“Secret Foreign Money” Influencing Elections?

With the recovery stalling and health-care reform deeply unpopular, Democrats have employed scare tactics instead to hold onto power.

With just a week to go before November’s midterm elections for Congress, Democrats, apparently confounded by voter frustration with their agenda, are trying a new strategy to persuade Americans not to vote Republican — allege that the opposition is taking in “secret foreign money” to fund its campaigns.

Although Republicans are unlikely to take control of the Senate, they are expected to pick up many congressional seats, probably enough to win a majority in the House of Representatives. Many governorships are also up for grabs while scores of state legislatures are set to turn red this election season.

Democrats went into the elections without a message. While frustration with the administration’s failing economies policies continues to mount and health-care reform remains unpopular, Democratic lawmakers up for reelection opted to lambaste Republicans instead, blaming them for the “mess” America is in.

A recent Politico poll found 64 percent of voters worried about the country being on the wrong track including a majority of 56 percent “strongly” believing this. When people were asked to name the top reasons for holding this opinion, over 20 percent listed President Obama; 12 percent blamed Congress for taking America in the wrong direction while 10 percent identified government deficit spending as the single largest impediment to prosperity.

Promising to “bridge the partisan divide” on the campaign trail, Obama has been blamed by Republicans for failing to take their policy solutions into account. On both health-care and financial reform, they say, Democrats ignored their views and pushed through a “radical” agenda. With vast majorities in both houses of Congress, they were able to legislate almost without having to compromise.

Nonetheless as early as April of this year, President Obama attacked Republicans, alleging that they were taking their cues from Wall Street in opposition to financial reform legislation. Republicans and lobbyists were waging a “relentless campaign” said the president against “even basic, common sense rules” to prevent financial abuse. This summer he again blamed Republicans for stalling “progress” and blocking economic recovery measures “on the backs of the unemployed.”

Since blaming Republicans for lack of “progress” didn’t seem to resonate with voters anymore, two weeks ago the White House unleashed a new strategy: openly questioning the Republicans’ campaign contributors.

The president’s main advisor, David Axelrod claimed on CBS’ Face the Nation that the Chamber of Commerce, which often supports Republican Party causes, was using “foreign money” to fund campaign advertisements. The Chamber disputed this claim and provided the financial records to show that it was bogus. On an annual budget of some $200 million, a mere $100,000 stems from foreign companies. The organization, which lobbies for business interests, expected to spend $50 million on political campaigns this fall.

Asked whether he had any evidence of the Chamber using foreign money to fund campaigns, Axelrod told the interviewer, “Do you have any evidence that it’s not?”

The next week, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs attacked conservative groups spending millions of dollars on campaign ads without having to reveal their donors. “They’re going to impact this election,” he said, “and nobody knows who they are.” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi later warned that if Republicans win the elections, “it would mean that we are now a plutocracy, an oligarchy — whatever these few wealthy, secret, unlimited sources of money are, can control our entire agenda.” The president himself has described the injection of foreign money into the campaign as a “threat to our democracy.”

Both parties take money from corporate sponsors but independent political action groups are not compelled by law to disclose their donors. They are able to finance campaign ads which may influence elections but as Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said on NBC’s Meet the Press this Sunday, not a “shred of evidence” has been produced thus far suggesting that these organizations have accepted financial contributions from foreigners — let alone that Steele’s party would have anything to do with it.

Most Republicans have largely ignored these “secret money” charges and continue to campaign on reining in federal spending and creating jobs. With many voters, Republicans and independents, worried about the deficit — which is set to exceed $1 trillion this year — and nearly one out of ten American workers unemployed, that obviously concerns people more than campaign finance right now. Some House and Senate races are narrowing nonetheless though whether there is any correlation between that movement and campaign finance allegations hasn’t been demonstrated.