In recent days, right-wing media have responded to criticism that conservative political groups have put out millions of dollars worth of GOP attack ads from undisclosed donors, possibly including foreign donors, by deploying a wave of false claims about supposedly equivalent actions taken by progressive groups.
Among the most pernicious (and baseless) is the suggestion that the AFL-CIO, the labor union coalition that generally backs Democratic candidates, is funded from foreign sources.
On the October 10 edition of ABC's This Week, conservative columnist George Will claimed that "the AFL-CIO receives dues from foreign entities associated with it." Likewise, on the October 12 edition of Fox News' America Live, talk radio host Lars Larson charged that "Half of the AFL-CIO is made up of foreign unions":
In both cases, the commentators were arguing that neither the conservative groups nor the AFL-CIO had done anything wrong. But their suggestion about the AFL-CIO's supposed foreign membership appears to be false.
About half of the AFL-CIO's member unions are "international" -- not "foreign" -- unions. What this generally means is that they are U.S.-based unions that also have foreign -- usually Canadian -- members. But according to the AFL-CIO, the Canadian members of the AFL-CIO's member unions are not themselves AFL-CIO union members; the dues the member unions pay to the AFL-CIO are based solely on their American members.
Earlier this month, Fox News political analyst Dick Morris announced the creation of Super PAC for America, whose goal is to raise $20 million to help Republicans win 100 House seats in this year's election. As he has numerous times before, Dick Morris is using his Fox News platform to promote and raise money for the group.
In an attempt to defend against criticism that conservative political groups have put out millions of dollars worth of GOP attack ads from undisclosed donors, Karl Rove has embarked on a media blitz, attempting to create a smokescreen of false and irrelevant claims about liberal groups' campaign funds.
Whenever there's a hint of a Democratic campaign finance controversy, the media is quick to draw comparisons to 1997, when Republicans and the media were in a frenzy over the possibility that some foreign money had made its way into the DNC's coffers during the 1996 campaign.
But there was another foreign-money-in-politics story that broke in 1997 that doesn't get dredged up nearly as often: The revelation that the Republican National Committee essentially laundered funds from a Hong Kong businessman for use during the 1994 elections, when the GOP took control of congress.
Here's some background, from a July 24, 1997, Los Angeles Times article:
The Senate's campaign fund-raising hearings placed Republicans on the hot seat Wednesday, examining a money trail in which $1.6 million from a Hong Kong business ended up in party coffers in the critical final weeks of the 1994 congressional elections thanks to timely work by former GOP chairman Haley Barbour.
The embarrassing episode dates back to the heat of the 1994 congressional elections, when Barbour sought out financial support from Ambrous Tung Young, a wealthy Hong Kong businessman and Republican Party loyalist.
Barbour arranged a $2.1-million loan guarantee from Young Brothers Development USA, the Florida-based subsidiary of Young's Hong Kong-based real estate and aviation company, to support the National Policy Forum, a GOP think tank created by Barbour in 1993 to promote the Republican philosophy.
The Forum took out a $2.1-million commercial bank loan, guaranteed by certificates of deposit purchased with funds provided to Young Brothers Development by the parent company in Hong Kong. The Forum then immediately sent $1.6 million to an RNC account.
Documents unveiled at Wednesday's hearings show a close relationship between the party and the policy forum, and a clear awareness by all parties that the loan guarantee from Young, a Taiwanese citizen, would ultimately end up aiding Republican campaigns.
"We are willing to consider the support of $2.1 million, which is the amount you have expressed to me that is urgently needed and directly related to the November election," Young wrote in a September 1994 letter to Barbour.
Months before that, Michael Baroody quit as president of the National Policy Forum and complained in his resignation letter of Barbour's "fascination" with raising foreign money, an account he repeated in testimony Wednesday.
There's more. Check it out.
But the media -- which took three years to catch on to the foreign money-laundering -- forgot all about it almost as soon as those campaign finance hearings ended.
If an organization that is spending tens of millions of dollars to influence this year's elections on behalf of Democrats and was accused of using foreign money to do so, you can be sure the media would be quick to remind you of the 1996 campaign finance scandals. But the Chamber of Commerce is accused of using foreign money to help Republican candidates, and the media dismisses the allegations -- and they certainly don't invoke the GOP's 1994 scheme.
This morning, American Crossroads, the GOP slush fund that has been heavily promoted by Karl Rove, announced that in addition to the heavy spending it's been doing in Senate races, it also plans to engage in "at least 15, and potentially more than 20, House races," starting by airing ads in eight districts this week. And I'm sure Fox News still doesn't care.
