Will the "Foreign Money" Attack Work?

One of the main leitmotifs of conservative criticism of Barack Obama since he began running for office is that there's something foreign about him -- maybe he wasn't born here, maybe he doesn't worship America's dominant religion, and even if those things aren't true, well, he's just somehow not American. These attacks have always been false, ugly, and xenophobic, and there isn't much evidence that they really worked, other than to rile up people who would never have supported him anyway.

Which is why it's a little odd to see Democrats, and some of their supporters, seizing so heartily on the charge that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which plans to spend $75 million in its biennial effort to elect Republicans, is getting money from foreign sources. Look at this ad from the Democratic National Committee:

"It appears they've even taken foreign money to influence our elections," the ad says, as Chinese currency piles up. The evidence for this claim is somewhat thin -- the Chamber does get some funds from overseas, but it's probably not very much (though they won't say how much), and they claim the foreign funds don't pay for ads. But my question is, why are Democrats suddenly acting as though this issue is going to be some sort of saving grace for them? You've got this ad, MoveOn is running similar ads, the president has talked about it on the stump, David Axelrod was talking about it on the Sunday shows. What's going on?

One possibility is that they did some polling and focus-grouping, and the "foreign money" charge just tested through the roof, as they say. I guess that's possible, but it would be somewhat surprising, since it doesn't get to the heart of what makes people suspicious of Republicans. The issue people have with Republicans is that they care more about the wealthy and corporations than about regular people. There's certainly ample material if you wanted to make that the focus of your criticism, but for some reason, the Democrats haven't.

Another possibility for this new line of attack is that Democrats are understandably infuriated by the flood of anonymous cash that has poured in to this year's election in the wake of Citizens United and want to find some way to make the case that a bunch of big corporations and conservative billionaires are, in the words of the DNC ad, "stealing our democracy." But that's a somewhat complicated thing to explain, so they've settled on "foreign money!" as a substitute, even though the real problem is American money.

Whichever it is, it's hard to see this issue as the silver bullet the Democrats have been looking for. But maybe they know something I don't.

-- Paul Waldman

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