Reporting from Washington — Top Republican operatives on Sunday accused Democrats, including President Obama, of leveling "baseless charges" for contending that the GOP and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce were using secret foreign contributions to influence the upcoming midterm elections.
But senior Democratic leaders, including White House advisor David Axelrod, refused to back down, asserting that political money from outside the United States was aiding Republicans.
"Why not simply disclose where this money is coming from?" Axelrod challenged Republicans on CBS' "Face the Nation" program. "Then all of these questions will be answered."
Refusing to identify donors is "a threat to our democracy," he said, repeating an allegation that Obama made last week.
Nonprofit groups are not required to disclose donors. Other political groups must identify donors who give more than $200.
On CBS, Axelrod singled out special interest groups, including some that he said were backed by Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, and the Chamber of Commerce.
Speaking on the same program, Gillespie retorted that in 2008, $400 million raised by undisclosed advocacy groups helped elect Obama.
Democratic officials say much of their advocacy group support came from organizations registered as political groups, which must disclose their donations, and labor unions, which are required to file reports with the Labor Department.
Gillespie also suggested it was hypocritical of Democrats to run a new ad accusing him, the chamber and former George W. Bush advisor Karl Rove of "stealing our democracy." The ad says Republicans are spending millions "from secret donors to elect Republicans to do their bidding" and "it appears they're even taking foreign money to influence our elections."
Gillespie called the ads "an unbelievable mentality" and a "grasp on power." The undisclosed donations are "not a threat to democracy," he said. "It may be a threat to their power. But their power and democracy are not the same thing."
Rove, a Fox News contributor speaking on "Fox News Sunday," said of the Democrats, "Have these people no shame?"
He singled out Obama's comments from a Maryland campaign rally Thursday: "Groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections," the president said. "And they won't tell you where the money for those ads comes from. So this isn't just a threat to Democrats. This is a threat to our democracy."
Replied Rove on Sunday, "Does the president of the United States have such little regard for the office that he holds that he goes out there and makes these kind of baseless charges against his political enemies? This is just beyond the pale. How dare the president do this?"
The Chamber of Commerce denies using foreign funds in political efforts, but does not disclose its donors. Thomas J. Collamore, a senior vice president for the chamber, dismissed the new Democratic National Committee ad as "a blatant attempt to avoid a serious discussion of Americans' top priority — creating jobs and growing the economy."
The controversy stems, in part, from a U.S. Supreme Court decision in January that corporations and unions can spend an unlimited amount of money independently advocating for candidates. Democrats portray the decision as applying to foreign corporations as well, which Republicans dispute.