The foreign money accusation

Election rhetoric has become gotcha-games of name-calling and insinuation, a matter of building up one’s own image and damaging the image of your opponent.  This debases the positive argumentation that is necessary for a democratic republic.  Yes, both sides do it.  The latest gambit is Democrats playing the xenophobia card, raising the sinister specter of foreigners buying the American election by funding Republicans, all without a shred of evidence. The President himself is doing this! George Will analyzes a charge that President Obama threw out:

He recently said: “Just this week, we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations. So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections.” It takes a perverse craftsmanship to write something that slippery. Consider:

“Just this week, we learned. . . .” That is a fib. The fact that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — this is what he is talking about but for some reason is reluctant to say so — receives membership dues from multinational corporations, some of them foreign-owned, is not something Obama suddenly “learned.” It is about as secret as the location of the chamber’s headquarters, a leisurely three-minute walk from the White House.

“Regularly takes in money from foreign corporations.” Obama cites no evidence to refute the chamber’s contention that it sequesters such funds — less than one-twentieth of 1 percent of its budget — from the money it devotes to political advocacy. The AFL-CIO, which spends heavily in support of Democratic candidates, also receives money from associated labor entities abroad, but Obama has not expressed angst about this.

“So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections.” The “so” is a Nixonian touch. It dishonestly implies what Obama prudently flinches from charging — that the “huge sums” are foreign money.

via George F. Will – The Democratic vision of Big Brother.

Meanwhile,unions that are giving lots of money to Democrats often have foreign members, not to mention illegal immigrants.

There are also lots of foreign-owned companies whose American affiliates are giving money to candidates. This is legal, as long as the money is just from the American branch. Though these companies give to both parties, according to the Washington Post, Democrats are getting most of it.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • fws

    What I hear is that the real argument is for sunlight. The argument is that we don´t know who is contributing to who and that we should have the right to know this in detail.

    I think this is probably a good idea. I am not saying it is THE only idea that would be good. or even correct.

    But I like the idea of giving as much freedom as possible , with the price being as much transparency as possible.

    There is a danger to this invasion of privacy. If the government knows for example where all your money is and knows what library books you read and such, this could threaten liberty. But I am not sure how that argument can seriously be made against campaign contributions. Somebody care to make em?

  • fws

    What I hear is that the real argument is for sunlight. The argument is that we don´t know who is contributing to who and that we should have the right to know this in detail.

    I think this is probably a good idea. I am not saying it is THE only idea that would be good. or even correct.

    But I like the idea of giving as much freedom as possible , with the price being as much transparency as possible.

    There is a danger to this invasion of privacy. If the government knows for example where all your money is and knows what library books you read and such, this could threaten liberty. But I am not sure how that argument can seriously be made against campaign contributions. Somebody care to make em?

  • WebMonk

    Cash is extremely fungible, and so even though a group might “sequester” funds so they aren’t used directly for advocacy, those funds free up other funds which can be used for advocacy, so really it’s a wash.

    A million dollars comes in from a foreign source. It is strictly earmarked for building maintenance. That frees up a million dollars from US sources which can then be used for advocacy.

    Talk of “sequestering” the funds is merely talk and doesn’t affect the reality that foreign funds do affect how much money can be used for advocacy.

  • WebMonk

    Cash is extremely fungible, and so even though a group might “sequester” funds so they aren’t used directly for advocacy, those funds free up other funds which can be used for advocacy, so really it’s a wash.

    A million dollars comes in from a foreign source. It is strictly earmarked for building maintenance. That frees up a million dollars from US sources which can then be used for advocacy.

    Talk of “sequestering” the funds is merely talk and doesn’t affect the reality that foreign funds do affect how much money can be used for advocacy.

  • Rich Shipe

    It has been a while since I’ve been involved in politics but for them to “sequester” the funds is actually easier and more legit than it sounds. Someone correct me if I’ve got it wrong here…

    No membership dues can go toward the PAC giving. All money coming from a PAC were specifically raised from within the membership for that purpose. So when Ford Motors PAC gives to a candidate that money didn’t come from the corporation accounts but was raised from within the organization for the purpose of giving to candidates. The corporate accounts can only be used to pay for the administration of the PAC and not the giving of the PAC.

    But if the PAC is just making ads and not specifically endorsing a candidate then I’m not sure what the rules are.

  • Rich Shipe

    It has been a while since I’ve been involved in politics but for them to “sequester” the funds is actually easier and more legit than it sounds. Someone correct me if I’ve got it wrong here…

    No membership dues can go toward the PAC giving. All money coming from a PAC were specifically raised from within the membership for that purpose. So when Ford Motors PAC gives to a candidate that money didn’t come from the corporation accounts but was raised from within the organization for the purpose of giving to candidates. The corporate accounts can only be used to pay for the administration of the PAC and not the giving of the PAC.

