Republicans and their allies in business are howling
that a Democratic charge that "secret foreign money" is fueling GOP campaigns is a dog that just won't hunt. Now the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is helping conservative Blue Dog
Democrats in a bid to prove it is bipartisan after all.
The powerful business lobby quietly began running ads
last week in the congressional districts of 10 endangered Democrats who opposed President Obama's health-care bill or have parted ways on taxes and other fiscal issues with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
The "voter education" ads were first spotted by political media trackers and have been all but lost in the sturm und drang
over the chamber's cable-dubbed "plot to buy America
"The chamber has a broad political program," spokesman J.P. Fielder told Politics Daily. "We're supporting pro-business candidates who have voted with the chamber," he said, noting that includes Democratic Senate hopeful Joe Manchin in West Virginia.
Among the lucky "dogs" getting help from the chamber are Reps. Glenn Nye in Virginia, Travis Childers in Mississippi and Alabama's Bobby Bright, the first Democrat
to say he won't vote for Pelosi for speaker if he is re-elected.
In one "voter education ad,
" the narrator thanks Rep. Jim Marshall of Georgia for voting no on Obama's health-care bill. "Tell him to keep fighting for seniors and against Washington's government health care takeover," it urges.
Jessica Klonsky, a spokeswoman for Rep. Frank Kratovil, a freshman Democrat who represents Maryland's conservative Eastern Shore, would not comment on the ads running on his behalf. "We can't control what the chamber is doing," she said, "but the endorsement is just another example of (Kratovil's) independent leadership."
The officially nonpartisan lobby is spending nearly $1.9 million to help conservative House Democrats this year, according to Federal Election Commission records. That's a fraction of the nearly $22 million in outside expenditures that the Center for Responsive Politics
calculates the chamber has plunked down. Most of that money has gone to Republicans.
The new ads are likely to do little to douse the firestorm over "attack ads" by outside groups. In campaign stops last week, Obama railed against the chamber for funding spots partly with dues paid by foreign corporations. The ads are "a threat to our democracy," he said. "The American people deserve to know who's trying to sway their elections."
The New York Times
reported that "a closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the chamber does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual." Republicans have accused Democrats of hypocrisy since left-leaning labor unions helping Democrats also have dues-paying international affiliates.
The report didn't keep the Democratic National Committee from launching its own attack ad
against the chamber. Such "shills for big business," it said, are taking "secret foreign money to influence our elections."
On Tuesday, after appearing to back down on the foreign connection, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs pushed back
against critics. He said the president would continue to ask questions about GOP donors, whether they are foreign or domestic.
ThinkProgress, the liberal blog that first raised the specter of foreign influence
, suggested the Democratic spots are a smokescreen. "While the chamber ads may lead many to believe that the organization is taking on a more bipartisan stance, the truth is that it has a long history of allying itself closely to Republicans," it said, noting the group's directors have given six times
as much money to GOP candidates as Democrats.
"The chamber wants to give substance to its claim of being bipartisan. That matters for appearances, of course. But it also is important because the chamber does not in fact want to be wholly captured by a single party and thus lose its ability to negotiate with both parties," said Mark Rozell, a George Mason University political scientist.
"If the GOP wins the House, while some moderate-conservative Democrats also win with chamber support, that sends an even stronger message of the group's ability to hurt the president's standing," he said. "The message to Democrats over the next two years would be heard loudly: support this president, look what happens. Stick with us, then we can help you."