President Obama has never liked super-PACs, the new breed of political outfit spawned in part by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. He'd probably wipe them off the map with a penstroke if he could. Yet on Monday night, Obama squared up to the reality that his re-election bid will need the heavy artillery of a super-PAC, if only to better fight the shadowy conservative groups lining up behind Mitt Romney, the likely GOP nominee.
Obama, the New York Times reports, has indicated to donors that he wants them to give to the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action, which is run by former Obama White House aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney. Priorities has struggled since its launch last year, raking in just $4.4 million in 2011. By contrast, pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future raised $30.2 million in 2011, and Rove's American Crossroads raised $18.4 million.
Here's more from the Times:
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.
Left- and right-wing groups bashed Obama for this decision. But there's some crucial context needed here. For starters, this clearly isn't a call Obama made lightly. In his 2010 State of the Union, he blasted the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that helped usher in super-PACs, saying it would "open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections." And more recently, an Obama campaign staffer said the president was "flat-out opposed" to the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action super-PAC.
What's more, Obama and Congressional Democrats support reforms to eviscerate super-PACs and limit the ability of corporations and unions to spend general treasury money on elections. Those reforms included the DISCLOSE Act, a piece of legislation intended to counteract the effects of Citizens United which was killed by Senate Republicans in 2010. And as Obama campaign manager Jim Messina pointed out, the president continues to back not only new legislation casting more light on money in politics, but also a constitutional amendment to boost regulation of all that money sloshing around our elections.
Obama's no fan of super-PACs. But he and his lieutenants aren't going to "unilaterally disarm," as Messina and plenty other Democrats like to say. They're going to fight fire with fire.