(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Last night, President Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, sent out an e-mail announcing that the Super PAC Priorities USA will now receive the full backing and support of the presidential campaign:
With so much at stake, we can’t allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm.
Therefore, the campaign has decided to do what we can, consistent with the law, to support Priorities USA in its effort to counter the weight of the GOP Super PACs. We will do so only in the knowledge and with the expectation that all of its donations will be fully disclosed as required by law to the Federal Election Commission.
What this change means practically: Senior campaign officials as well as some White House and Cabinet officials will attend and speak at Priorities USA fundraising events. While campaign officials may be appearing at events to amplify our message, these folks won’t be soliciting contributions for Priorities USA. I should also note that the President, Vice President, and First Lady will not be a part of this effort; their political activity will remain focused on the President’s campaign.
The political calculus here is obvious, and the decision inevitable. Last year, the leading pro-Democratic Super PACs and some nonprofit affiliates raised $19 million. The top ten GOP Super PACs raised $64 million over the same period—and that doesn’t include $32 million raised by Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. Priorities USA has struggled to raise money to this point, in part because the campaign hasn’t given it the kind of support it is now pledging.
Obama’s team no doubt looked with angst at these fundraising totals, and last week they watched Super PACs supporting Mitt Romney spend $15 million in Florida on advertisements targeting Newt Gingrich, who had only $3 million in Super PAC support. Gingrich was blown out of the water only a week after winning South Carolina, and without suffering any sort of notable gaffe or change in political fortune beforehand.
Money makes a difference, particularly in national elections, and the number of voters who count campaign finance purity as their top issue probably number in the hundreds, particularly amidst an economic crisis. It was never a question of if Obama would rev up Super PAC support but when.
Messina took pains in his e-mail to assert Obama’s distaste for outside money, and outline the president’s previous opposition: only days after Citizen’s United was announced, Obama called out the decision during his State of the Union address with the justices sitting not twenty feet away. He also supported the DISCLOSE Act to increase transparency in campaign finance.