MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says it will spend up to $75 million on political ads this campaign season, the vast majority of it against Democrats with ads like these.
(Soundbite of political ads)
MALE NARRATOR: Live free or die. The motto New Hampshire proudly lives by. Paul Hodes' motto? Tax, borrow or spend - with your money.
FEMALE NARRATOR: Markey fought for the Obama/Pelosi government takeover in health care, crushing small businesses with billions in penalties.
MALE NARRATOR: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is responsible for the content of this advertising.
BLOCK: Lately, President Obama has been on the stump warning that money from foreign corporations is behind those attack ads.
President BARACK OBAMA: Some groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections. And they won't tell you where the money for their ads come from.
BLOCK: Well, our friends at the nonpartisan website PolitiFact.com have been truth-squadding the claims about foreign money and the Chamber of Commerce. Staff writer Rob Farley joins us to talk about what they found. Hi, Rob.
Mr. ROBERT FARLEY (Staff Writer, PolitiFact.com): How you doing?
BLOCK: What President Obama is saying there is stemming from a blog post from Think Progress, that's affiliated with a liberal think tank - The Center for American Progress. And they wrote that foreign money goes into the Chamber's general account and then is used to fund these political attack ads. Is that true?
Mr. FARLEY: We gave this statement by Obama a half-true. What we can say is that certainly the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has some foreign affiliates, and has some multinational companies that are members. But the Chamber says that that money is kept separate from the funds that it uses for these attack ads that you're hearing so often these days.
BLOCK: Okay. You're saying the Chamber says that it segregates that foreign money, but there's no transparency, right? They're not required to disclose it. We have to basically take their word for it.
Mr. FARLEY: That's exactly it. Trade organizations are not required by law to disclose their donors, and they don't.
BLOCK: What about this point, though: That the money is fungible, in other words, maybe it's not going directly to the ads, but it frees up other money that does?
Mr. FARLEY: Sure, that's certainly the contention. Although they claim that, you know, we keep this money separate. What else can we do? We have lots of other money from American corporations that is used to fund these ads. The money that they take in from the foreign corporations and foreign affiliates is a very small fraction of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's overall budget. And certainly they could fund these ads just with the money they get from U.S. corporations.
BLOCK: Now, there have been moves to get greater disclosure, right? Democrats and the president wanted these groups to have to be more transparent about where their money is coming from. That was blocked by Republicans.
Mr. FARLEY: That's right. That bill they called the Disclose Act was proposed by a number of Democrats. And it died in the Senate because it was just not getting enough support and certainly was opposed by Republicans.
BLOCK: I wonder, Rob, since you're in the business of fact-checking and truth-squadding, if statements like this are just sort of impossible to truth-squad because you don't have access to the information. There's no disclosure of what this money is or where it's gone.
Mr. FARLEY: That's right. You know, at the end of the day, we don't know where the money's coming from, and we won't. However, when Democrats or the president say that special-interest or secret money is coming from foreign corporations, they don't know that either. And so we are left in that sort of middle ground where we don't know, but neither do you when you say that they are funding it that way.
BLOCK: There was this exchange over the weekend when David Axelrod, the White House advisor was asked, do you have any evidence that the Chamber is using foreign money, and he responded, do you have any evidence that it's not?
Mr. FARLEY: Sure. It's more of a guilty until proven innocent sort of argument.
BLOCK: Well, Rob Farley, thanks for talking with us about it.
Mr. FARLEY: Thank you.
BLOCK: Rob Farley is a staff writer with PolitiFact.com.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.