competetive Politics reports

...if the question can and should be asked of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, what about other entities that receive funds from foreign entities? For example, the Wikipedia entry on the Service Employees International Union states:

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is a labor union representing about 1.8 million workers in over 100 occupations in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.

Likewise, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters also reports members (and therefore, member dues) from Canada, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has members not just in Canada but also Panama and several Caribbean nations.

And the AFL-CIO includes several member unions that include foreign members, such as the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers, the  Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers' International Union and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers.

In fact, nearly half of the membership of the AFL-CIO have the term "International" in their names or some other indication of foreign membership (the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada), and it is a certainty that other unions also have foreign membership.

So, both the U.S. Chamber and the AFL-CIO have involvement with affiliated foreign entities, but only the Chamber's foreign members are of concern to the "reformers" at Think Progress and the Center for American Progress. I guess we can file this away as yet another example of why few believed the "reform" spin that the DISCLOSE Act treated corporations and unions equally.

Presumably, every foreign member of these unions - all headquartered in the United States - is required to pay dues to the parent organization. And every one of those unions spends money on political activities. So by the "fungibility" logic that undergirds the ThinkProgress "investigation" and all the media doom-saying since its release, these unions are all guilty of funneling foreign dollars into American political campaigns.

But of course Matthews, Schultz, and the Times's editorial board are too busy playing defense for Democrats and their surrogates in the blogosphere to make an attempt at even-handedness.