    But if the PAC is just making ads and not specifically endorsing a candidate then I’m not sure what the rules are.

  • WebMonk

    Rich, I think you’re talking about the other side of donations – the donating side of things. I was referring to those who receive the funds – for them to “sequester” funds is a practical fiction.

  • WebMonk

    Rich, I think you’re talking about the other side of donations – the donating side of things. I was referring to those who receive the funds – for them to “sequester” funds is a practical fiction.

  • Rich Shipe

    No, I got what you meant… I think. They could use the membership fees to support their administrative costs however they want (what you wrote) but couldn’t donate to a candidate until they raised money from their US membership for that purpose.

    So they have a nice office DC paid for in small part by foreign money but they can’t do anything in the elections until they do a fundraising campaign (no dues can be given to candidates, even US) for that purpose. “Dear Members, Now that we have our nice office in DC (paid for by your dues), would you consider giving us money that we could give to the candidates we’ve endorsed?”

  • Rich Shipe

    No, I got what you meant… I think. They could use the membership fees to support their administrative costs however they want (what you wrote) but couldn’t donate to a candidate until they raised money from their US membership for that purpose.

    So they have a nice office DC paid for in small part by foreign money but they can’t do anything in the elections until they do a fundraising campaign (no dues can be given to candidates, even US) for that purpose. “Dear Members, Now that we have our nice office in DC (paid for by your dues), would you consider giving us money that we could give to the candidates we’ve endorsed?”

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Yes, Rich, thanks. I should have brought that out more in the original post. The foreign companies, etc., have to set up Political Action Committees (PACS), which can only be from their American members.

    On the unions’ foreign membership, a good many of the American unions also have chapters in Canada.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Yes, Rich, thanks. I should have brought that out more in the original post. The foreign companies, etc., have to set up Political Action Committees (PACS), which can only be from their American members.

    On the unions’ foreign membership, a good many of the American unions also have chapters in Canada.

  • WebMonk

    “Dear Members, Now that we have our nice office in DC (paid for by your dues), would you consider giving us money that we could give to the candidates we’ve endorsed?”

    From what I can tell though, the funds they (Chamber of Commerce) bring in through fundraising are used to support their infrastructure as well as go toward supporting candidates – their “nice office in DC” isn’t just paid for by the dues, it is also paid for by their fundraising.

    So, every dollar which comes in from foreign donations or fees, frees up a dollar gathered from US fundraising to be used toward political action instead of infrastructure. That’s why “sequestering” isn’t much more than a legal fiction for them – practically speaking, every dollar donated from a foreign source frees up a dollar donated from a US source.

  • WebMonk

    “Dear Members, Now that we have our nice office in DC (paid for by your dues), would you consider giving us money that we could give to the candidates we’ve endorsed?”

    From what I can tell though, the funds they (Chamber of Commerce) bring in through fundraising are used to support their infrastructure as well as go toward supporting candidates – their “nice office in DC” isn’t just paid for by the dues, it is also paid for by their fundraising.

    So, every dollar which comes in from foreign donations or fees, frees up a dollar gathered from US fundraising to be used toward political action instead of infrastructure. That’s why “sequestering” isn’t much more than a legal fiction for them – practically speaking, every dollar donated from a foreign source frees up a dollar donated from a US source.

  • WebMonk

    As much as it annoys me to contradict Will, I really think he’s making a mountain out of a molehill when he complains about the “Just this week” phrase.

    It’s standard political and dramatic statement. EVERYONE does it in the political arena. It’s as common in politics as breathing, and calling it out in this instance is being pedantic and overly picky. If he were to apply this standard of criticism to every political speech he discusses, it would be a copy-paste paragraph he would have to use EVERY time.

    It doesn’t excuse the practice by politicians, but picking on it at this point is pretty silly.

  • WebMonk

    As much as it annoys me to contradict Will, I really think he’s making a mountain out of a molehill when he complains about the “Just this week” phrase.

    It’s standard political and dramatic statement. EVERYONE does it in the political arena. It’s as common in politics as breathing, and calling it out in this instance is being pedantic and overly picky. If he were to apply this standard of criticism to every political speech he discusses, it would be a copy-paste paragraph he would have to use EVERY time.

    It doesn’t excuse the practice by politicians, but picking on it at this point is pretty silly.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Isn’t this post itself a form of “election rhetoric”, of “building up one’s own [party's] image and damaging the image of your opponent”? Witness the obligatory “fair and balanced” nod to bipartisanship — “both sides do it” — followed by a series of attacks on solely one side.

    “The latest gambit is …” Oh, come on. This is no more truly the “latest gambit” than it was true that “just this week, we learned.” In both cases, the speaker is focusing on what he wants to due to (I argue) partisan reasons, and claiming that this focus is merely news-driven. Do the Republicans ever “play the xenophobia card”? Yes, didn’t you read where it says “both sides do it”? But will we be discussing the Republican side? Hello? Anyone?

