House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently said Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is the primary cause behind Democrats’ midterm woes. Without an influx of corporate money on behalf of the GOP, she told the Huffington Post, “we were really pretty confident about winning the election. We still are. But this makes it harder.” Right, and Charlie Crist’s biggest problem is his throwing arm.
Democrats have been in a fuss ever since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United earlier this year. Even though the Democratic party has outraised and outspent the GOP by considerable margins thus far, when it comes to outside interest groups, Republican allies are outspending their Democratic counterparts nearly seven-to-one.
The initial Democratic response to Citizens United was to try to pass a bill — the Disclose Act — that would have essentially undone much of the court’s decision. It cleared the House in June but fizzled in the Senate. Just last month, it failed a second time to obtain cloture. Now, with their electoral prospects looking increasingly dim, Democrats and their liberal allies have launched an all-out assault on the nonprofit and third-party interest groups supporting Republicans in this election, facts — and hypocrisy — be damned.
Several days after the Disclose Act failed its second cloture vote, Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) wrote a letter to the IRS urging an investigation of several Republican-allied groups, notably Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit tied to GOP heavyweights Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie. Baucus said he was prepared to take “appropriate legislative action,” based on the IRS findings.
A number of powerful Democrats have joined the offensive. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against a nonprofit group created by GOP lobbyist Scott Reed. The DCCC alleged that the Commission on Hope, Growth and Opportunity failed to file disclosure reports for $900,000 worth of television ads targeting incumbent Democrats. Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told a crowd of liberal supporters his committee might order an investigation of Karl Rove.
On October 5, the “professional Left” opened up a new front against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. ThinkProgress, a blog affiliated with the liberal policy group Center for American Progress, published the results of an “investigation” accusing the Chamber of violating campaign-finance laws. The blog cites anonymous “legal experts” to allege that the Chamber is “likely” violating campaign-finance law, which bans the use of foreign funds to influence American elections. MoveOn.org promptly promptly sent a letter to the Department of Justice urging a criminal investigation into the matter.
The following day, the New York Times published an editorial called “Clean and Open American Elections,” essentially a cut-and-paste rewrite of the ThinkProgress story:
TP: And while the Chamber will likely assert it has internal controls, foreign money is fungible, permitting the Chamber to run its unprecedented attack campaign.
NYT: The chamber firmly denies the charge, saying its internal accounting rules prevent any foreign money from being used for political purposes. Money, however, is fungible, and it is impossible for an outsider to know whether the group is following its rules.
Democrats in vulnerable races have seized on these allegations to attack their opponents and bolster their campaigns, with encouragement from the party leadership. A senior Democratic strategist told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, “Every single House Democrat being attacked by the Chamber of Commerce should use this extraordinary revelation to their benefit.”
#PAGE# Rep. Tom Perriello (D., Va.), facing a tough reelection battle this year, recently accused the Chamber of taking part in “fundamentally un-American and undemocratic” activity. Sen. Michael Bennet (D., Colo.) has called on his Republican opponent, Ken Buck, to renounce the Chamber’s support. Sen. Russ Feingold (D., Wis.), Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania, Lee Fisher in Ohio, and others have done the same.
President Obama has been out attacking Crossroads GPS and the Chamber of Commerce on the campaign trail. Speaking at events in Maryland and Illinois on Thursday, Obama mentioned the allegations against the Chamber, saying groups like these constitute “a threat to our democracy.”
More like a threat to the Democratic majority in Congress. Jeff Patch, spokesman for the Center for Competitive Politics, said there is an undeniable political motive behind the allegations. Regarding the charges leveled against Crossroads GPS, he said the group was “certainly not” violating the law. “This is about intimidating donors not to give to these groups,” Patch said.
Jonathan Collegio, communications director for American Crossroads, an affiliate of Crossroads GPS, wonders where the uproar over interest-group spending was several years ago. “There’s obviously a lot of selective outrage here,” Collegio said. “The government wasn’t interested in these groups when they were promoting a pro-big-government agenda.”
This year’s spending disparity marks a significant turnaround from recent years, when liberal interest groups dominated election-year spending. Labor unions alone spent more than $400 million supporting Democratic candidates in 2008. MoveOn.org spent $30 million in 2008 and has pledged to do the same in 2010. President Obama famously rejected public funding for his campaign, though few of his supporters saw reason to object then.
The charges against the Chamber of Commerce are even more tenuous. ThinkProgress claims that the Chamber has received at least $300,000 in dues from foreign companies, and is using those funds for political purposes, which is illegal. That amounts to less than half of one percent of the $75 million the Chamber plans to spend on the midterm elections.
The Chamber has called the accusations “unfounded, deceitful, and completely erroneous.” Spokeswoman Tita Freeman said that while the Chamber receives dues from AmChams, independent organizations representing U.S. companies overseas, they do not fund any of the Chamber’s political activities.
Lee Fang, the blogger behind the ThinkProgress story, exposed the inadequacy of his own claims during an appearance on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, saying (emphasis added):
These funds, they’re fungible they can be moved around, we really don’t know. What’s alarming is the Chamber of Commerce hasn’t put out any documentation, they haven’t proved that there’s some firewall, they’re just saying, “Hey, trust us.”
Fortunately we don’t live under the legal system Mr. Fang seems to be espousing, one of “guilty until proven innocent.” If we did, labor groups with international affiliates, such as the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union, would have reason to be worried.
It remains to be seen whether this tactic will prove successful for the Democrats. Either way, they are certainly thrilled to be talking about something than other than jobs, health care, cap-and-trade, the stimulus, federal spending, and debt — the list goes on. It’s hard to imagine most voters feeling the same way.
— Andrew Stiles writes for NRO’s Battle ’10 blog.