Aides defend Obama on campaign cash move

2012-02-08 12:06
Washington - Aides denied on Tuesday that President Barack Obama had tarnished his claim to be a warrior for the middle class by backing a fund bankrolled by rich donors and corporations fighting for his re-election.

The president will now allow top White House staffers and senior campaign advisors to speak at events organised by Priorities USA Action, a political committee founded by two former White House staffers.

Obama had previously railed at a Supreme Court decision gutting campaign finance laws and allowing such "super PACs" to raise unlimited cash from anonymous donors to pour into negative advertising barrages.

But after seeing Republican funds unleash a fearsome political blitz during the party's nominating contest, Obama apparently concluded that if he could not beat the super PACs he would have to accept a friendly one.

"Our message remains the same," said a senior campaign official on condition of anonymity.

"We believe that we need to continue to rebuild an economy that is fair for all Americans, allows everybody to get a fair shot to get ahead.

Cogs in a system

"None of that changes... what we are doing is ensuring that we are not having two sets of rules about how we fight for those things," the official said.

"This is the law as it currently stands and we felt strongly that we shouldn't go into this fight with one arm tied behind our back."

The president argues that Republicans, including his likely foe in November, Mitt Romney, are cogs in a system where the rich and corporations unfairly tilt the economy in their favour and deprive the middle class of a "fair shot".

Campaign finance reform advocates worry that the economy is unfair precisely because corporations and the wealthy unduly shape lawmaking after stumping up the campaign cash that politicians so greedily seek.

Obama had shown extreme distaste for the 2010 Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited super PAC fundraising - and his change of heart was branded by Republicans as evidence of desperation and hypocrisy.

The decision also recalls an earlier reversal by Obama, who had decried the influence of money in politics but during his 2008 campaign became the first major candidate since the Watergate scandal to refuse public financing.

Broken promises

That move allowed then-senator Obama to torch candidate spending limits and raise a record $745m for his presidential campaign.

"The Obama of 'hope and change' is no more. He's in full-campaign mode, focused on saving his own job," Republican National Committee chairperson Reince Priebus said.

House Speaker John Boehner simply said: "Just another broken promise."

And Senator John Cornyn, who chairs the Republican Senate election operation for 2012, said Obama's move was "a little hypocritical".

The Supreme Court decision struck down campaign finance restrictions by allowing unions or corporations to explicitly endorse a specific candidate and spend unlimited money on attacking opponents.

Previously, dollars intended to directly endorse a candidate or target his foe had to be given directly to campaigns and amounts were limited to a maximum of $2 500 dollars per individual donor.

Grassroots

In one example of the new power of the super PACS, a group loyal to Republican frontrunner Romney spent millions of dollars castigating his foe Newt Gingrich before January's Iowa caucuses.

Gingrich meanwhile has been kept in the race largely by a super PAC financed by a casino tycoon.

Though White House aides and officials will attend super PAC functions, Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill will avoid such events and concentrate on raising cash for Obama's official campaign.

The Obama campaign believes that despite boosting Priorities USA Action, November's election will still be won with a grassroots political ground game underpinned by small, individual donors.

In one fundraising drive this month, the Obama re-election effort has been asking donors for as little as $3 towards his campaign - and has so far raised nearly $2.6m.

The Obama campaign believes that pooling the cash of hundreds of thousands of people giving small amounts is the most effective way to organise, as it builds grassroots supports and donor banks that can be repeatedly tapped.

Obama had raised $125m for his presidential campaign up to the end of December, compared to Romney who had banked $56m.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  mitt romney  |  us  |  us elections 2012

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