President Obama is embracing something he once vehemently shunned: the super PAC.
Obama attended an event for the House Majority PAC at the Four Seasons in San Francisco on Wednesday. It came hours after Obama stopped by an event for the Senate Majority PAC on Tuesday evening at the Seattle home of former Costco chief executive Jim Sinegal. It was a pricey dinner, to say the least: Admission was $25,000 per person, but because it's a super PAC, that's the lowest threshold — they can accept unlimited donations. Organizers said the San Francisco event wasn't really a fundraiser because there was no cost of admission — but they neglected to say that attendees could give as much money as they desired.
Obama is making a run on super PAC events this week. Last Thursday, he attended an event for the House Majority PAC in New York. The event took place in an apartment building at Fifth Avenue and 65th Street whose basement boasted several wine cellars. In June, he attended another super PAC event in New York.
It marks a major turn of events for Obama, who once called the unlimited campaign spending by "special interest groups" a "threat to our democracy." He was, obviously, reluctant to start participating in such events after lambasting them for so long but agreed as a way to help Democrats in the midterm elections. But after the Citizens United Supreme Court case, and despite railing against it, Democrats have embraced super PACs. The tables turned in 2012, but this is the first year that Obama is attending the events.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Wednesday that Obama has "long advocated for campaign finance reform" and has made clear his opposition to the Citizens United decision, which Schultz said "opened the floodgates for special interests." He said Obama has supported congressional campaign finance bills that eventually died and would support a constitutional amendment changing campaign finance law. But, he said, Obama is "committed to helping Democrats" in the midterm elections.
"He has tried to do a lot on this, some unilaterally, but when Republicans block measures in Congress, he doesn’t feel like we’re going to allow the midterms to happen on an uneven playing field," Schultz said.
Let's take a look at what Obama has said in the past.
"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. 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. And I'd urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems."
"And thanks to a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United, they are being helped along this year by special interest groups that are spending unlimited amounts of money on attack ads — attacking folks like Patrick Murphy, attacking folks like Joe Sestak — just attacking people without ever disclosing who’s behind all these attack ads. You don’t know. It could be the oil industry. It could be the insurance industry. It could even be foreign-owned corporations. You don’t know because they don’t have to disclose.
"Now, that’s not just a threat to Democrats — that’s a threat to our democracy. Every American business and industry deserves a seat at the table, but they don’t get to a chance to buy every chair. We’ve seen what happens when they do. They put the entire economy at risk, and every American might end up suffering.
"So you can’t let it happen. Don’t let them hijack your agenda. The American people deserve to know who’s trying to sway their elections. And you can’t stand by and let special interests drown out the voices of the American people."
"This ruling opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy. It gives the special interest lobbyists new leverage to spend millions on advertising to persuade elected officials to vote their way — or to punish those who don’t. That means that any public servant who has the courage to stand up to the special interests and stand up for the American people can find himself or herself under assault come election time. Even foreign corporations may now get into the act.
"I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest. The last thing we need to do is hand more influence to the lobbyists in Washington, or more power to the special interests to tip the outcome of elections."