With its baseless charge that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is using foreign money to influence the November elections, the Obama administration and its liberal allies have opened up a can of worms they may come to regret.
The accusations that foreign corporations are funding Republican attack ads have been widely panned. Even President Obama and his top aides have admitted they have no proof to back their allegations against the Chamber and conservative campaign groups such as American Crossroads (Obama said the Chamber's money "could" be coming from foreign-owned corporations but "we don't know.") Now the Democrats' calls for investigations into these groups could backfire--leading to closer scrutiny of the sources of funding for Democratic attack ads. Labor unions are spending millions to tar Republican candidates--and they take in far more foreign cash than the Chamber. If the GOP takes control of Congress, investigations into how organized labor funds its political efforts could be forthcoming.
The U.S. Chamber says it receives about $100,000 from its affiliates abroad (out of an operating budget of about $200 million), none of it used for political campaigns. Compare that to one of the largest labor unions in America, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is spending lavishly to elect Democrats. The SEIU claims 100,000 members in Canada. According to SEIU's 2008 constitution, dues include $7.65 per month per member that must be sent to the SEIU International in the United States. This means that the SEIU takes in nearly $9.2 million per year from foreign nationals--almost 10 times the amount the Chamber receives from its affiliates abroad.
Is any foreign money being used to fund the SEIU's anti-Republican campaign efforts? According to the Wall Street Journal, "The Service Employees International Union, one of the nation's fastest-growing labor unions, acknowledges that it can't be certain that foreign nationals haven't contributed to its $44 million political budget to support pro-labor Democrats." The SEIU is not the only union that takes in money from foreign members. According to the Canadian Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers has 280,000 Canadian members; the United Food and Commercial Workers has more than 245,000; the Teamsters has more than 108,000; the Laborers' International Union of North America has more than 68,000; and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has more than 57,000. How much do these foreign union members send to the United States? If the constitutions of their unions are anything like SEIU's, it could be tens of millions of dollars. Is any of that money being used to help elect Democrats this November?
Unions have another source of foreign cash: dues from illegal immigrants. In an April 2007 speech, uncovered by the conservative Web site RedState, SEIU Executive Vice President Eliseo Medina boasts how his union's rolls are loaded with illegal immigrants. Medina declares proudly: "SEIU is the largest union of immigrant workers in the country, and a number of them are undocumented. But let me hasten to add, these are not just Latinos. In our membership are Eastern Europeans, Irish, Polish, Indians, Chinese--the whole world is represented among the undocumented and also in our membership. We also represent American-born workers, legal residents."
They "also" represent legal residents? Exactly how many illegal workers are on the rolls of the SEIU and other trade unions? Do the unions track which of their members are here illegally? How much do these illegal workers contribute to union coffers each year? And is any of this money being used to fund union efforts to elect Democrats this November?
Some may argue that raising such questions is unfair. But it was the president of the United States who opened the door to this line of inquiry. Obama recently said of the Chamber, "Groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections." Well Obama's allies in organized labor receive far more foreign money than the Chamber and are spending huge sums to influence American elections. They have boasted of having illegal foreign workers on their rolls and have admitted that they cannot be certain money from foreign nationals has not been used in their campaigns efforts against Republican candidates.
Now it's time for the Democrats to start answering the same charges that they leveled against the Chamber and American Crossroads with such abandon. Is organized labor using foreign money to elect Democrats this November? To paraphrase the president, they could be--we just don't know. But if Republicans win two weeks from now, and take control of the investigative committees of Congress, we may soon find out.
Marc A. Thiessen is a visiting fellow at AEI.