Swift Reaction as Commentators Condemn Chamber Smear

Oct 8, 2010

by Pat Cleary
It didn't take to long for just about everyone (except the far left) to see the latest smear against the Chamber for what it was, a  partisan attack aimed at silencing the voice of free enterprise.
First one out of the box was the Center for Competitive Politics with its thorough dismembering of the thin arguments around the Think Progress post.

"While Think Progress raises an interesting question about the source of the Chamber's funds for political advertising (more on that in a second), it also manages to completely demolish on one major talking point self-styled reformers have been touting since the Citizens United ruling came out while also pointing out how the "reform" community is generally only worried about stopping political spending from the business community while leaving unions unfettered.

But if the question can and should be asked of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, what about other entities that receive funds from foreign entities? For example, the Wikipedia entry on the Service Employees International Union states:

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is a labor union representing about 1.8 million workers in over 100 occupations in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.

Likewise, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters also reports members (and therefore, member dues) from Canada, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has members not just in Canada but also Panama and several Caribbean nations.

And the AFL-CIO includes several member unions that include foreign members, such as the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers, the  Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers' International Union and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers.

In fact, nearly half of the membership of the AFL-CIO have the term "International" in their names or some other indication of foreign membership (the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada), and it is a certainty that other unions also have foreign membership.

So, both the U.S. Chamber and the AFL-CIO have involvement with affiliated foreign entities, but only the Chamber's foreign members are of concern to the "reformers" at Think Progress and the Center for American Progress. I guess we can file this away as yet another example of why few believed the "reform" spin that the DISCLOSE Act treated corporations and unions equally."

They followed that up with another post Thursday, the title of which captured the breathless rush to judgment by the Gray Lady and others, "Guilty Until Proven Innocent" that said in part:

"Despite the uproar from Democratic candidates and allied groups, no actual evidence has emerged that the Chamber violated the law, which prohibits foreign nationals from funding political activity. It's not improper for 501(c)(6) business associations such as the Chamber to accept money from foreign affiliates to fund international operations as long as the organization maintains a reasonable accounting procedure to ensure such funds aren't spent on American politics. The Chamber has repeatedly said it has such a system in place and no foreign funds were spent on its political efforts.

Furthermore, the idea that the Chamber is funding its political ad campaign with this money is laughable. The Chamber has an annual budget in excess of $150 million, of which it appears about two-tenths of one percent comes from foreign enterprises."

NewsBusters, a media watchdog, noted the willingness of lefty bloviators to jump on the smear despite the abject lack of evidence in the Think Progress allegation :

"For a few prominent media outlets, this lack of substantive evidence is apparently not a strong enough deterrent. In fact, neither the New York Times nor MSNBC seemed to really care about the lack of evidence. They used the ThinkProgress report to bemoan foreign influences on the American political process, apparently accepting at face value - despite the total lack of evidence - ThinkProgress's insistence that those influences actually exist.... In other words, the onus is on the Chamber to prove that these unsubstantiated allegations are not true."

NewsBusters' Mark Finkelstein piled on later, noting that the "expert" called in to bloviate on the issue by Ed Schultz on MSNBC was none other than Chamber foe and Steelworkers' Union President Leo Gerard - a Canadian! Are his contributions legal? You can find them here.
The Business and Media Institute, another media watchdog, referring to Think Progress' benefactor George Soros, said:

"What do you do when one of your largest donors is a naturalized American citizen who was once convicted of insider trading in Europe? You look around Washington, D.C. for institutions you disagree with and go after their contributors."

Paul Mirengoff of the popular and well-respected PowerLine added another thoughtful piece to the debate:

"I'd like to make three points about this claim. First, there doesn't appear to be any evidence to support it. The Chamber says it has a process in place to ensure that foreign funds are not spent in U.S. elections. If so, as I understand it, there is no unlawful conduct. Moreover, neither Think Progress nor any those who picked up their claim, appears to have any evidence that contradicts what the Chamber says. Simply put, the left's attack on the Chamber appears to be made up out of whole cloth.

Second, as the Center for Competitive Politics points out, there is a serious tension between the claim of Think Progress and other leftists that the Chamber's alleged conduct violates the law and the standard leftist talking point that the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United opened the floodgates to foreign spending in U.S. elections. In reality, as Think Progress' allegations of illegality against the Chamber acknowledge, foreign spending in U.S. elections remains illegal. Again, however, there doesn't seem to be any evidence that the Chamber is facilitating such foreign spending.

Third, Think Progress' fallback position is that even if the Chamber isn't putting foreign money into American campaigns, money is fungible, so that foreign money frees up other money for campaigns. But to the extent this argument has any validity, it also applies to a number of unions. The AFL-CIO has a robust foreign program. Moreover, as the Center for Competitive Politics notes, the Service Employees International Union represents employees in Canada. So does the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. And the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has members not just in Canada but also in Panama and several Caribbean nations. Don't their dues free up money that these powerhouse unions can use in U.S. political campaigns?

The Chamber's conduct is no more scandalous than that of these unions, which is to say, on the evidence presented so far, it is not scandalous at all."

On RedState, Brian Faughnan noted the inherent hypocrisy in the left's claim here.

"Before we dive into the frenzied attack some on the Left are mounting against the US Chamber of Commerce, let's look at the record, shall we? While the Left is concerned today about the possibility of foreign money influencing elections, how vigilant have they been in the past? Let's consider their scrutiny of some notable episodes in the past."

He goes on to mention Al Gore's famous Buddhist temple antics, the AFL-CIO's coordination with the International Trade Union Confederation and the ubiquitous George Soros, when as Faughnan notes, "much of his fortune derives from earnings abroad."
It's been heartening to see so many well-respected commentators weigh in on this issue - all of whom see it for what it is, a blatantly partisan attack aimed at stemming the left's slide in the polls. So we'll just go back to focusing on the important stuff, like creating jobs, while the left goes hunting for its next non-issue.

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