Tom Foreman | BIO
Editor's note: Watch AC360°'s special investigation into "Dirty Politics" this week and get Tom Foreman's take on the dirtiest ads, the dirtiest races, and the dirtiest campaign trail moments of this midterm election cycle.
Washington (CNN) - To hear big Democrats tell it, the Republicans have assembled a secret army of check writing ninjas sneaking millions of untraceable dollars into the election, even now creeping through the political night to wreak havoc.
Big Republicans have a different take: The Democrats are a bunch of sore losers.
And if you ask independent analysts, they’ll give you a third read: Both parties are obeying the law, yet hiding the hypocrisy behind what some consider the single dirtiest trick of this election.
First some background. The issue of anonymous donors using outside groups to push voters to or away from any given candidate has been heating up for years. It works kind of like this: If Candidate A decides to run for Congress because he’s really had it with the influence of big oil companies, those same companies can spend millions to attack his positions and suggest Candidate B is a better choice, and if they do it through the right type of perfectly legal group, the company never needs to risk public knowledge that it was behind the effort. Actually a much noted Supreme Court ruling earlier this year said such companies and individuals could also take such actions quite openly, but that’s another part of the story. There is some fine print, but not much.
Suffice to say President Obama, who you may note has made a lot of powerful enemies among business folks, was an early critic of the Supreme Court ruling and he still is. You may recall his public dressing down of the Supreme Court members at this State of the Union address. “The court,” he said, “reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections."
That said, he is beating on the broader topic of “secret money” as he campaigns for Dems across the country, and top presidential advisor, David Axelrod, suggests when these groups gin up for Republicans, he has no doubt that they are putting their thumb on the scales while hiding the source of their influence from voters. "They say, trust us, trust us,” he told CNN’s Candy Crowley on State of the Union, “everything is cool, everything is kosher, don't worry about it, but we're not going to disclose. Let me tell you something, (when) people don't disclose, there's a reason."
A favorite target for the Dems has been their old foes from the Bush years, Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, who are now hooked up with a big money group in this game called American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS. In one particularly caustic ad from the Democratic National Commitee, those two were lumped in with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Over menacing music and dark pictures, they are called “shills for big business…stealing our democracy; spending millions from secret donors to elect Republicans to do their bidding in Congress. It appears they’ve even taken secret foreign money to influence our elections.”
The Chamber emphatically denies that last part. “None of the money that goes into our election activities is from foreign sources,” says Tita Freeman, the Chamber’s Vice President of Communications and Strategy. As for the idea of it being “secret money” she says “We have been very clear on our reasons for wanting to protect the privacy of our donors.” What she means is, that many businesses fear the repercussions of taking a public stand on policy…from say consumers or vindictive lawmakers…and yet they feel they have to speak up on issues that may adversely affect their own success.
As for the folks at Crossroads, the Communications Director there, Jonathan Collegio, says the Dems are displaying a “huge double standard.” For example, he says, the Dems have their own groups with secret donors funneling money to their side, and deep support from labor unions, which are not always wildly clear about when they are backing an ad. So this business of cashing in on backdoor money? Collegio says Democrats “obviously have no problem with it when they’ve done it.”
And that’s really the whole problem. As a practical matter, complaints about runaway spending from unknown sources are always loudest from the losing side. When either party is winning, or expecting a win, that party argues that the shadowy figure behind the curtain is merely a harmless friend. Only when he springs out and chooses sides, do they declare that a monster is loose.
Updated: 9:17 pm
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