Unsurprisingly, Obama Re-Elect Will Accept SuperPAC Aid
In a move that some are calling hypocritical, President Obama’s re-election campaign is signaling to donors that it will not object to donations to SuperPACs acting on behalf of the President’s re-election:
WASHINGTON — President Obama is signaling to wealthy Democratic donors that he wants them to start contributing to an outside group supporting his re-election, reversing a long-held position as he confronts a deep financial disadvantage on a vital front in the campaign.
Aides said the president had signed off on a plan to dispatch cabinet officials, senior advisers at the White House and top campaign staff members to deliver speeches on behalf of Mr. Obama at fund-raising events for Priorities USA Action, the leading Democratic “super PAC,” whose fund-raising has been dwarfed by Republican groups. The new policy was presented to the campaign’s National Finance Committee in a call Monday evening and announced in an e-mail to supporters.
“We’re not going to fight this fight with one hand tied behind our back,” Jim Messina, the manager of Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign, said in an interview. “With so much at stake, we can’t allow for two sets of rules. Democrats can’t be unilaterally disarmed.”
Neither the president, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., nor their wives will attend fund-raising events or solicit donations for the Democratic group. A handful of officials from the administration and the campaign will appear on behalf of Mr. Obama, aides said, but will not directly ask for money.
The decision, which comes nine months before Election Day, escalates the money wars and is a milestone in Mr. Obama’s evolving stances on political fund-raising. The lines have increasingly blurred between presidential campaigns and super PACs, which have flourished since a 2010 Supreme Court ruling and other legal and regulatory decisions made it easier for outside groups to raise unlimited donations to promote candidates.
The Republican National Committee sharply criticized the decision. A spokesman, Joe Pounder, declared: “Yet again, Barack Obama has proven he will literally do anything to win an election, including changing positions on the type of campaign spending he called nothing short of ‘a threat to our democracy.’ “
The President’s critics on the right, and the left, didn’t waste much time pointing out that this was the same President who took the time to openly criticize the Supreme court for it’s decision in Citizens United during the 2010 State Of The Union Address, and who called SuperPACs a “corporate takeover of democracy” during an August 2010 Weekly Radio Address. However, Obama 2012 Campaign manager Jim Messina put it this way in a post on the campaign’s blog:
The President opposed the Citizens United decision. He understood that with the dramatic growth in opportunities to raise and spend unlimited special-interest money, we would see new strategies to hide it from public view. He continues to support a law to force full disclosure of all funding intended to influence our elections, a reform that was blocked in 2010 by a unanimous Republican filibuster in the U.S. Senate. And the President favors action—by constitutional amendment, if necessary—to place reasonable limits on all such spending.
But this cycle, our campaign has to face the reality of the law as it currently stands.
With so much at stake, we can’t allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm.
Therefore, the campaign has decided to do what we can, consistent with the law, to support Priorities USA in its effort to counter the weight of the GOP Super PAC. We will do so only in the knowledge and with the expectation that all of its donations will be fully disclosed as required by law to the Federal Election Commission.
It’s perhaps not surprising that Republicans and conservative pundits are using this opportunity to hit the President for hypocrisy given his previous statements about the supposed evil of SuperPACs, but he’s is also getting criticized from the left. Jonathan Turley cites it as another example of what he calls the Administration’s lack of commitment to principles:
What is interesting is that Obama is not lacking funding. He is hauling in huge contributions. Yet, principles seem to be the first to go in this Administration when it is not politically convenient. What they have lost (beyond credibility) is a campaign issue. They could have run on the corporate influence on our political process. What is left is the cult of personality surrounding the President: it is not the principle, just the person.
Steve Kornacki at Salon agrees:
The move calls to mind Obama’s decision four years ago to rationalize his way out of an early commitment to participate in the public financing system for presidential elections. Then as now Obama had a compelling financial incentive; by thumbing his nose at matching funds, he was able to create a massive gap between his own campaign treasury and that of his Republican opponent. The difference is that this time he’s doing it in the name of leveling the playing field.
In 2008, Obama took plenty of heat from good government-types and even from some supporters, and the same will probably be true this time. In a way, his decision is easy to justify: Given how important money is to modern campaigning and how close the November election is supposed to be, how could Obama not do everything in his his legal power to neutralize any GOP advantage? At the same time, it also reinforces the worst image of Obama — the guy who specializes in high-minded, inspirational rhetoric only to junk it the minute it becomes politically inconvenient.
John Cole takes a more practical approach:
It’s not good enough that Obama win re-election, he has to do it with one hand tied behind his back. We went through this crap in 2008 with public financing, and I imagine we will be hearing kvetching from the usual suspects for a while about this.
Look- I wish Super PACS didn’t exist. I wish politicians weren’t as beholden to monied interests and slaves to raising campaign cash. I really do. But that is the reality we live in, and I’m not going to hamstring my candidate and demand he play by different, tougher rules.
Cole, who appropriately titles his post Life Is Not A West Wing Episode, gets it absolutely right here. The idea that the Obama campaign would hamstring itself by declining to make use of a perfectly legal method of supporting the campaign is insane, and the people from the left who are criticizing him for it are guilty of the kind of suicidal purism that would doom any candidate. As long as SuperPACs are legal, why shouldn’t Obama’s supporters make use of them just like Romney’s supporters will? The fact taht some people actually would have expected the Democrats to sit on the sidelines in the SuperPAC fight is a pretty apt demonstration of the self-righteous silliness that surrounds much of the “get money out of politics” meme. Money has been a part of politics from the beginning, and it always will be. The idea that it can ever be eliminated, or that another round of regulations won’t lead to the invention of some other completely legal method to get around said regulations. Trying to fight it, or deny its existence, is just silly.
Kornacki is correct when he analogizes this to the President’s decision four years ago as a candidate to forgo participation in the public financing system despite previous statements where he said that he would. Personally, I was perfectly fine with that decision at the time largely because I am fundamentally opposed to the idea of public campaign financing. On a more practical level, though, the decision made absolutely perfect sense. Outside the public financing rules, Obama’s 2008 campaign could, and did, raise historic amounts of money that could be used to put together a massively organized campaign. Inside the system, the limitations on fundraising likely would have made it difficult to do that. Since Senator Obama had proven during the primary against Hillary Clinton that he was capable of raising massive amounts of money in short periods of time. Why wouldn’t they want to continue that through the General Election? While the McCain campaign and many of its supporters criticized the President for his decision back then, my question was why John McCain didn’t immediately follow suit. Instead, the McCain campaign tied a hand behind its back by opting into the public financing system, a decision that probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the election but which still seems inexplicably stupid in retrospect.
I’ve got no problem with the President’s decision here. SuperPACs aren’t a big deal for me, other than the fact that I think the law needs to be amended to require fuller and more immediate disclosure of the sources of donations and how money is expended by the SuperPAC. As for the issue of the President going back on his word as some on the left are saying, well he never really said that he wouldn’t accept help from SuperPACs, and anyone expecting moral certainty from a politician is asking for something that never has existed.