It feels like a distant memory now, but you’ll recall that a big Democratic theme shortly before the 2010 elections was the way conservative “outside groups” not officially aligned with the party were bombarding Democratic candidates with attack ads funded by non-disclosed money. This was David Axelrod to ABC News in mid-October:
[J]just disclose where your money is coming from and that will end all the questions. The fact is they are spending $75 million in this campaign and they will not disclose where one dime is coming from. And that’s the problem with all of these organizations. We have tens of millions of special interest money coming into these campaigns and no record of where its coming from and that should be a concern to every voter in this country.
But today’s LA Times notes that the 2012 Obama campaign will likely have its own undisclosed financial firepower:
Majority PAC, a new group aimed at electing Democrats to the Senate, and American Bridge 21st Century, which will serve as a research hub, are being organized as so-called super political action committees that can raise unlimited amounts of money from contributors whose donations are reported to the Federal Election Commission. But both are also affiliated with nonprofit 501(c)(4) social welfare groups that can raise money from undisclosed donors and give money directly to super PACs.
The same dual structure is being considered by Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, two former White House aides who are likely to launch their own independent expenditure effort in support of President Obama’s reelection, according to people familiar with the plans.
As a spokesman for Obama, Burton repeatedly hammered Republican groups for their lack of transparency in 2010. He declined to comment.
There’s definitely an element of hypocrisy here. When it was politically convenient–because Republicans had an organizational edge in this area–the Obama team railed against undisclosed outside dollars. Now they’re trying to play catch up. (Non-disclosure draws in money from donors who, for personal or business reasons, don’t want their political giving in the public domain.)
Today Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for the Kar Rove-affiliated group American Crossroads emails out these questions:
Is Bill Burton now a threat to our democracy? Will the Darth Vader leitmotif mysteriously pop up on the West Wing sound system next time Burton visits?
But while it’s certainly awkward for the Obama team, it’s not quite as ridiculous as Collegio implies. The difference is that when they controlled the Congress, Democrats–with Obama’s support–fought in earnest for a campaign finance reform law that would require much more disclosure from so-called outside political groups. Republicans killed it in the Senate.
I suppose you could argue that Democrats should play by the rules they believe should exist, rather than current law. It’s akin to saying that liberals should send more money to the IRS even when they get tax cuts. But it’s not realistic, especially in a cut-throat political arena where a big financial advantage can tilt the election.