Published December 23, 2015
The fundraising practices of the Chamber of Commerce pose a "threat to our democracy," the White House says -- unless that money's going toward Democrats.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Sunday that he's not concerned about Democrats who are getting help from the Chamber, though President Obama has put the group in his campaign crosshairs and accused it of secretly influencing U.S. elections.
Gibbs edged off the administration's offensive during an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press." Questioned on whether Democratic candidates like West Virginia Senate nominee Joe Manchin should "rebuff" the support they're getting from the Chamber, Gibbs said he's not concerned about them.
"Look, the Chamber has certainly a constitutionally protected right to air ads. Nobody is arguing that they can't be involved in the election," Gibbs said.
Manchin was endorsed by the Chamber back in September. The organization called him an "invaluable leader" committed to job creation and capable of tackling the country's economic challenges. The Chamber also reportedly just bought up ads in support of several Blue Dog House Democrats.
Most of its favored candidates, though, are Republicans. And White House officials made clear Sunday that the administration and Democratic Party are still concerned about the Chamber's meddling in those races, suggesting the group's foreign donations could trickle into its campaign accounts -- in violation of U.S. law.
"You've got a group that does take money from foreign countries, from companies in other countries. They are running $75 million worth of ads," Gibbs said. "You and I don't know exactly who is contributing to that, because there is a program that keeps all of their donors and involvement in these ads a complete secret. You're not going to know today. You're not going to know tomorrow. You're not going to know after the elections."
Gibbs claimed that "all the conservative groups," including those co-founded by former Bush adviser Karl Rove, are spending a total of $399 million on the election and said "it does have the potential to derail our democracy."
Obama threw down the gauntlet on the issue when he said at a rally this month that the Chamber was taking in "foreign money" while spending "huge sums" on the U.S. elections, a scenario he called a "threat to our democracy."
That was followed by a Democratic National Committee ad saying "it appears" the Chamber and other groups are "taking secret foreign money to influence our elections."
The charge was not taken lightly by Chamber officials and GOP strategists who challenged the administration to show evidence. After White House senior adviser David Axelrod suggested last week that it's up to the Chamber to prove its innocence, Chamber officials took to the media to refute the charges and accuse the administration of fabricating an issue.
But Axelrod suggested again Sunday that the Chamber was not coming clean.
"They say, trust us, trust us ... everything is cool. Everything is kosher. Don't worry about it, but we're not going to disclose," he said on CNN's "State of the Union." "Let me tell you something -- people don't disclose, there's a reason."
The White House last week pledged to keep the donation concerns a key part of the president's campaign message despite the backlash.
But Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said Sunday that the president is "attempting to chill political speech."
"He's hoping that, by making this allegation of illegality, that people will stop contributing," she said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "And I think that's shameful and I think it's wrong, and there's no evidence that this has gone on."