A longtime friend and former campaign staffer to former Vice President Joe Biden has officially created a super PAC in support of Biden’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, less than a week after Biden reversed his opposition to assistance from such a group.
Larry Rasky, a Democratic political consultant, filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday to form “Unite the Country,” allowing Biden’s deep-pocketed backers to donate unlimited funds to back his run—and, the Biden campaign hopes, to help run defense as the former vice president faces hits on all fronts from both his Democratic rivals and from President Donald Trump.
“Donald Trump has decided that the general election has already begun,” deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement last week announcing the campaign’s openness to super PAC assistance. “In this time of political crisis, it is not surprising that those who are dedicated to defeating Donald Trump are organizing in every way permitted by current law to bring an end to his disastrous presidency.
At the same time, the Biden campaign said that if elected, he would back a constitutional amendment to publicly finance elections. But the unprecedented barrage of unproven allegations of corruption from a sitting president—and a cash-strapped campaign that was fourth in fundraising last quarter—left Biden with few alternatives, he told reporters this weekend.
“When President Trump went out and got the folks who love me the most—the NRA and the gun manufacturers and the oil companies and the insurance companies—to spend, somewhere in excess, they tell me, ten million dollars on ads… what happened, I learned after the fact from my folks, there were a lot of people who said we can’t let this stand,” Biden told a gaggle of reporters in North Carolina on Saturday, denying that he had changed his opinion on super PACs as an issue. “They’re able to do that, I haven’t discouraged them, but I haven’t encouraged it either—I just stayed away, just hands off.”
Biden added that passing a constitutional amendment for public election funding would be “the single most significant thing we can do” to get money out of politics.
Fueled by a Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that legalized unlimited election spending by corporations, super PACs have become taboo in Democratic circles, with most of Biden’s presidential rivals having sworn off assistance from such groups in this cycle. The campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has gone a step further and sworn off fundraisers entirely in favor of small-dollar donations, has hit Biden for reversing a long-held aversion to super PACs.
“The former vice president has been unable to generate grassroots support,” Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir said after the reversal was announced. “Now his campaign is endorsing an effort to buy the primary through a super PAC that can rake in unlimited cash from billionaires and corporations.”
Biden lagged far behind the rest of the top-tier candidates in third-quarter fundraising, raising $15.2 million over three months, and ending the quarter with a mere $9 million in cash on hand. By comparison, Sanders raised $25.3 million, Warren raised $24.6 million, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg raised $19.1 million.
Although campaigns are forbidden from explicitly coordinating with super PACs, senior staffers and advisers for campaigns often make appearances at super PAC events, and campaigns occasionally drop hours of high-quality b-roll video on YouTube for super PACs to use in campaign ads.
As recently as last month, Biden’s campaign pointed to the presidential onslaught as evidence that the campaign finance system needed to be reformed.
“The attacks aimed at this campaign from dark money groups helping Donald Trump spread his outlandish lies and slander have only served as a reminder of the urgent need for campaign finance reform,” national press secretary T.J. Ducklo said in September. “Which is exactly why since the beginning of this campaign, Biden for president has not and will not welcome the help of super PACs. That goes for those that purport to help him, despite his explicit condemnation of their existence.”
In his memoir Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose, Biden wrote that had he run for the White House in 2016, he would not have accepted super PAC support, even though “I knew there was big money out there for me.”
“I also knew people were sick of it all,” Biden wrote at the time. “Rejecting super PAC money wasn't a hardship for me.”