    “All without a shred of evidence.” Given that Will himself is analyzing said evidence, it’s hard to argue there isn’t a shred of it. One may disagree about the evidence or what it says, but it seems disingenuous to say there isn’t any.

    And while I’m sure it gave Will great joy to say about Obama’s statement, “That is a fib,” he over-reached. First of all, Will would be hard-pressed to claim to know what “we learned” this week, whether speaking for Obama or the people in Maryland to whom he was speaking. Furthermore, as PolitiFact.com noted[1], Obama may have been referring to a post from ThinkProgress.org[2] on that very topic that was, in fact, news from that week. I certainly was unaware of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s funding sources, but then, I don’t typically care.

    And, as WebMonk has already noted, it is certainly a response to claim that there are systems in place to keep fungible cash from crossing legal or ethical lines, though it is rarely a convincing one. Republicans and “conservatives” decry such systems when it suits them — public abortion funding, for one example — but defend them as magically effective when it suits them, too. Perhaps “conservative” funding sources are much better at sequestering funds?

    What’s weird is that Will tacked this poor fisking of Obama’s comment onto the end of an otherwise good column decrying the focus on “process rather than policy”.

    But this is just more Democrat-bashing, not, as Veith would have us believe, tactic-bashing. Can we be honest about that?

    [1]politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2010/oct/11/barack-obama/president-barack-obama-says-foreign-money-coming-u/
    [2]thinkprogress.org/2010/10/05/foreign-chamber-commerce/

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Isn’t this post itself a form of “election rhetoric”, of “building up one’s own [party's] image and damaging the image of your opponent”? Witness the obligatory “fair and balanced” nod to bipartisanship — “both sides do it” — followed by a series of attacks on solely one side.

    “The latest gambit is …” Oh, come on. This is no more truly the “latest gambit” than it was true that “just this week, we learned.” In both cases, the speaker is focusing on what he wants to due to (I argue) partisan reasons, and claiming that this focus is merely news-driven. Do the Republicans ever “play the xenophobia card”? Yes, didn’t you read where it says “both sides do it”? But will we be discussing the Republican side? Hello? Anyone?

    “All without a shred of evidence.” Given that Will himself is analyzing said evidence, it’s hard to argue there isn’t a shred of it. One may disagree about the evidence or what it says, but it seems disingenuous to say there isn’t any.

    And while I’m sure it gave Will great joy to say about Obama’s statement, “That is a fib,” he over-reached. First of all, Will would be hard-pressed to claim to know what “we learned” this week, whether speaking for Obama or the people in Maryland to whom he was speaking. Furthermore, as PolitiFact.com noted[1], Obama may have been referring to a post from ThinkProgress.org[2] on that very topic that was, in fact, news from that week. I certainly was unaware of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s funding sources, but then, I don’t typically care.

    And, as WebMonk has already noted, it is certainly a response to claim that there are systems in place to keep fungible cash from crossing legal or ethical lines, though it is rarely a convincing one. Republicans and “conservatives” decry such systems when it suits them — public abortion funding, for one example — but defend them as magically effective when it suits them, too. Perhaps “conservative” funding sources are much better at sequestering funds?

    What’s weird is that Will tacked this poor fisking of Obama’s comment onto the end of an otherwise good column decrying the focus on “process rather than policy”.

    But this is just more Democrat-bashing, not, as Veith would have us believe, tactic-bashing. Can we be honest about that?

    [1]politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2010/oct/11/barack-obama/president-barack-obama-says-foreign-money-coming-u/
    [2]thinkprogress.org/2010/10/05/foreign-chamber-commerce/

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    tODD, the “both sides do it” was a complaint about political rhetoric and image manipulation and degradation. I’m focusing on a specific charge that foreigners are trying to buy the election. Do you really not see that President Obama is using dishonest rhetoric here? Especially when the charge could just as easily be made of the money that Democrats are getting? Yes, of course I am bashing Democrats for that. Do you not think this should be bashed? How can you say that calling someone on this is an example of the dirty politics I am decrying? That makes no sense.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    tODD, the “both sides do it” was a complaint about political rhetoric and image manipulation and degradation. I’m focusing on a specific charge that foreigners are trying to buy the election. Do you really not see that President Obama is using dishonest rhetoric here? Especially when the charge could just as easily be made of the money that Democrats are getting? Yes, of course I am bashing Democrats for that. Do you not think this should be bashed? How can you say that calling someone on this is an example of the dirty politics I am decrying? That makes no sense.

