Schieffer Mocks Axelrod: Is Complaining About GOP Ad Dollars ‘The Best You Can Do?’

CBS’s Bob Schieffer on Sunday mocked President Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod for echoing last week’s unsubstantiated charge by a liberal website that the Chamber of Commerce is funneling foreign money to support Republican candidates.

“The New York Times looked into the Chamber specifically and said the Chamber really isn’t putting foreign money into the campaign,” said the Face the Nation host.

“This part about foreign money, that appears to be peanuts,” chided Schieffer.

When Axelrod continued to press the issue, Schieffer said almost laughing, “If the only charge, three weeks into the election that the Democrats can make is that there’s somehow this may or may not be foreign money coming into the campaign, is that the best you can do?” (video follows with transcript and commentary):

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let’s switch to politics. Last week, of course, the President’s on the campaign trail. He’s on the campaign trail just virtually all the time now. While he was out there, the Democrats put out a-- an ad that’s released this morning that blames the Republicans and specifically the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for injecting foreign money into campaigns. The President’s words on the trail last week were, “groups that received foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections.” Well, let’s just look at this ad that the Democrats put out today.

(Excerpt from Democratic National Committee Ad)

BOB SCHIEFFER: Now I want to ask you about that because the New York Times looked into the Chamber specifically and said the Chamber really isn’t putting foreign money into the campaign. That it does charge its foreign affiliates dues that bring in less than a hundred and thousand dollars a year. A lot of organizations including Labor Unions doing-- do that. But the Chamber has an annual budget of two hundred million dollars and it says, along with that, it keeps these foreign dues separate. They do spend heavily in politics, twenty-five million so far. They expect to spend fifty million. But this part about foreign money, that appears to be peanuts, Mister Axelrod, I mean, do you have any evidence that it’s anything other than peanuts?

Great question. As the Times reported Saturday:

But a closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the chamber does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents.

In fact, the controversy over the Chamber of Commerce financing may say more about the Washingtonspin cycle — where an Internet blog posting can be quickly picked up by like-minded groups and become political fodder for the president himself — than it does about the vagaries of campaign finance.

Organizations from both ends of the political spectrum, from liberal ones like the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the Sierra Club to conservative groups like the National Rifle Association, have international affiliations and get money from foreign entities while at the same time pushing political causes in the United States.

In addition, more than 160 political action committees active in campaigning have been set up by corporations that are based overseas, including military contractors like B.A.E. Systems and pharmaceutical giants like GlaxoSmithKline, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research service. […]

Richard L. Hasen, an election-law specialist at LoyolaLawSchoolin Los Angeles, said there were legitimate questions about whether foreign money could be making its way into campaigns, particularly because many groups are not required to disclose their donors. But he added, “I’ve seen no proof of the chamber funneling a penny of foreign money into U.S.elections.”

Readers are reminded: this is from the New York Times. So was this:

The issue of the chamber’s funding first gained notice this week when ThinkProgress, a blog affiliated with the Center for American Progress, an influential liberal advocacy group, posted a lengthy piece with the headline “Exclusive: Foreign-Funded ‘U.S.’ Chamber of Commerce Running Partisan Attack Ads.”

The piece detailed the chamber’s overseas memberships, but it provided no evidence that the money generated overseas had been used in United Statescampaigns. Still, liberal groups pounced on the allegations, resulting in protests at the chamber’s offices, a demand for a federal investigation by Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, and ultimately the remarks by Mr. Obama himself.

Indeed. Readers should recall the political ties of CAP, an organization whose staff and Senior Fellows listing reads like a Clintonadministration Who’s Who.

But let’s get back to Schieffer and Axelrod:

DAVID AXELROD: Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob? The fact is that the Chamber has asserted that but they won’t release any information about where their campaign money is coming from. And that’s at the core of the problem here. What we’ve seen in part because of a loophole that the Supreme Court allowed earlier this year, we now see tens of millions of dollars being spent by the Chamber and a number of organizations some of which just cropped up. Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove won-- run one of them. Tens of millions of dollars from undisclosed donors under benign names like the American Crossroads fund. And they’re-- and they’re spending heavily in all of these elections. And one race in Colorado, there—there are six different organizations running negative ads against the Democratic senator there, Michael Bennett. And no one knows where the money is coming from. So I guess, my question back to you and for your next guess is-- guest is, why not simply disclose where this money is coming from? And then all of these questions will be answered.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, that will certainly be fine with me. But I want to go back to this thing about the-- the Chamber of Commerce. If they’re only taking in a hundred thousand dollars a year— 

DAVID AXELROD (overlapping): If they are.

BOB SCHIEFFER: But you-- you question that. You say they may--

DAVID AXELROD (overlapping): Well, I don’t know. No one knows, Bob. The point is you—they can-- I can assert anything I want. But you have as a good journalist you’d ask me, well, how do we know that’s true? Do you have documentation to prove that? If the Chamber opens up its books and says here’s where our political money is coming from, here are the million dollar, two million or three million dollar contributions we’ve gotten from this company or that industry, then we’ll know. But until they do that, all we have is their assertion.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Do you-- I guess I would put it this way. If-- if-- if the only charge, three weeks into the election that the Democrats can make is that there’s somehow this may or may not be foreign money coming into the campaign, is that the best you can do?

Indeed, which means that in the course of roughly 24 hours, both the New York Times and Bob Schieffer thought CAP’s claim was largely a bunch of baloney.

Makes you want to check the skies for flying pigs, doesn’t it?

*****Update: Schieffer's colleague Maggie Rodriguez grilled Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell on this subject Monday morning.

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