It’s not a trick question

IT’S NOT A TRICK QUESTION…. One of the key political stories of the week is ThinkProgress’ report on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s use of foreign funds to finance anti-Democratic attack ads. The Chamber’s response has been fully of sound and fury, but as the week (and the story) has progressed, there’s one thing we haven’t heard: a denial.

It’s a little complicated, but the story has one underlying point: the Chamber reportedly has one general account through which it finances its pro-Republican campaign effort. The business lobby’s initial response was that it has a “system” in place, but that’s not exactly persuasive — (1) the Chamber hasn’t elaborated on what the “system” really is; (2) the Chamber’s leadership has a track record of creating “one big pot” of money, and concluding that how it’s divided up is “immaterial”; and (3) if foreign funds are going into the larger pot, there’s the obvious problem of money being fungible.

As the story gained traction, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce went after ThinkProgress pretty aggressively, but wouldn’t respond in any detail to the underlying allegation. Today, Tita Freeman, a spokesperson for the business lobby, spoke via email to Greg Sargent, but the exchange didn’t exactly shed light on the subject.

SARGENT: My premise is that you guys think you are under no obligation to address the central allegation Think Progress is making about the general fund. Fair?

FREEMAN: Think Progress’ allegation is that we’re using foreign funds in our political activities. That is entirely inaccurate. We comply with all applicable laws.

SARGENT: The allegation is that foreign money goes into the same fund that funds your political ads.

FREEMAN: Again, that is wrong. The deminimus amount of foreign funds that come in from the AmChams and business councils is spent on international programs.

SARGENT: This seems pretty straightforward to me. Does the foreign money go into the same fund that funds the ads?

FREEMAN: The foreign money goes to funding our international programs. We are not obligated to discuss our internal accounting procedures, as we are in compliance with all applicable laws.

So, the Chamber isn’t “obligated” to answer the question, so it won’t answer the question.

Is that evidence of wrongdoing? Of course not. Are vague and evasive answers from an already-secretive lobbying group likely to reinforce concerns that the Chamber is doing something it shouldn’t be? That’s a safe bet.

Put it this way — what are the odds that the Chamber has a perfectly reasonable, legal defense for its campaign activities, that would fully exonerate the organization and make ThinkProgress look bad for even raising the allegations, but it’s choosing not to share this defense because it isn’t “obligated” to?