  • DonS

    Of course, the real issue is that it is the President of the United States making this ridiculous charge, and maintaining it for weeks now, attempting to gin up a controversy where none exists. Even those on the Democratic side admit that the Chamber has done nothing wrong legally, and that Democratic groups have done and are doing the same exact thing, though often with much greater foreign funding ratios than is the case with the Chamber. If there is a transparency problem, work to change the law in a Constitutionally permissible manner. But this effort is not a legitimate push to change the law. It is a naked political ploy to attempt to blunt an upcoming electoral train wreck. This is what Will is objecting to, and rightfully so. The President has not business being so petty and partisan.

  • DonS

    Of course, the real issue is that it is the President of the United States making this ridiculous charge, and maintaining it for weeks now, attempting to gin up a controversy where none exists. Even those on the Democratic side admit that the Chamber has done nothing wrong legally, and that Democratic groups have done and are doing the same exact thing, though often with much greater foreign funding ratios than is the case with the Chamber. If there is a transparency problem, work to change the law in a Constitutionally permissible manner. But this effort is not a legitimate push to change the law. It is a naked political ploy to attempt to blunt an upcoming electoral train wreck. This is what Will is objecting to, and rightfully so. The President has not business being so petty and partisan.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith (@10), you asked “Do you really not see that President Obama is using dishonest rhetoric here?” Again, I think it’s naive to believe that the Chamber of Commerce is somehow immune from foreign influence here, or that cash isn’t easily moved around, accounting techniques notwithstanding. And I think WebMonk has explained this already. So, no I don’t think Obama is being “dishonest” by pointing out the foreign influence in a conservative group that is buying lots of political ads. I would agree that such a complaint would be hypocritical if not also pointed at liberal groups in a similar position. Hypocrisy is not the same as dishonesty.

    “Yes, of course I am bashing Democrats for that. Do you not think this should be bashed?” I think it’s fine to bash the tactic. But you and Will appear to have only bashed it inasmuch as Democrats have done it. To the degree that Republicans or conservatives have engaged in the same tactics, they do not merit quite as many paragraphs, but only a “both sides do it” phrase. So, again, is it the tactics that are deplorable, or is it Democrats that are deplorable? The entry above makes me think it’s only the latter.

    So when the President points out a questionable tactic (in funding; i.e. allowing fungible foreign influence) and decries its use by his political foes (but ignores the tactic’s use by his political allies), that is “dishonest”. But when conservatives here point out a questionable tactic (in campaigning; i.e. hypocrisy) and decry its use by their political foes (but ignore the tactic’s use by their political allies or possibly even themselves), that is swell?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith (@10), you asked “Do you really not see that President Obama is using dishonest rhetoric here?” Again, I think it’s naive to believe that the Chamber of Commerce is somehow immune from foreign influence here, or that cash isn’t easily moved around, accounting techniques notwithstanding. And I think WebMonk has explained this already. So, no I don’t think Obama is being “dishonest” by pointing out the foreign influence in a conservative group that is buying lots of political ads. I would agree that such a complaint would be hypocritical if not also pointed at liberal groups in a similar position. Hypocrisy is not the same as dishonesty.

    “Yes, of course I am bashing Democrats for that. Do you not think this should be bashed?” I think it’s fine to bash the tactic. But you and Will appear to have only bashed it inasmuch as Democrats have done it. To the degree that Republicans or conservatives have engaged in the same tactics, they do not merit quite as many paragraphs, but only a “both sides do it” phrase. So, again, is it the tactics that are deplorable, or is it Democrats that are deplorable? The entry above makes me think it’s only the latter.

    So when the President points out a questionable tactic (in funding; i.e. allowing fungible foreign influence) and decries its use by his political foes (but ignores the tactic’s use by his political allies), that is “dishonest”. But when conservatives here point out a questionable tactic (in campaigning; i.e. hypocrisy) and decry its use by their political foes (but ignore the tactic’s use by their political allies or possibly even themselves), that is swell?

  • fws

    Dr Veith @ 10

    I think what Todd is pointing out is really simple:

    The proper point of criticism should be:

    Is the new lack of transparency good or bad in campaign contributions? [place arguments pro and con here]

    Is there a a probably chance that the lack of transparency allows for convert and undue foreign influence of elections [ place arguments here]

    Should there be at least a sunshine law here [ place arguments pro and con here]

    There should be, and is, no argument as to whether or not both parties will take advantage of any legal loophole to win elections. They both will.

    I hope I summarized your argument correctly Todd.

  • fws

    Dr Veith @ 10

    I think what Todd is pointing out is really simple:

    The proper point of criticism should be:

    Is the new lack of transparency good or bad in campaign contributions? [place arguments pro and con here]

    Is there a a probably chance that the lack of transparency allows for convert and undue foreign influence of elections [ place arguments here]

    Should there be at least a sunshine law here [ place arguments pro and con here]

    There should be, and is, no argument as to whether or not both parties will take advantage of any legal loophole to win elections. They both will.

    I hope I summarized your argument correctly Todd.

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