From the very beginning, Mr. Obama castigated the US Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United (read the court’s opinion, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) less than a week after it was handed down. In his January 2010 State of the Union message, Obama said thus:"Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign companies – to spend without limit in our elections. Well, I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong."
So fast-forward to late Monday night, when news broke that Obama, in the words of POLITICO, offered a “reluctant blessing” for his campaign to raise money for the main – but flagging – Democratic super PAC, "Priorities USA."
The Obama campaign retort to this is a statement on Obama's website saying We will not play by two sets of rules, which would have been an insufficient argument in WW2 and Vietnam, and is an insufficient argument now. To quote,
In 2010, the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case opened the door to a new wave of so-called Super PACs—non-candidate political committees that can receive and spend unlimited money from special interests. For the first time, these committees could accept money from corporations, not just wealthy individuals.
The decision has accelerated a dangerous trend toward a political system increasingly dominated by big-money interests with disproportionate power to spend freely to influence our elections and our government.
Buuuut then we decided we like money also
But this cycle, our campaign has to face the reality of the law as it currently stands.
Over the last few months, Super PACs affiliated with Republican presidential candidates have spent more than $40 million on television and radio, almost all of it for negative ads.
Last week, filings showed that the Super PAC affiliated with Mitt Romney's campaign raised $30 million in 2011 from fewer than 200 contributors, most of them from the financial sector. Governor Romney personally helped raise money for this group, which is run by some of his closest allies.
That last paragraph there would be a great platform from which to launch attacks on Romney. It would be excellent moral high ground from which to highlight that Romney is the candidate of the wealthy and the 1%, and that he doesn't care about the working class. This would be especially powerful if the Obama campaign was to point out that, over 2008, Obama raised $778 million dollars, an unprecedented amount, overwhelmingly from individual donors making donations in the $5-$250 range.
Instead, that high ground was surrendered to the enemy, as the Obama Administration leapt down to try to fight Republicans at their own level. Many Democrat activists have lauded this, but one Progressive has dared to criticize, and that person is Russ Feingold:
The President Is Wrong -by Russ Feingold
The President is wrong to embrace the corrupt corporate politics of Citizens United through the use of Super PACs – organizations that raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations and the richest individuals, sometimes in total secrecy. It’s not just bad policy; it’s also dumb strategy.
Democrats have tried this strategy before, when enormous amounts of soft money were raised by Democratic Leadership in the 1990s. The result was the enactment, with active Democratic support, of a corporate-dominated policy agenda that included trade policies that shipped millions of family-supporting jobs overseas, fiscally reckless tax laws that greatly increased our long-term debt, and the disastrous banking and financial deregulation that paved the way for the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Just as importantly, this corrupting tactic will gut a winning, progressive strategy. When Democrats play by Republican rules, people see our party as weak, and a false alternative to the power of rich individual and corporate interests that are increasingly dominating our government.
This is dancing with the devil. 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.
Two years ago, the President was right to chastise the Supreme Court for its lawless ruling in Citizens United. Now, he and his campaign need to live up to those principles and reject the support of any Super PACs.
"Politics" as practiced in America have become not about the issues, not about any objective sense of right or wrong, but about the Teams. When the Red Team uses lobbyists, it's wrong and an outrage. When the Blue Team uses lobbyists, it is an essential and expected part of the operation of government, and any pragmatist would tell you that it can't be changed. When the Red Team uses SuperPACs, it's the End of Democracy. When the Blue Team uses SuperPACs, it's essential and necessary; any pragmatist will tell you that we have to use the weapons of the enemy if we are to defeat that enemy. If we don't become the enemy, the enemy wins. You don't want that to happen, do you?
I remember in 2008 when I supported and donated to Obama, donating a paltry $250 (half of that was during the primary season), but I was among countless others who did so. Our small individual contributions helped Barack Obama break fundraising records. The Koch Brothers have committed $60 million (1/783rd of their combined fortune) to defeating Obama? Obama raised $778 million from individual contributions, and that was before he had the bully pulpit of the presidency from which to make his points. He could publicize the Koch Brothers donations to Romney. He could make a campaign ad highlighting it and further strengthen the existing media narrative that Romney is a wealthy elitist with the backing of the 1%. He did not, he abandoned this opportunity in order to do what Democrats always do: Try to be Republican Lite and then wonder why there are many people who don't see a difference.
As a supporter of Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson, and one of his volunteers working in Ohio to get him on the 2012 presidential ballot, this would be a great time for me to point out that Rocky Anderson refuses PAC money. And SuperPAC money. And any individual donation in excess of $100. Period.