For those who favor tougher regulation of money in politics, this follows a string of disappointments, including Obama’s decision this year to transform his campaign committee into an advocacy group, Organizing for Action, that can collect unlimited donations.
Obama also promised during his reelection campaign to pursue a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court opinion that allowed corporations to spend unlimited money on politics. Nothing has happened since.
In addition, the White House has not filled a position overseeing ethics and lobbying issues for more than two years — a job Obama created with great fanfare when he took office in 2009.
Reformers of both parties describe the president’s campaign finance record in unsparing terms.
“It’s disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who ran against Obama in 2008 and has spent years trying to limit the amount of money that pours into federal political campaigns.
In a joint letter to Obama on Monday, seven reform groups expressed their “deep concern about the nation’s corrupt campaign finance system and about your failure, to date, as president to provide meaningful leadership or take effective action to solve this fundamental problem facing our democracy.”
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement that Obama “has taken historic steps to reduce the corrosive influence of money in politics.”
“President Obama has done more in the past four years to close the revolving door of special-interest influence than any president before him,” Schultz said.
When it comes to affecting the flow of private money into federal elections, however, many advocates think Obama has done more to open the spigot than close it.
In 2008, he became the first presidential nominee since Richard M. Nixon to reject public financing in his primary and general-election campaigns. He also shattered fundraising records during his 2012 reelection bid and allowed corporations to help underwrite his second inauguration with more than $8 million in donations.
But for many former allies, Obama’s decision to convert his campaign operation into a political advocacy group with unlimited funding was the final straw.
“The president has engaged in uncharted waters that open the door to influence,” said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer, a longtime activist who describes Organizing for Action as “a precedent that other federal officeholders are likely to follow.”