The new House spending is in addition to the reported $3 million in new ad buys the group is rolling out in Senate races in Colorado, Missouri, Nevada, Illinois, Kentucky, and Florida.
On Sunday, Rove, Fox News' political analyst, responded to President Obama's comment that he had "funded and advised" American Crossroads by denying that he personally put up money for the group. But he acknowledged he is "helping to raise money for these groups" and "absolutely doing everything I can to raise money for them." He did not comment on Obama's contention that he has "advised" the group.
Is anyone at Fox asking him whether he's involved in deciding which House races the group is going to spend the money he's been raising? Somehow I doubt it; he was discussing the buy on America's Newsroom this morning (and bragging about how much money the group had recently been raising) and it never came up:
It's almost like they don't care that their top political analyst is a GOP shill, isn't it?
From the October 12 edition of Fox Business' America's Nightly Scoreboard:
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From the October 12 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the October 11 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Appearing on (where else?) Fox over the weekend, Karl Rove wove a web of obfuscation to defend his role with a $50 million GOP slush fund and attack President Obama for calling attention to it.
In a speech, President Obama said that "two groups, funded and advised by Karl Rove," have been huge players in support of the Republican candidate in the Illinois Senate race. On Fox News Sunday, Rove passionately responded. Note what Rove denies, and doesn't deny:
Rove vigorously denied having personally put up the money for the two groups in question, the 527 group American Crossroads and its 501(c)(4) non-profit arm, Crossroads GPS. Instead, he said he is "helping to raise money for these groups" and "absolutely doing everything I can to raise money for them." He then attempted to direct the Fox audience to American Crossroads' web site so they could donate to the group. This was apparently too much even for Bret Baier, who repeatedly said "all right" over Rove's recitation of the URL.
I'll leave it to someone else to explain the political distinction between Rove personally contributing the money, and lining up the donations from billionaire Texas oil barons. He's still providing the group's funding, whether it's coming from his bank account or not.
What did Rove avoid denying? Obama's statement that Rove has "advised" the groups. So is he? Is he picking the races the groups are targeting? Defining lines of attack? Approving the attack ads?
Fox has been utterly unconcerned that their top "political analyst," who regularly appears on air unopposed by any Democrat to discuss the 2010 elections, is simultaneously raising money that is being used to bolster Republican campaigns. But you think they'd care if he's guiding American Crossroads' decisions on which races to spend that money on.
If Karl Rove is reading his group's polling of Senate race, picking out the best paths of attack on Democrats, and simultaneously channeling those attacks into TV ads and his Fox News commentary, you would think that even Fox would have to respond.
On Tuesday, I noted that two nonpartisan campaign finance watchdogs had asked the IRS to investigate whether Crossroads GPS -- a GOP slush fund promoted by Karl Rove -- had violated its tax status through excessive electioneering. I concluded the post by saying, "It will be interesting to see if Fox chooses to ignore this story altogether, or bring Rove on to spin for his group."
Well, Fox fooled me; they did neither. Instead, the network's Megyn Kelly hosted Dana Perino -- not only Rove's current colleague at Fox News, but also his former colleague at the Bush White House -- to discuss the allegations. Rove has reportedly praised Perino as "one of the most talented professionals I've seen."
Oh, and of course, neither Kelly nor Perino mentioned the allegations by the campaign finance groups, who issued similar calls for action after the 2004 election against Democratic-linked groups, resulting in more than $1 million in fines.
Instead, they focused on identical allegations by Democratic Sen. Max Baucus. That way, you see, they could call it a politically-motivated smear tactic.
Seems like a tactic straight from the Rove playbook.
Fox's Megyn Kelly hosted Dana Perino to portray calls for an IRS audit of a Republican slush fund promoted by Karl Rove as a politically motivated "conspiracy," ignoring that such calls have been issued by non-partisan organizations that called for similar audits of Democratic-leaning groups in 2004. They also furthered the bogus claim that the White House illegally accessed the tax information of Koch Industries.
Campaign finance watchdogs Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center are asking the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether a GOP slush fund promoted by Fox News political analyst Karl Rove "is operating in violation of its tax status because it has a primary purpose of participating in political campaigns in support of, or in opposition to, candidates for public office."
The campaign group, Crossroads GPS, is the tax-exempt 501(c)(4) wing of American Crossroads, which Rove helped organize. Rove has reportedly been "pitching" the group to "wealthy conservative benefactors around the country."
