President Obama’s decision to sign off on fundraising efforts for Democratic Super PACs came as aides feared an onslaught of perhaps $500 million in attack ads led by the Koch brothers and Karl Rove.
In a conference call with reporters explaining their move, senior officials repeatedly invoked the Koch spectre, referencing reports of a recent conference in which the conservative billionaires secured $100 million in pledges from wealthy donors to support Obama’s Republican challenger. Combined with the Rove-founded American Crossroads’ goal of raising as much as $240 million ($50 million of which they raised in 2011), the campaign said they were concerned they would be swamped by as much as a “half billion dollars” in “Karl Rove/Koch Brothers unlimited spending,” most of which they expected to be devoted to negative ads.
As a result, he campaign said they would “support Priorities USA in its effort to counter the weight of the GOP.”
Obama still supports legislation requiring political donors to quickly make public their contributions and officials said he backs a constitutional amendment to roll back the effect of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that unleashed Super PACs onto the scene. However, the White House sees little prospect for it happening anytime soon under a Republican Congress.
“He would certainly support those efforts but we recognize the political reality under the law we’re living in right now and we need to be realistic about that,” an official said.
The administration intends to make senior officials and some cabinet secretaries available to help Priorities USA raise cash, hoping they can supercharge what has been up until now a fairly lackluster fundraising performance compared to its GOP rivals.
The Obama campaign is running strong on the message that they can’t operate under a system where Republicans take advantage of the opportunities offered by Super PACS, while Democrats deny themselves that avenue. Even so, Obama took some heat from the left on Tuesday, as former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, condemned the administration’s decision to participate in the new Super PAC system.
“This is dancing with the devil,” he said in a statement. “I know a lot of Democrats in D.C. don’t agree, and I understand the desire to do everything possible to win. But this decision will push Democrats to become corporate-lite, and will send us head-on into a battle we know we will lose, because Republicans like Mitt Romney and his friends have and will spend more money.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.