The pro-Obama superPAC Priorities USA isn't raising much money because President Obama just can't stand the thought of all that unaccountable anonymous big-donor money being spent on his behalf, Politico reports. Campaign financing seems like an odd issue for the pragmatic Obama to get all idealistic about, given he is derided by conservatives for playing "Chicago-style" politics and by liberals for being a wimpy compromiser on their closest-held ideals. But Glenn Thrush and Kenneth P. Vogel report that Priorities USA raised just $5 million in the first half of 2011, compared to $12 million raised for the pro-Mitt Romney super PAC, and that "a major reason" for that is Obama doesn't want to bring himself down to the level of raising that kind of cash.
With the Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court guaranteed outside groups would pour tons of money into this year's election. But Obama, who campaigned four years ago on cleaning up campaign financing, doesn't want to accept that reality, Politico reports:
“I don’t think the president is just ambivalent about his super PAC. He’s flat-out opposed to it,” said former South Carolina Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian, a member of the Obama campaign’s national finance committee...
“I was at the national finance committee in Chicago, and these are the people with these connections, and nobody was talking, even behind the scenes, about writing checks to the super PAC,” Harpootlian said. “That’s a problem. We didn’t make the rules. The president has called out the Supreme Court on Citizens United to their faces. … But it’s the state of play now, and we have to look at what Romney’s PAC did to Newt in Iowa. It’s dangerous. We can’t unilaterally disarm.”
Unilaterally disarming doesn't seem like the kind of thing Obama would be inclined to do, even if he believes in campaign finance reform. He's been described as a pragmatist a million times -- on foreign policy, on gay rights, etc. -- for years. "For Obama, a Pragmatist’s Shift Toward the Center," a July 2008 New York Times headline read. In October 2010, historian James T. Kloppenberg told The Times that in reading everything Obama ever wrote, he concluded Obama is consistently guided by pragmatism. Kloppenberg explained, "It is a philosophy for skeptics, not true believers." The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza profiled Obama in the summer of 2008 in a story that could have been titled "Heads Up Liberals: Obama's Going to Disappoint You." Lizza detailed the various constituencies and pals Obama burned on his way up the political ladder, and wrote this awfully relevant passage:
By 2001, if there was any maxim from community organizing that Obama lived by, it was the Realpolitik commandment of Saul Alinsky, the founding practitioner of community organizing, to operate in “the world as it is and not as we would like it to be.”
In electoral politics, operating in the world as it is means raising money.
Politico reports that Obama's reluctance to get his hands dirty is expressed by his refusal to meet with potential PAC donors. He won't sit for "free-range policy chats with donors," meaning they can only complain to the PAC's leaders about how Obama has disappointed them with his positions on gay marriage and the Keystone pipeline. Romney, by contrast, has gone to several events with his PAC donors. But it seems less likely that Obama won't meet with those donors because of his high-minded campaign finance ideals than because of another widely-reported Obama trait: he doesn't like to make new friends.
Priorities fundraiser Paul Begala told Politico, “Super PACs are like guns... In the right hands, a gun is useful, essential for defending your country and perfectly acceptable. In the wrong hands, they kill people... My goal is to make sure the president doesn’t get outgunned.” Which is actually a totally perfect metaphor for the totally fake regret at having to engage in this terrible superPAC business. Because whether in the "wrong hands" or the right hands, guns kill people. That is the point of a gun!
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.