Ratcheting up the debate over the influence of outside groups in congressional elections, the Democratic National Committee has made a major ad purchase pushing the case that the November elections could very well be "stolen" by foreign influences.
The committee is airing a spot on national cable this coming week that turns an already harsh spotlight on the roles being played by former Bush strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie in addition to the Chamber of Commerce. Pivoting off reports that the business lobby has used foreign donations for its campaign activities, the spot ends with fairly conspicuous if not ominous shot of Chinese currency being stacked up -- ostensibly for use against Democratic candidates.
"Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie: They're Bush cronies. The US Chamber of Commerce: They're shills for big business," the ad goes. "And they're stealing our democracy. Spending Millions from secret donors to elect Republicans to do their bidding in Congress. It appears they're even taking 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."
The spot, timed to preempt Rove and Gillespie's appearances on the Sunday talk show circuit, echoes what has quickly and clearly become the closing argument Democrats (from the White House on down) are making as the election nears. But it comes at a time of conflicting reports over the veracity of the charges. On Saturday the New York Times published a story questioning a basis of the report uncovering the Chamber's foreign pools of cash. Specifically, the story quoted White House counsel Bob Bauer acknowledging that there was no specific evidence that the Chamber had crossed legal lines by using foreign money for its electioneering.
"The DNC ad is rubbish," said Tom Collamore, senior vice president of Communications and Strategy for the U.S. Chamber. "The U.S. Chamber will continue to discuss ways to create jobs and grow the economy no matter how often others may try to change the conversation. We've been working for growth, jobs, and opportunity for 100 years and we won't be deterred now."
The Center for American Progress, which runs the Think Progress site that published the original report, has responded to critics by noting that the fundamental question at the heart of the debate had still not been answered: "How many foreign sources of funding does the Chamber have?" A spokesman for the DNC, likewise, pointed to a lack of transparency and disclosure on the part of the Chamber as the basis for the ad.
"They all can, of course, clear all this up by releasing their donors," said DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse. "We just think that it is vital that the American people know that this election is on the verge of being stolen by secret donors, anonymous special interests, and possibly foreign corporations. And these folks aren't lurking in the shadows refusing to reveal themselves and their intentions and interests because they have the greater good in mind. It's because they want to get their fingers back in the till and exert the influence they had when Republicans were last in charge."