Obama has a change of heart about super PACs

Posted: February 08, 2012

WASHINGTON - In a reversal, President Obama is embracing the big-money fund-raising groups he assailed as a "threat to democracy" on the grounds they let money corrode elections. His shift is a pragmatic move to win reelection, and a concession that his team had no choice but to go along with today's supercharged rules.

Swamped by outside Republican groups in fund-raising so far, Obama belatedly decided to give his blessing to super PACs, which can accept unlimited donations from corporations, labor unions, and wealthy individuals. Both Obama's campaign and the White House maintain that the president does not support today's rules but realized he must play by them to give himself a competitive chance at a second term.

"He's not saying that the system is healthy or good," said Obama spokesman Jay Carney, who was pressed repeatedly about whether Obama's move was hypocrisy. "He is making the decision, his campaign is making the decision, that the rules are what they are. And they cannot play by a different set of rules than Republicans are playing."

That's not consistent with what Obama has said about the groups. And now, by putting strategy above all else, Obama opened himself to criticism that he had compromised on principle and succumbed to the rules of the same Washington game he had pledged to change.

Obama has opposed the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in the Citizens United case. It stripped away certain limits on campaign contributions and led to the explosion of outside fund-raising groups, which can receive donations from nonprofit groups that conceal donors. The new super PACs can't coordinate directly with campaigns but have already played a major role in the Republican primary contests, supporting millions of dollars' worth of negative advertising in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida.

During his 2010 State of the Union speech, Obama accused the Supreme Court of reversing "a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests - including foreign corporations - to spend without limit in our elections."

Months later, campaigning for Democrats before the 2010 midterm elections, Obama railed against corporate interests spending money directly to sway federal elections, calling it a "threat to our democracy."

Obama has now flip-flopped on campaign finance for a second time in as many campaigns after vowing to rein in the role of big money in politics. Four years ago, he broke a pledge to accept taxpayer money from the public financing system and agree to accompanying spending limits if his Republican opponent did. The move helped Obama financially overwhelm Republican John McCain and capture the White House.

This time, Obama's campaign is urging its top donors to support Priorities USA Action, a super PAC led by two former Obama aides that has struggled to compete with the tens of millions of dollars collected by Republican-backed outside groups. Campaign officials confirmed Tuesday that the president had signed off on the decision.

Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D., Wis.), a champion for campaign-finance reform, said Obama was "wrong to embrace the corrupt corporate politics of Citizens United through the use of super PACs . . . . It's not just bad policy; it's also dumb strategy."

Republicans jumped on Obama's embrace of the super PACs and made clear they would use it against him. "Just another broken promise," House Speaker John A. Boehner (R., Ohio) said of Obama's decision.

Obama Team to Return Funds

President Obama's campaign is returning about $200,000 in contributions collected by family members of a Mexican casino owner

who fled the United States after facing drug and

fraud charges.

The campaign said Monday it had decided to return the donations arranged by Chicago brothers Carlos Cardona and Alberto

Rojas Cardona.

The New York Times reported late Monday that the fund-raisers are the brothers of casino owner Juan Jose Rojas Cardona, who skipped bail in Iowa in 1994 and has since been linked to violence and corruption in Mexico.

The campaign said it refunded the money raised by family members after the newspaper asked about the brothers' fund-raising role. Obama campaign officials said they were identifying donations bundled by

other people connected to Cardona. - AP