In their letter to the IRS, top executives at Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center write:
The status of Crossroads GPS as a section 501(c)(4) entity allows its donors to evade the public disclosure requirements that would apply if the organization was registered as a section 527 political organization. Section 527 groups are organizations that are "primarily organized and operated" to engage in political activities. By contrast, Section 501(c)(4) organizations are not permitted to be "primarily engaged" in activities to influence elections. They are not required to disclose their donors.
If, in fact, Crossroads GPS is impermissibly operating as a section 501(c)(4) organization in order to conceal its donors from the American people, the IRS has an obligation to take steps to protect the integrity of our tax laws and to make clear that such abuses will not be permitted in future elections.
Politico's Ken Vogel notes the letter in an article today detailing how Rove's groups have announced a "massive $4.2 million ad buy," of which "nearly 75 percent" has been paid for by "undisclosed donors."
The groups aren't partisan, and they don't mess around. In their press release, they note:
Following the 2004 election, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center took action against section 527 groups for violating the campaign finance laws. Democracy 21 and the Campaign LegalCenter called for an investigation of two pro-Democratic 527 groups, ACT and the Media Fund, the two biggest spending 527 groups in the 2004 presidential election.
In response to FEC complaints filed by Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center against the two 527 groups, the FEC entered into conciliation agreements that found that the 527 groups, combined, had spent more than $150 million illegally in the 2004 presidential election. Both groups paid substantial civil penalties to the FEC
Of course, such penalties, if they are imposed on Crossroads GPS, will likely come long after the 2010 elections are already over.
It will be interesting to see if Fox chooses to ignore this story altogether, or bring Rove on to spin for his group.
From the October 4 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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In the wake of its $1 million donation to the Republican Governors Association in August, News Corp. -- parent of Fox News -- has literally doubled down on aligning itself with the conservative agenda by donating another $1 million, this time to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has reportedly devoted millions of dollars this cycle to running political ads on behalf of Republican Senate candidates. Politico reported:
Spokesmen for News Corp. and for Fox declined to comment on the chamber contribution, or on whether Fox chief Roger Ailes, a former GOP political operative, had a role in it.
A spokesman for the chamber, J.P. Fielder, declined to discuss or confirm a specific contribution - the chamber is fighting to continue to keep contributions secret -- but responded to a question about the Fox donation by characterizing the chamber's agenda.
"What I can tell you is that the chamber has been and will continue to be engaged in the issue debate in this election cycle, focusing our efforts on educating voters about where candidates stand on policies that create jobs," Fielder said.
Specifically, the chamber has said it plans to spend $75 million in connection with the 2010 election, and has so far has directed substantial amounts to Republican Senate candidates. As of Sept. 15th, the group had spent $6,747,946 airing more than 8,000 ads on behalf of GOP Senate candidates, according to a study from the Wesleyan Media Project.
Fox News has been alternately silent and shameless about the RGA contribution. It barely acknowledged the donation on air -- at least until Media Matters bought ad time on The O'Reilly Factor to inform its viewers about it. And Fox has been so blithe about the contribution that Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace named the RGA's executive director his "Power Player of the Week."
So get to know your senior Chamber personnel, because if Wallace's RGA puff is any indication, you may be seeing more of them on Fox News. And expect Fox to say even less about the Chamber donation that it did about the RGA one.
Media Matters VP Ari Rabin-Havt released the following statement in response to News Corp.'s latest donation:
Fox is having it both ways right now as a news organization and political campaign. With $2 million direct from their corporate treasury invested in the defeat of Democratic candidates, it is an insult to actual journalists that the network is treated as anything other than a research, fundraising, and communications arm of the Republican Party. They don't belong in the front row of the White House briefing room, they belong at RNC headquarters.
Last week, Andrew Breitbart's Big Government posted a recording of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) asking for a campaign donation from a lobbyist. The Big Government post portrayed this as somehow being scandalous or out of the ordinary; as we noted, that's simply not true. Today, Politico provided more evidence that seeking donations from lobbyists is not in any way unusual for a congressional campaign.
Jonathan Martin reported in a blog post that "literally just minutes after it became clear that New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte had won the Senate primary," a Washington lobbyist sent an email to other lobbyists inviting them to a fundraiser for Ayotte. Martin noted:
Given Ayotte's advantage in the polls and the nature of this cycle, many of those who got the email will surely want to show up on the 27th and begin developing a relationship with somebody who is likely to be in the Senate in January.
The post closed with another reminder of just how frequently this happens:
[F]or some in the GOP-leaning lobbying community, the cup now runneth over.
"There are now over 475 fund raising events between now and October 8th," laments one promiment lobbyist.