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President Obama and the Democrats have spent the last leg of the election cycle slamming Republicans for pouring millions into outside groups to run campaign ads. The GOP-allied groups are now vastly outstripping Democratic spending in the election, but it's not only because GOPers have unleashed the floodgates. As Politico's Ben Smith reports, the Democrats' lag in outside spending is also because Obama himself has discouraged deep-pocketed donors from giving to outside groups, beginning with the 2008 campaign.
"The leadership of the Obama campaign warned their donors against giving to outside groups - including many of the key issue groups that motivate progressives. The leadership in the White House has done the same thing," said Erica Payne, one of the founders of the Democracy Alliance, a group of the largest liberal donors, who now heads the Agenda Project.
Obama's approach also stands in stark contrast to Bill Clinton's:
And Clinton's former aides are some of those watching incredulously as Obama helplessly denounces outside money instead of encouraging Democratic donors, or even cultivating the kind of mega-donors who might spend in his support…
"When you're in a fight—and we're in a real fight—you want as much help as you can get from any quarter," said the former Clinton aide Harold Ickes, who recruited mega-donors led by George Soros to give some $200 million to Democratic efforts in 2004. "It doesn't seem to me that there's been much encouragement from the White House for outside help."
As the story explains, Obama discouraged large donations to outside groups partly out of ideological reasons—wanting to change "business as usual" in Washington, relying instead on the unprecedented outpouring of support from small donors. But Smith also argues that disarming outside groups also allowed the Obama campaign to maintain tight, top-down control of their campaign message.