[Posted by Karl]
On a conference call with members of President Obama’s 2012 reelection committee Monday evening, campaign manager Jim Messina announced that donors should start funding Priorities USA, the Democratic super PAC run by two former White House staffers, Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney.
The move was a remarkable shift in approach toward the independent political expenditure groups, whose role in the political process Obama has criticized and from which his campaign had sought to keep distance.
Just seven months earlier, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt assured, “Neither the President nor his campaign staff or aides will fundraise for super PACs,” according to the LA Times.
BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski collects video of Obama’s attacks on the Citizens United ruling that made this spending possible, while Ben Smith recalls Obama’s earlier campaign financing hypocrisy in rejecting public funding:
That 2008 decision wasn’t made entirely out of some reformist purity. Obama would go back on a pledge to take public financing, accepting the hit on his reform credentials (which was enacted solely on the Times editorial page) in exchange for a serious financial advantage over John McCain. And his team decided that outside allies — whether the 527s or the more traditional DNC independent expenditure, could only muddy up the purity of his very pure message.
So what has changed? One major shift is that Obama faces an opponent whose rich friends really will pour tens of millions into outside groups, unlike the underfunded and relatively isolated John McCain.
Josh Kraushaar laid this out in detail last week. Based on the 2011 numbers:
[T]he combined Obama and Democratic outside group totals to $98.3 million cash-on-hand, with the GOP groups tallying $94.1 million. Take out the Democratic groups strictly devoted to congressional activities, and it’s a virtual financial tie. With labor and environmental groups poised to help Obama’s re-election, Democrats still could hold a narrow edge. But it’s hardly the cash advantage that would allow Team Obama to run negative advertising uncontested against Romney, without an aggressive response.
It’s a far cry from the vision of a billion-dollar Obama re-election campaign bankroll that Democratic strategists are now downplaying. And it shows that the amount of time Democrats spent complaining and attacking the liberalized campaign finance laws before the 2010 midterms would have been better spent preparing for an infrastructure utilizing super PACs to their advantage. Priorities USA, headed by former White House spokesman Bill Burton, hasn’t yet shown it can compete with American Crossroads so far — and time is running short.
This was really a no-brainer for Obama. In my experience — and his — there is no political price to be paid for gaming the campaign finance system. Politico’s Jonathan Martin and others will sniff and move on, just to make sure it remains a Beltway story. Indeed, it’s barely a “Beltway story” — it made the front page of the NYT, but not the WaPo.