Obama to accept super PAC dollars he once shunned
(Video: Republican analyst Alfonso Aguilar and Andrew Selee from the Woodrow Wilson Center, weigh-in on Obama’s change of heart on super PACs and on campaign donations.)
President Obama once decried super PACs as a “threat to democracy.” Now he’s given his blessing to super PACs raising money to buttress his reelection bid.
Late on Monday night, the Obama campaign leaked to media outlets that the president has signaled to high-dollar Democratic donors that he wants them to contribute to outside spending groups backing his campaign, such as Priorities Action USA. Campaign and administration officials will appear before the group, but won’t specifically ask donors for money. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and their spouses won’t participate in events for the group.
The decision is a major reversal for Obama, demonstrating that his campaign has sacrificed principle for practicality in an election year.
Year-end fundraising reports showed Republican outside spending groups, including Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS as well as groups supporting individual candidates, raising around eight times more than Democratic groups. Mitt Romney’s super PAC Restore Our Future alone raised $30 million last year, compared to $4.4 million raised by Priorities Action USA.
Obama’s team decided it could not cede that advantage to Republicans, despite the fact his campaign raised nearly three times as much cash as his chief Republican competitor Mitt Romney’s in the last three months of 2011.
Obama’s campaign went to lengths to explain its decision, claiming that Obama still opposes outside spending on principle, but cannot afford to surrender super PAC money if it expects to win the election. Campaign manager Jim Messina sent a message to supporters late Monday night declaring “we will not play by two sets of rules.”
“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,” wrote Messina. “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.”
Super PACs, which can raise unlimited sums of money from wealthy donors, have already played a major role in the 2012 campaign, especially in the areas of television and radio advertising, much of which has been negative. And some of that advertising has been targeted at Spanish-speaking Latinos, the fastest-growing voting bloc.
It started last summer, when Crossroads GPS launched a Spanish-language TV ad in Latino-heavy swing states attacking Obama’s record. Priorities Action USA responded in Florida with a Spanish radio ad going after Romney’s economic and immigration policies. Two super PACs targeting Latinos have formed since the beginning of the year.
Campaign finance reform advocates say they are not surprised by the president’s decision and suggested that his past outspoken opposition to outside political spending has opened him up to criticism.
“I’m not surprised, this is in line with a decision he made when he first ran for office. He was going to go on the public financing system. But once he realized he could raise more money than the system allowed, he turned around and he said, ‘never mind,’” Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, told Univision News. “The inconsistency is with his rhetoric.”
Obama has a long record of slamming the influence of outside political money. In 2010, he called it “the corporate take over of our democracy” and during his State of the Union that year, he railed against the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case that allowed the flood of unlimited, and sometimes anonymous, political contributions.
“I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests … or worse by foreign enemies,” he said. “They should be decided by the American people.”
The super PAC decision overshadowed another story that raised questions about Obama’s fundraising: Carlos and Alberto Rojas Cardona, the American brothers of a Mexican casino magnate Pepe Cardona, who is also a fugitive in the U.S., raised over $200,000 for the campaign. The Obama campaign returned the donations and explained the Cardona brothers slipped through their donor vetting process.
But in a telling sign of the pitfalls of the outside fundraising system, the Cardona brothers could have given the money, but hidden their identity to the public, if they contributed to the Obama-affiliated 501(c4) group Priorities USA, the companion group to Priorities Action USA.