The Democrats’ Foreign Money

by Deroy Murdock

The president has some nerve complaining about campaign funds from abroad.

According to Washington Democrats and their allies, the GOP has been overrun by foreign agents, surely clad in trench coats, dark sunglasses, and black wingtips — all the better for stashing microfilm. These international interlopers supposedly are channeling rivers of overseas cash into attack ads designed to end the Obama Era and restore the Dark Ages that prevailed before the advent of Hope and Change.

Seemingly referring to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, President Obama said earlier this month that that “one of the largest groups paying for these ads regularly takes in money from foreign sources.” According to a Democratic National Committee TV commercial, “It appears they’ve even taken secret foreign money to influence our elections.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) complained about “all of this money that is pouring in from special interests, unidentified, unlimited money from any source, including foreign sources.”

“No other country on earth would tolerate this,” the United Steelworkers’ international president, Leo W. Gerard, told MSNBC. “America is not for sale to the Chamber of Commerce or foreign corporations.”

Yes, Democrats are obsessed with the money that the Chamber receives from its foreign branches, such as the American Chamber of Commerce in Buenos Aires, or AmCham Argentina for short.

The Chamber’s website explains how AmChams work: “AmChams are independent organizations, created to represent American companies in overseas markets, and they do not fund U.S. Chamber political programs. Collectively, AmChams pay nominal dues to the Chamber — approximately $100,000 total across all 115 AmChams. Under our budgeting system, the nominal funds received from AmChams and business councils are used to support our international programs.”

(Full disclosure: I have been a guest at U.S. Chamber events and was compensated for organizing a Chamber outreach function to discuss public-policy issues.)

So, this hubbub revolves around $100,000? How much influence can one or more foreigners purchase for $100,000, given the Chamber’s $200 million operating budget?

Moreover, according to OpenSecrets.org, in 2008, the Chamber donated $258,907 directly to federal-level candidates, parties, and PACs. Republicans got $177,576 (68.6 percent) of this money.

But wait. The remaining $81,331 (31.4 percent) went to Democrats. Are they tainted by this dirty foreign cash? If so, how soon will they give it back? If they don’t give it back, is that because they are magically immune from influence peddling?

Democratic bellyaching about an alleged foreign invasion of the GOP is comical when viewed alongside to Democratic insouciance about the foreign cash and in-kind services given to them and their allies. For starters, Democrats are up to their scalps in union contributions that are far more “soiled” with foreign fingerprints than are the U.S. Chamber’s donations.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation provided me with data taken from the U.S. Labor Department’s LM-2 disclosure forms filed by 23 unions that make substantial campaign donations. These figures are from each union’s 2008 reporting period (either calendar or fiscal year 2008). Rather than union dues, the money disclosed on the LM-2 forms is income from international affiliates, overseas royalties, legal-settlement payments, and other miscellany.

In total, these 23 unions collected $23,881,652 in disclosed income from foreign sources. (Dues payments would push this total far higher.) The United Steelworkers of America AFL-CIO received $1,627,435. The Carpenters and Joiners of America took in $4,200,535 from foreigners in 2008, while the Director’s Guild of America received $15,283,236, mainly in royalties, from outside the U.S.

Much of this money arrived from points north. But it’s not just Canada. The unions’ global cash also arrived from — among other places — the Grand Caymans, Japan, Lithuania, Switzerland, and even the Vatican ($15,255 paid, fittingly, to the Carpenters).

This foreign money presumably was segregated from union campaign coffers. Still, it is interesting to see how these 23 unions distributed their political cash. While the Chamber was giving $258,907 in 2008, these unions jointly contributed $35,025,103 to candidates, PACs, and parties. Democrats scored $32,859,130, or 93.8 percent, of this cash. Republicans got the remaining $2,165,973, or  6.2 percent.

So, while Democrats demonize the Chamber’s entire political-giving operation based on $100,000 in international income under a “one-drop rule,” these 23 unions alone have a wad of foreign cash nearly 239 times that size. And Big Labor’s giving is significantly less bipartisan — it’s much more pro-Democrat (93.8 percent) than the Chamber’s checks are pro-Republican (68.6 percent).

(For details on these 23 unions’ foreign income and political giving, please click here. For an Excel spreadsheet, click here.)

“For union bosses to question the sources of anyone’s money is the height of hypocrisy,” says Patrick T. Semmens, legal-information director with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. “Not only does Big Labor get hundreds of millions of dollars from overseas, the majority of dues money that unions collect in the U.S. comes from workers whom union officials would have fired if they refused to pay.”

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in particular has been unfriendly to Republicans and friendly to foreign donations. It directly gave Democrats $2,771,213, or 95.3 percent, of its donations to candidates, parties, and PACs. Republicans got the rest: $137,000 (4.7 percent). Its members’ mandatory dues supply SEIU’s political treasure chest.

Now, what if some of those dues come from illegal aliens, i.e., foreigners who have infiltrated America in violation of federal law? If their money landed in the SEIU’s political accounts and then got paid to politicians, wouldn’t that constitute the exact kind of foreign influence that has left Democrats’ undergear in knots?

Well, actually, SEIU is very comfortable with this notion.

“SEIU is the largest union of immigrant workers in the country, and a number of them are undocumented,” Executive Vice President Eliseo Medina has said. “But let me hasten to add, these are not just Latinos. In our membership are Eastern Europeans, Irish, Polish, Indians, Chinese — the whole world is represented among the undocumented and also in our membership.”

Isn’t this at least as worrisome as the U.S. Chamber’s notorious $100,000?

So, the president has some nerve complaining about foreign money. And some of the foreign money his own campaign received wasn’t even filtered through U.S.-headquartered unions. In October 2008, the Washington Examiner reported on “the $32,332.19 that appears to have come from two brothers living in a Hamas-controlled Palestinian refugee camp in Rafah, GA (that’s Gaza, not Georgia). The brothers’ cash is part of a flood of illegal foreign contributions accepted by the Obama campaign.”

This entire episode confirms the tone deafness of the White House’s political operation. Did Barack Obama’s advisers really think that the president of the United States could throw this stone without well-targeted GOP stones quickly crashing back through his weatherized windows? And not just any stones, but the kind that expose the foreign cash collected by the Democrats’ most loyal and generous donors? Team Obama should have understood that raising this issue would cause their noggins to get badly thumped, right before a midterm election.

It is nearly impossible to believe that this is the same crew that ran an almost flawless campaign a mere two years ago.

– New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.