The Washington Post

Obama: Wealthy special interests contribute to budget impasse

President Obama on Tuesday blamed the growing influence of wealthy interests on the political system for contributing to the impasse in Washington, saying that many Republican lawmakers want to compromise but fear they will be targeted by deep-pocketed outside groups.

President Barack Obama says he's not "resigned" to a shutdown. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images) (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

During his afternoon press conference at the White House, the president reiterated his criticism of the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2010 Citizens United case, which lifted the ban on corporations engaging directly in elections, and said a new case before the court could further crowd out the average citizen.

“I've continued to believe that Citizens United contributed to some of the problems we're having in Washington right now,” Obama said. “You know, you have some ideological extremist who has a big bankroll, and they can entirely skew our politics.

“And there are a whole bunch of members of Congress right now who privately will tell you, ‘I know our positions are unreasonable, but we're scared that if we don't go along with the tea party agenda, or the -- some particularly extremist agenda, that we'll be challenged from the right.’ And the threats are very explicit. And so they toe the line. And that's part of why we've seen a breakdown of just normal routine business done here in Washington on behalf of the American people.”

The president said that the new case that the court heard Tuesday, Shaun McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, “would go even further than Citizens United.”

The case involves a challenge to aggregate contribution limits that cap the amount an individual can donate to federal candidates and parties in a two-year election cycle.

“Essentially, it would say anything goes -- there are no rules in terms of how to finance campaigns,” Obama said. “There aren't a lot of functioning democracies around the world that work this way, where you can basically have millionaires and billionaires bankrolling whoever they want, however they want, in some cases undisclosed. And what it means is ordinary Americans are shut out of the process.”

The president’s critique was reminiscent of how he chastised the Supreme Court during his 2010 State of the Union address for its decision in Citizens United, saying it “will open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections."

Sitting in the audience, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. responded to the criticism by shaking his head and appearing to mouth the words "not true."

During his Tuesday news conference, Obama acknowledged that “Democrats aren't entirely innocent” when it comes to the pursuit of big dollars to finance elections.

“I had to raise a lot of money for my campaign,” he said, adding: “There's nobody who operates in politics that has perfectly clean hands on this issue.”

In fact, after lambasting the role played by independent groups on behalf of Republicans in the 2010 congressional elections, Obama blessed the creation of a super PAC to support his reelection in 2012. And earlier this year, a group of his top political advisers launched a nonprofit advocacy group called Organizing for Action, which can accept unlimited funds, to further his second-term agenda.

But on Tuesday, Obama stressed the need to limit the influence of the very rich on the political system.

“All of us should bind ourselves to some rules that say the people who vote for us should be more important than somebody who's spending a million dollars, $10 million or a hundred million dollars to help us get elected, because we don't know what their agendas are,” the president said. “We don't know what their interests are.”

Matea Gold is a national political reporter for The Washington Post, covering money and influence.

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