We caught up with White House senior adviser David Axelrod today to chat about the current controversy about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and whether any of its ads are being funded with foreign money.
TAPPER: So the chamber says no foreign money is paying for any of their political activities.
AXELROD: And I guess my answer to the Chamber is just disclose where your money is coming from and that will end all the questions. The fact is they are spending $75 million in this campaign and they will not disclose where one dime is coming from. And that's the problem with all of these organizations. We have tens of millions of special interest money coming into these campaigns and no record of where its coming from and that should be a concern to every voter in this country.
TAPPER: Their answer would be why should they disclose. No one's disclosing.
AXELROD: Right and they have a point there. We tried to pass a law in the Congress — every Democrat in the Senate voted for it, every Republican in the Senate voted against it — that said everyone has to disclose. That all these organizations would have to disclose where their money is coming from whether they are supporting Democratic candidates or Republican candidates. The Republicans blocked that bill and the question to them and their allies is: what are they hiding that they don’t want the American people to see?
TAPPER: But you're asking the Chamber to prove a negative. “Prove that you’re not doing such and such accusation.”
AXELROD: It’s not proving a negative, Jake, because all you have to do to clear up the questions is reveal who your donors are from. The question back to them is why don’t they want to reveal where their money is coming from? I think the answer is, I think if the American people knew where their money was coming from they’d be a lot less apt to listen to the advertising, to read the mail, to respond to the kind of negative campaigns that the Chamber and some of these other organizations are underwriting.
TAPPER: But there's a difference between the Chamber and some of these other organizations, right? The Chamber we know what it stands for , we know basically the money is coming from big business and corporations. These other groups I understand, they have names like “Americans For Prosperity” we don’t know what they stand for or who’s behind it. But the Chamber is different, isn’t it?
AXELROD: Well we certainly do know about the Chamber, that they have foreign affiliates and they do raise money for the organization that way. What we don’t know is where the millions of dollars $75 million, is coming from that they are using to fund these campaigns. And the question back to them keeps coming back from us and others is why not simply say? What is it that is so nefarious about the sources of their money that they won’t reveal it? And that’s true with all these organizations.
TAPPER: Democratic organizations too?
AXELROD: I would be for disclosure for everyone. The American people ought to know where millions and millions of dollars in our campaigns are coming from. Whether they are supporting Democrats or Republicans. Transparency is what we need in the political system. What we don’t need are special interests spending millions of dollars in these campaigns, to influence these campaign, never owning up to it, but having more muscle in the congress than they already have.
TAPPER: But haven't third parties like these helped Democrats in the past?
AXELROD: Yes, I’m not suggesting that only groups that support Republicans should disclose. It think everyone in this process should disclose. It’s an unhealthy thing when the insurance industry, when Wall Street, when oil companies can pour millions and millions of dollars into campaigns and never own up to it . And it would be true on the Democratic side as well, it’s not healthy for democracy, it’s not good for everyday people.
TAPPER: But this isn't really about the Chamber itself, this is really about the president's vision of a worst case scenario.
AXELROD: Well what this is about, when this is done we’re going to see hundreds of millions of dollars spent by organizations who don’t disclose the source of that money. And that means any interest group can write a million dollar check, a ten million dollar check, to try to defeat a candidate, in order to push their agenda in the Congress and no one will ever know exactly what their involvement was. And that is not just a threat to Democrats, that is a threat to democracy.
TAPPER: And that's what you guys are worried about here? Some group going to a member of Congress –
AXELROD: It is a insidious, dangerous thing when people can contribute huge sums of money to run negative ads in campaigns and never confess or allow to their participation. It opens the door to all kinds of chicanery. And when the next Congress meets if there are people who are standing there who are beneficiaries of their campaigns, you’ll know in whose interest they are going to act.
TAPPER: But what do you say to people who argue you are demonizing an organization for a charge that nobody knows if it's true or not?
AXELROD: Well I’m not demonizing the Chamber of Commerce. I’m simply suggesting to them that they disclose the source of the $75 million that they are spending in campaigns and put to rest, put to rest the questions that have been, that have been raised.
TAPPER: Isn't that like the whackjobs that tell the president he needs to show them his full long-form birth certificate so he can put to rest the questions that have been raised?
AXELROD: The president’s birth certificate has been available to people.
TAPPER: The long form?
AXELROD: Someone once in the course of this debate about whether we should have a law to force these organizations to disclose where they’re money is coming from in the campaigns, someone said, and I think they’re right – “the only people who want to keep things secret are folks who have something to hide.” If the Chamber doesn’t have anything to hide about these contributions, and I take them at their word that they don’t, then why not disclose? Why not let people see where their money is coming from?