Obama Completes His Slow About-Face on Super PACs

Four years after lambasting the Supreme Court for opening the door to unlimited money, the president is all in

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In his 2010 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama lambasted the Supreme Court for its decisions overturning key sections of campaign finance law and paving the way for the creation of the Super PAC.

“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said in an unusually public presidential smack-down of the high court. “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities—they should be decided by the American people.”

Four years later, that position is unrecognizable. Since the Citizens United decision and other relevant court rulings, Obama has inched ever closer to the big-money groups he once decried, and in the coming months will make a full-on embrace of super PACs, which can accept unlimited money from corporations and wealthy individuals to spend on behalf of, or against, candidates across the country.

A White House official confirmed Friday that Obama has committed to fundraising events in the coming months for Senate Majority PAC and House Majority PAC, groups taking unlimited donations to help elect Democrats in the midterm elections. The move completes Obama’s slow acceptance of the increasingly dominant political groups. Obama initially kept his distance from Priorities USA Action, the group founded by former political aides in 2011, which resulted in low fundraising totals. Obama campaign gurus Jim Messina and David Axelrod, spooked by massive fundraising by Republican super PACs, urged the president to give the group his blessing, driving donations from a paltry $58,815.83 in the month before Obama’s sanction to $2 million in the four weeks after it.

But Obama had pledged publicly to avoid personally fundraising for the group, along with the Vice President and First Lady, a promise that was tested toward the end of the campaign, according to the book Double Down: Game Change 2012. According to the authors, Obama and former President Bill Clinton attended an event days after the disastrous first debate at the Beverly Hills home of Jeffrey Katzenberg, which helped bring in three $1 million checks.

Publicly, it was billed as a thank-you event for donors to the president’s campaign, a statement the White House stood by after the book’s release.

White House officials frame Obama’s embrace of the Democratic super PACs as a measure of his dedication toward electing Democrats this fall, and a reflection of his value in helping the party raise money even when he might not be the best surrogate for some candidates on the ground. Through June, Obama has committed to 18 events for the Democratic National Committee, and 12 for the committees working to elect Democratic governors, senators, and representatives. Much of what is raised, though, will need to be used to help retire the party’s remaining $15.9 million in debt from the 2012 campaign.

Speaking to the DNC on Friday, Obama will call for a unified party message around the issue of “Opportunity for All,” his 2014 State of the Union theme. “The choice couldn’t be more clear,” he will say of the midterms. “Opportunity for a few—or opportunity for all.”