Democrats made effective use of super PACs in the 2012 election, deploying devastating ads that harmed Mitt Romney in key states like Ohio, and helping congressional Democrats capitalize on major missteps by their opponents (see Akin, Todd). Now Democratic donors are gearing up for the next round of elections, in an effort to make these outside groups even more influential:

Shortly after Election Day, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and top White House aides spoke at a three-day secret meeting of major Democratic donors and officials from liberal outside groups gearing up for 2014, POLITICO has learned....

Their goal: a permanent network of officially blessed independent groups that leverages liberals’ increasing acceptance and appreciation of outside money to compete with a much-better-funded Republican shadow party.

This, of course, leaves Democrats open to charges of hypocrisy. After all, liberals form of the bulk of the opposition to Citizens United — the Supreme Court ruling that opened the doors to the proliferation of mega-donors and outside groups — and have been fighting for campaign finance reform at all levels of government. It’s hard to reconcile this with efforts to bolster the position of groups that can raise huge sums from a handful of wealthy donors. Indeed, several donors and organizers see the tensions inherent in this project:

“There will always be in the Democratic Party and the progressive community a skepticism about outside money writ large,” said [Priorities USA official Rodell] Mollineau, whose group is considering jumping into governors’ races and possibly state legislative and ballot campaigns. “But I also think there were converts won over this last election cycle, and there is now a sense that we need to compete with super PACs and outside groups, and we can win elections if we do.”

This gets to the key point worth remembering when evaluating the decision of liberal groups to embrace super PACs. The only way to limit the influence of big donors and outside groups is to win elections and pass laws. Democrats could abstain from the groups, and practice their principles by relying on smaller donations within a more limited — and self-imposed — campaign finance system. But while this would allow liberals to take the moral high ground, it would also make losing more likely, and limit their ability to actually change the status quo.

Using super PACs as a tool to win elections is not an endorsement of the laws and measures that make super PACs possible. Yes, the hope is that — eventually — liberals will be able to reverse Citizens United, or at least, put serious limits on the ability of outside groups to operate. But in the meantime — since they will continue to exist, anyway — there’s no reason why liberals can’t use their own super PACs to help elect candidates that support their goals. Including an end to super PACs.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.