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Rhetoric Around U.S. Chamber and Foreign Funding Reaches New Heights

Mudslinging about undisclosed campaign donors and the potential for foreign interference reached a new pitch yesterday in an already surprisingly heated national debate about campaign finance.

President Obama, building off his comments from last week, again didn’t shy away from alluding to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative groups affiliated with Karl Rove when he spoke at a campaign rally on Sunday:

President Obama, speaking at a rally in Philadelphia, said “the American people deserve to know who is trying to sway their elections” and raised the possibility that foreigners could be funding his opponents.

“You don’t know,” Obama said at the rally for Senate candidate Joe Sestak and other Democrats. “It could be the oil industry. It could even be foreign-owned corporations. You don’t know because they don’t have to disclose.”

Obama adviser David Axelrod, meanwhile, pressed the Chamber on CBS’s “Face The Nation” to disclose its donors and put the whole issue to rest, arguing, “If the Chamber opens up its books and says, ‘Here’s where our political money’s coming from,’ then we’ll know. But until they do that, all we have is their assertion.” And the DNC even got in on the action, cutting a new ad that says:

Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie: They’re Bush cronies. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce: They’re shills for big business. And they’re stealing our democracy. Spending millions from secret donors to elect Republicans to do their bidding in Congress. It appears they’ve even taken secret foreign money to influence our elections. It’s incredible: Republicans benefiting from secret foreign money. Tell the Bush crowd and the Chamber of Commerce: Stop stealing our democracy.

Rove and Gillespe, for their part, fought back on the Sunday shows. “Don’t accuse those who are playing by the rules of somehow doing something that is unethical or illegal,” Gillespie argued on “Face the Nation,” while Rove called Obama’s rhetoric a “desperate political ploy.”

Indeed, while the problem of campaign contributions to groups like the Chamber going undisclosed is real, the recent line of attack by Democrats does possess a “Rove-ean” feel. There’s no more evidence that the group collects foreign contributions for campaign spending than there is that any other Section 501(c) nonprofit with opaque accounting processes does, but the White House has grasped — correctly, it seems — that the threat of foreign influence appears more dangerous and exotic to the average American than the more mundane (yet clearly much larger) threat of outsize influence in the political process from Big Business.

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