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Special Report

Chamber of Horrors

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If there are organizations raising tens of millions of dollars who won't tell us who their donors are, my guess is they are not telling us for a reason, because they have something to hide.

BRUCE JOSTEN, U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: There is not a shred of evidence here. There’s not going to be a shred of evidence here. This is campaign of innuendo and inference in an attempt to damage the name of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHANNON BREAM, FNC REPORTER: Let's bring in our panel to talk about this back and forth at the White House, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Welcome to you all.  Steve, I want to start off with you. What do you make of this?  The White House doesn't seem to be backing down from these claims that foreign money is pouring through U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other entities in U.S. elections.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: They're not backing down but they can't produce any evidence to actually substantiate their charges, which is rather remarkable from the president that came to Washington saying he was going to change the tone; he was going to operate in a new way.

This is not only sort of old school politics, this is old school politics done very poorly. I think this is likely to backfire. When you look at what the White House is trying to do, I think they are trying to tap in the anti-government, anti-Washington feelings that are prevalent in the country today by focusing on campaign financing. And they're also trying to resurrect the sort of anti-Wall Street, anti-big business feelings that we had 18, 20 months ago.

But it's not going to work. All they're trying to do is distract from the issues at hand and from the record. They've got, unfortunately for them, a record not popular among voters. It's a tremendous number of accomplishments over the first 20 months from a historical perspective.  But in terms of issue by issue asking the voters, it's just not popular, so they don't want to talk about it.

BREAM: So it's a diversionary tactic?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Look, I think it's very hard to make campaign finance or campaign finance abuses an issue. It's very hard.

It's not clear -- it's clear that some of the organizations that are spending money on ads take foreign money, but it's not clear they are using the foreign money in the ads. That would be illegal. The fact that they take foreign money is fine.

Most of what’s happening this year in this huge onslaught of independent expenditure, outside groups spending lots of money on behalf to Republican candidates and in some cases seven to one compared to the Democratic outside groups is that this is perfectly legal. Some of it was unleashed by the Citizens United and the Supreme Court ruling, but a lot of it was not. It just took a while for conservative groups to start doing it even they probably could have done it last cycle legally.

The problem is the Democrats are being vastly outspent. There's not a lot they can do about it. They've chosen to try to make it an issue, which I think is very difficult. There are some legal challenges to these groups. They tried unsuccessfully to pass a law to force more disclosure.

But the fact is that in 2008 President Obama created an alternative fundraisers universe of small donors which he thought was better, and he said to all the Democratic outside groups we don't like you raising these unlimited, undisclosed donations. Stop doing it. I have a better way to do it.

And now he’s left with just that better way and I don't know if it will ever counter what Republicans have got. They’ve got more resources.

BREAM: Even still there were millions of dollars that poured in for him in the ways they're criticizing. In fact, Karl Rove, who has been under attack from the White House on this issue, talked about that. Play his clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH ADVISER: In 2008, the president benefited from $400 million worth of spending from outside groups on his behalf in the presidential campaign, most of whom did not reveal their donors. I guess that was not a threat to democracy then because this kind of activity was being undertaken by Democrat groups.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BREAM: All right, "threats to democracy." Karl Rove, one of many who is getting punched from the White House right now, firing back.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It’s not going to work. Apart from the fact this is a perfect example of the paranoid style of American politics, in an old liberal phrase, it’s not going to work. The administration understands it doesn't have argument to make on the economy, on healthcare or other stuff so looking for boogeyman, for a nemesis.

It started out and tried to use George Bush as the nemesis. But unfortunately if you're a Democrat, Bush's approval is about equal to Obama's, so that's not working.

Then they tried attacks on John Boehner, which didn't work, A: because most Americans have never heard of him, B: because it's hard to demonize a guy who sports such a splendid tan.

(LAUGHTER)

So what they have done instead now is try to go back to the old stuff. They tried attacking Wall Street and make the boogeyman BP, and they tried, of course, Fox News. It hasn't worked so now they return to Chamber of Commerce.

The fact is I think they have tested this in groups and they think it’s going to work. It's the typical liberal arrogance. They really have to think that people are stupid. If you make an accusation with no evidence and your response when you are asked to produce evidence is have the other side produce contrary evidence.

If you think that’s going to work, you have to share the same arrogance Democrats did in passing Obama-care under the theory, as Nancy Pelosi has said, once they see what’s in it, they are going to like it.  They have seen what’s in it, and they don't, and they are not going to like a tactic like this either.

BREAM: Let's talk about the evidence. Today Robert Gibbs at the White House said open your books and show us what’s there. The Chamber has expressed concern they don't want people going after the donors.  Should they open their books? If they do, will that solve the problem?

LIASSON: First of all, of course they should open the books.  Why when you give money to candidate or a political committee you have to disclose, but because of the law, you're allowed to give money to these groups like the Chamber or these Karl Rove groups and not disclose? Why shouldn't the American people have right to know who is spending money in campaigns?

It's perfectly legal what they are doing, but the president has always been against it. Even when Karl points out $400 million was spent on behalf of Obama by the Democratic groups, and that is true, but at the time candidate Obama did ask them to stand down. He said he’d rather have donors give money through the party committees or to his campaign.

And that is one of the reasons why now the Democrats are at a disadvantage because he eschewed that spending.

BREAM: Steve, quickly, any legitimacy to the argument they don't want to open up the donors to criticism or attacks?

HAYES: The law is what the law is right now. I'm sympathetic with the argument that more disclosure is better. The law is what it is right now, and for the White House to make this claim is it's trying to cover its own rear end on baloney claims they've made from that point forward.

They started out with a charge that was unsubstantiated. It was recycled from a liberal think tank. Nobody had substantiation for it in the first place. The White House made it. They made it prominently, they made it on the Sunday shows, and they can't back it up. They can do everything they want to try to change the subject but until they can provide evidence, they’re the ones who are going to look bad in this.

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