Updated on Nov. 4 at 8:44 p.m.
Four days after his dismal Denver presidential debate performance, Barack Obama secretly attended a fundraiser for a super PAC in violation of a campaign pledge to avoid such events, according to the authors of a new book, Double Down: Game Change 2012.
The Oct. 7 event, at Hollywood producer Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Beverly Hills house, involved nine other tycoons and former President Bill Clinton, and it helped secure three checks for $1 million, according to the new book’s authors, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Just eight months earlier, Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina had promised Obama supporters in a blog post that “the President, Vice President, and First Lady will not be a part” of the campaign’s efforts to support SuperPacs.
The event was billed as a thank you event for donors to the President’s campaign. “As was widely reported at the time, President Clinton joined President Obama at a thank you event for supporters,” said Eric Shultz, a White House spokesman, on Monday afternoon.
The appearance was legal, according to the book authors, since Obama did not make a direct appeal for money, but the revelation further blurs the already cloudy lines that divided campaign fundraising and outside spending in the 2012 campaign.
The 2010 Supreme Court ruling that gave birth to the current era of super PACs was anchored in a simple idea: Outside groups that spent money to influence elections could not coordinate with campaigns and candidates, limiting the risk of official quid pro quo, the exchange of campaign cash for government favors. In the words of Justice Anthony Kennedy, “[I]ndependent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
But the legal definition of coordination was drawn so narrowly by the Federal Election Commission as to appear almost meaningless throughout much of the campaign. The main super PAC supporting Republican Candidate Mitt Romney, called Restore Our Future, was organized by three former advisers to Romney’s 2008 campaign, under the direction of two people who would lead the 2012 effort.
Halperin and Heilemann report that the Restore began in 2009, even before the Supreme Court ruling, as a project called “Avatar.” The 2008 Romney Campaign Manager, Beth Myers, who would become a senior advisor to the 2012 effort, worked with Matt Rhoades, the 2012 campaign manager, to recruit the leaders of the group. At one point, Rhoades told the recruits, “You’re part of the Romney family,” the book reports.
The two teams ceased all communication 120 days before the super PAC began running ads, as required by federal regulators. But Romney still appeared at several Restore Our Future events where money was raised; aides said Romney did not explicitly ask for money.
During the heat of the campaign, when Restore was running sometimes inaccurate ads against Romney’s Republican primary opponents, the candidate tried to distance himself from their effort. “Super PACs have to be entirely separate from candidates or a campaign,” Romney said in a Dec. 20 appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “If we coordinate in any way whatsoever, we go to the big house.”
Romney also said in that appearance that it would be “illegal” for him to tell Restore to stop advertising with inaccurate messages. While Romney was barred from communicating privately with the group, there are no legal restrictions on him publically denouncing the group’s efforts, something he declined to do during the most contentious days of the campaign.
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The original post has been updated with a comment from a White House spokesman.