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Why is Obama now supporting super PACs?

President Obama has reversed himself, and is now allowing cabinet officials and senior White House advisers to raise funds for 'Priorities USA Action,' a super PAC.

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After extolling the president’s willingness to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision, even his willingness to go so far as a constitutional amendment, Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina noted in a blog post:

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 "this cycle, our campaign has to face the reality of the law as it currently stands.

Over the last few months, Super PACs affiliated with Republican presidential candidates have spent more than $40 million on television and radio, almost all of it for negative ads.

Last week, filings showed that the Super PAC affiliated with Mitt Romney’s campaign raised $30 million in 2011 from fewer than 200 contributors, most of them from the financial sector. Governor Romney personally helped raise money for this group, which is run by some of his closest allies.

Meanwhile, other Super PACs established for the sole purpose of defeating the President – along with 'nonprofits' that also aren’t required to disclose the sources of their funding – have raised more than $50 million. In the aggregate, these groups are expected to spend half a billion dollars, above and beyond what the Republican nominee and party are expected to commit to try to defeat the President.

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."

Besides calling the Obama campaign’s decision a “cynical course reversal,” Crossroads pointed reporters toward an October 2010 NYT piece detailing Obama’s harsh criticism of super PACs. In short, Obama argues that super PACs are a threat to American democracy as we know it.

"You can’t let it happen," Obama told thousands of supporters gathered at a school park in a predominantly African-American, working-class neighborhood in northern Philadelphia. "Don’t let them hijack your agenda. The American people deserve to know who’s trying to sway their elections, and you can’t stand by and let the special interests drown out the voices of the American people....

"You don’t know," he said here. “It could be the oil industry, it could be the insurance industry, it could even be foreign-owned corporations. You don’t know because they don’t have to disclose. Now that’s not just a threat to Democrats, that’s a threat to our democracy."

And while Democrats are trying to get into the game, that more recent New York Times article raises another tough question for the Obama team: After decrying super PACs for so long, will their moneymen (and ladies) rush to prop up Priorities USA?

As a top adviser to George Soros, one of the left’s wealthiest benefactors, put it:

“It takes either a very sophisticated or very cynical person to decry the nefarious influence of money on politics and then turn around and write a check for $5 million to influence elections.”

Or even more bitingly, as one top Democratic fundraiser recently told a top Priorities USA official, per POLITICO: “Is this what we’ve become?”

David Grant

  • What’s a super PAC? See the Monitor’s explainer here.
  • Love yourself some super PAC that’s always been a big fan of itself? Check out Stephen Colbert’s/Jon Stewart’s super PAC here.

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