Democrats on Sunday renewed their attacks, accusing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of using foreign money to influence midterm races, despite the Obama administration’s acknowledgment that it had no evidence the charge was true.
“I don’t know,” senior White House adviser David Axelrod said Sunday when asked on CBS’ “Face the Nation” whether the chamber was using dues from foreign chambers to finance attack ads, as the president implied twice last week.
Mr. Axelrod defended the administration’s attacks, along with a Democratic National Committee ad that began airing Sunday, by saying the answer can’t be known because of campaign-finance laws and First Amendment and privacy issues.
“Is that the best you can do?” host Bob Schieffer asked skeptically at one point.
The administration spokesman also implied that the chamber’s claims about being in compliance with campaign-finance law may not be true, though he also offered no specific cause for suspicion.
“No one knows, Bob. The point is … I can assert anything I want, but you have, as a good journalist, you would ask me, ‘Well, how do we know that’s true? Do you have documentation to prove that?’ ” Mr. Axelrod said.
Mr. Schieffer noted that accepting dues money from foreign affiliates does not distinguish the chamber from any number of conservative and liberal-leaning groups and that the dues amount to $100,000 toward the general fund of a group with a $200 million budget.
“But this part about foreign money, that appears to be peanuts, Mr. Axelrod. I mean, do you have any evidence that it’s anything other than peanuts?” the host asked.
“Just this week, we learned that one of the largest groups paying for [campaign] ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations,” the president said to applause in Maryland, a day after a blogger posted the accusation against the chamber.
“So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections, and they won’t tell you where the money for their ads come from. … This is a threat to our democracy,” Mr. Obama said.
The blog is associated with the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning political opponent of the chamber. The center also was influential in providing talking points and strategy for Mr. Obama during his election campaign and during the health care debate.
Also appearing Sunday on CBS, Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, ridiculed as “an unbelievable mentality” Mr. Axelrod’s “prove it wrong” defense of the administration’s charges. He noted that Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, already had called for a criminal investigation of the Chamber of Commerce over its legal use of undisclosed money.
“If people want to change the [campaign-finance] rules and have that debate, that’s fine. But don’t accuse those who are playing by the rules of somehow doing something unethical or illegal. And the notion that David Axelrod … would sit on this set and say, ‘I’m going to lob these charges, and let them prove it’s wrong’ what if I accused the cameraman here of, ‘Hey, you’ve taken some foreign money; you know, prove that that’s wrong’ that is an unbelievable mentality,” he said.