Is Foreign Money Fueling Attack Ads in the U.S.?

Think Progress is suspicious

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Think Progress, a publication of the liberal think-tank Center for American Progress, made some waves Tuesday by announcing that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is likely using foreign funding to run attack ads against Democrats. This is a particularly big deal, explained Think Progress's Lee Fang, because

The Chamber has promised to spend an unprecedented $75 million to defeat candidates like Jack Conway, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jerry Brown, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), and Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA). As of Sept. 15th, the Chamber had aired more than 8,000 ads on behalf of GOP Senate candidates alone ... The Chamber’s spending has dwarfed every other issue group and most political party candidate committee spending.

It turns out, though, that the ad money comes from the Chamber's "general account, which solicits foreign funding." So? Poor optics aside, this could be a legal issue: Think Progress talks to "legal experts" who say this means "the Chamber is likely skirting longstanding campaign finance law that bans the involvement of foreign corporations in American elections."

  • Actually, Foreign Money 'Is a Bit of a Pandora's Box,' says Politico's Ben Smith, particularly "as non-profit groups increasingly penetrate politics. The Center for American Progress, which publishes ThinkProgress, could, if it wanted, solicit (and keep secret) foreign contributions." He notes that the Chamber has responded to the story by denying that foreign money is being used for political activities. The "protestations aren't likely to satisfy critics," he observes.
  • Not Just Foreign Businesses--Foreign Governments  Some of this money may actually come from "business run by foreign governments," points out liberal Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly. To rephrase: "some of the attack ads you've seen from the Chamber may very well have been financed, at least in part, by foreign governments. Are voters O.K. with this?"
  • Foreign Money Not Necessarily Being Used, points out The Washington Independent's Jesse Zwick, "but it doesn't seem like there's any real safeguard in place to prevent it from happening, either." Zwick also highlights, however, a response by the Center for Competitive Politics, which "has gotten in on the act by asking why Think Progress didn't also look at unions' international membership dues." On the other hand, Zwick's not terribly impressed with CCP's research: the response included no "references at all" to support the talk about the unions and foreign money, "apart from [the unions'] Wikipedia entries."
  • Unions  Sean Parnell's point, at the Center for Competitive Politics, is that Think Progress "raises a legitimate question: : how can funds from foreign entities that flow into organizations such the U.S. Chamber of Commerce can be prevented from being spent in U.S. elections ... ?" But if the Chamber is a suspect as far as foreign money is concerned, so is, for example, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which "reports members (and therefore, member dues) from Canada." Others report members in countries of the Caribbean as well.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.