Democratic leaders in the House and Senate alleging GOP groups have funneled foreign money into campaign ads have seen their
party raise more than $1 million from political action committees
affiliated with foreign companies.
House and Senate Democrats have received about $1.02 million this cycle from such PACs, according to an analysis compiled for The Hill by the Center for Responsive Politics. House and Senate GOP leaders have taken almost $510,000 from PACs on the same list.
"This is not foreign money per-se, but these PACs are certainly populated by people who work for foreign companies," said Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.
“Foreign companies and foreign governments can lobby Congress, and that is probably one area where they have a measurable effect on politics,” Levinthal explained. “Foreign-subsidiary political action committees is about as close as you can get.”
Republicans with groups under fire from the White House say the hefty campaign contributions illustrate Democratic hypocrisy.
“Barack Obama criticized the Supreme Court and his adversaries over the bogus charge of foreign money tainting elections — while leaders in his own party had taken more than a million dollars from the foreign cookie jar,” said Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for American Crossroads, the political group at the center of the controversy.
“The hypocrisy here is just stunning,” he said.
American Crossroads, which is backed in part by former Bush White House officials Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, has come under fire from the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress for allegedly using donations from abroad to fuel their political efforts.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads GPS, a group affiliated with American Crossroads, have come under similar attack.
Both the Chamber and American Crossroads deny accepting foreign dollars for use in their political efforts. The groups say they abide by all applicable laws, which would require that any foreign money they receive be accounted for separately and firewalled from their political spending.
Democrats have acknowledged they have no evidence the groups are taking money from abroad and using it to fund political attack ads ahead of the midterm elections, but they argue that in the absence of tougher campaign disclosure rules, it's entirely possible.
They argue the difference between campaign donations from PACs affiliated with foreign firms and contributions to the Crossroads groups and the U.S. Chamber is that the former are subject to tougher disclosure rules.
“The overarching issue here is that we don't know where these entities are raising money. It could be money from foreign corporation, big oil or companies that want to outsource U.S. jobs,” said Doug Thornell, a spokesman for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).
Kenneth Gross, a former associate general counsel of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and campaign law expert, said there's nothing illegal or improper about what the foreign-affiliated PACs do.
"They are supporting U.S. candidates," he said. "If some U.S. candidate takes a position on a matter that affects a foreign corporation, they have every right to contribute to that candidate."
"The law doesn't prohibit that, any more than the law prohibits a foreign corporation from lobbying Congress," Gross added.
The Center for Responsive Politics list tracks PAC receipts and disbursements through Sept. 13 filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Not surprisingly, since Democrats have large majorities in the House and Senate, Democrats for the year have received more money for these PACs ($6.5 million) than Republicans ($5.6 million).
Pharmaceutical manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline and aerospace contractor BAE Systems are among the PACS with ties to foreign companies that give the most to Democrats.
Republicans also complain that Obama has benefited in previous campaign cycles from Democratic-oriented groups that didn't disclose their donations, at least until after the election was over. They suggest it’s unclear whether some foreign money could have come in from those donations.
"In 2008, the president benefited from $400 million worth of spending by outside groups on his behalf in the presidential campaign, most of whom did not reveal their donors," Rove said Tuesday on Fox News. "I guess that was not a threat to democracy then because this kind of activity was being undertaken by Democrat groups."
Democrats suggest the attacks will keep coming in the next three weeks, in part because they believe they are working.
“I think it is having resonance,” Van Hollen said last week on MSNBC. “I think that people are understanding that there's this very important nexus between the special interests who are spending these millions of dollars and an agenda that doesn't serve the interests of the American people.”
Democrats have seized on the prospect of foreign influence in the election to underscore their attacks against Republicans for blocking the Disclose Act, campaign finance legislation meant to counteract the effect of a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year loosening restrictions on corporate and labor spending in elections. The Disclose Act passed the House, but ultimately stalled in the Senate after it won no GOP support.
Correction: KPMG LLP is not a corporation, but a limited liability partnership that is owned solely by its partners with no foreign parent. An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information.