Two Times reporters, not generally known for their Republican sympathies, mounted an unusual defense of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's alleged foreign donations against an attack launched by ThinkProgress, a blog affiliated with the left-wing Center for American Progress. Too bad the Times editorial page didn't use similar skepticism before devoting its lead editorial October 6 to the group's baseless accusations.
First, here's reporter Eric Lichtblau in Saturday's "Topic of Foreign Money in U.S. Races Hits Hustings ."
Ever since he raised the issue in his State of the Union speech nearly nine months ago - prompting head-shaking by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. of the Supreme Court - President Obama has been warning about the danger of foreign money creeping into elections as a result of the court's landmark campaign finance ruling.
In two campaign stops Thursday, Mr. Obama invoked what he portrayed as a specific new example, citing a blog posting from a liberal advocacy group as he teed off on a longtime adversary, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, over its political spending.
"Just this week, we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations," Mr. Obama said. "So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections."
But a closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the chamber does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents.
In fact, the controversy over the Chamber of Commerce financing may say more about the Washington spin cycle - where an Internet blog posting can be quickly picked up by like-minded groups and become political fodder for the president himself - than it does about the vagaries of campaign finance.
Those "like-minded groups" evidently include the New York Times editorial page, whose October 6 lead editorial  gullibly cited the left-wing report and called for a federal investigation:
The possible commingling of secret foreign money into these groups raises fresh questions about whether they are violating both the letter and spirit of the campaign finance laws. The Federal Election Commission, which has been rendered toothless by its Republican members, should be investigating possible outright violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act by foreign companies and the chamber.
Lichtblau pointed out that "Organizations from both ends of the political spectrum, from liberal ones like the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the Sierra Club to conservative groups like the National Rifle Association, have international affiliations and get money from foreign entities while at the same time pushing political causes in the United States."
On Monday, editor-reporter Peter Baker also defended the Chamber of Commerce in "Obama Says the G.O.P. Is Beholden to Interests ."
The Democrats have offered no evidence that the chamber is using foreign money to influence the elections. The chamber has overseas affiliates that pay dues to the main organization but says it has a process to segregate those funds from any used for electioneering.
The chamber is hardly the only organization playing a role in the campaign that has international affiliations and gets money from foreign institutions. Among others are groups on the political left like the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the Sierra Club. The law requires them to isolate foreign money from any domestic political activity.