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Obama got nailed pretty hard yesterday over his decision to embrace super PAC donations for the upcoming November elections. Specifically, the president’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, urged supporters to contribute to Priorities USA Action despite critical comments the president has made about campaign finance and the Supreme Court’s super-PAC-expanding Citizens United decision.
The backlash was fierce. Democrat Russ Feingold criticized the president as “dancing with the devil” in endorsing “what is effectively a legalized Abramoff system.” (Abramoff infamously served hard time for lobbying abuses.) Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for American Crossroads, the
super PAC run by Republican operative Karl Rove, called it “a brazenly cynical move.” (Readers are advised to take this latter analysis with a shaker of salt; American Crossroads is, after all, an organization whose sole purpose is smearing, and ultimately defeating, the president and other
Democrats in November.)
Cries of hypocrisy stem from disparaging remarks the president has made about Citizens United, most recently some feisty rhetoric from his State of the Union address last month when he said the 2010 ruling “reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.” Similarly, in an August 2010 address, Obama urged Americans that “we can not allow a corporate takeover of our democracy.”
Messina addressed the above sorts of complaint in pointing out that Obama will be facing down hundreds of millions from opposing super PACs. “Our campaign has to face the reality of the law as it stands,” he wrote. And considering recent funding disclosures, the reality for Obama is not good. Though the president leads Mitt Romney in non-PAC fundraising, big-money donors on the right have outdonated their left-wing counterparts by almost four times, leaving Obama and his party vulnerable to attack.
Of course, Obama campaigned on ending the corrosive influence of money in politics. Four years later and he’s made no visible attempt to fix this problem. Now he needs more money.
Whether or not you hold Obama accountable for this concession to work within the system he has built his reputation on spurning depends partly on whether you value victory over ideals. The president’s campaign argues it’s more important to utilize the legal fundraising options that will be available to his opponents than to stake a claim on this important issue — and thereby die by it. Is the move hypocritical? Definitely, especially considering he’s already done the staking. But if Obama really wants to preside long enough to change this law, he’ll need to win re-election first.
Follow Brayden Simms on Twitter @metropolitik