WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s campaign is reconfiguring its approach to powerful super PACs, worried the president’s re-election prospects could be overwhelmed by conservative groups raising and spending unlimited amounts of money. The president’s advisers have signaled to donors that he will soften, for the time being, his long-standing opposition to the outside groups, in hopes of assisting their fundraising efforts and leveling the campaign finance field heading into the general election. Obama’s campaign staff will go so far as to appear at super PAC events — though they will not be explicitly raising money. The president will not attend those events, a source confirmed. The new posture is a reversal for the president, and one likely to trouble some in the progressive universe see: Feingold, Russ. Obama was staunchly anti-outside money during his pre-White House political career, and first ran for the White House encouraging deep-pocketed Democrats to send checks only through his campaign.
Today I got an email from the Obama campaign team saying they were going to support a Super PAC to “neutralize the avalanche of special-interest spending” by opposing Super PACs. I am a voter who feels that unlimited campaign spending, especially that by outside groups funded mostly by ultra-rich donors, skews the available political speech toward the messages favorable to rich donors. I wanted to believe in the 2008 Obama message about reforming how Washington works and rejecting the control money has over elections. I’m not getting that vibe from Obama at all the last couple years. He has had dozens of opportunities to speak against money in politics and has missed them. Despite desperate attempts in today’s email announcing a decision to support donations to a Super PAC to appear to oppose that decision, it comes off as a pathetic cave-in. (And Obama doesn’t need to pad his reputation on the left for skill at pathetic cave-ins.) Closing line from campaign spokesman Jim Messina:
It’s my hope that by making this decision and doing what we can to neutralize the onslaught of special-interest money, we can ensure that the decisive factor in this election won’t be an unprecedented flood of special-interest spending, and the outcome will be back in the hands of ordinary Americans.
Countering an onslaught of big-dollar donations from Republican-leaning special interests with an unprecedented flood of donations from your own rich friends does nothing to stem the unprecedented flood of special-interest spending in elections. Thanks so much for the doublespeak.
I don’t know why Obama has failed to take the strong stand against unlimited outside money in political campaigns that his 2008 were led to expect from him. Political donations are a profoundly unequal form of political speech, and now is a perfect time in American public discourse to stand up for the little guy, the 99%, the people, whatever. It’s especially surprising for him to turn to Super PACS for this election, because he is the incumbent; he has the bully pulpit. He could go on as a guest on every news show saying unlimited political spending in campaigns is destroying the people’s voice in politics. His statements get automatic coverage in news media, and when today’s is his campaign’s statement; it is covered on HuffPo’s front page, so this is the message people hear: “Obama doesn’t mind this Super PAC way of playing the game. He’s playing the game too.”
That is not a very inspiring message. It was really the inspiring messages he had that led him to success in 2008, not any anti-Hillary or anti-McCain attack ad. I am even less inspired by the “Corporations are people”, Super PACing ways of Mitt Romney, but I will not throw my support behind a president who wants to play along. We’ll see who ends up getting my vote in November. Oregon’s primary is always too late to make any difference (for Buddy Roemer, for example, who is one of the very few politicians’ voices anywhere in this campaign season against the influence of money in politics.)
As the SOPA/PIPA protests from January 18 showed, there is a huge portion of the public who can with the right reason, suddenly affect the political discussion (I bet many of them participated in Obama’s 2008 campaign and are balking now). With the right message, the people will be there behind you. “I’m bringing in more rich people’s money to get this campaign back to a level playing field” is tone-deaf to the public’s needs. The media won’t point this out, because you can probably ballpark the percentage of Super PAC funds that actually end up in TV stations’ budgets.