“We’re not going to play by two sets of rules.” That was the bombshell message from President Obama delivered Sunday through Jim Messina, campaign manager for Obama for America.
And, I have to ask: “Why the hell not?” Why not play by the right rules if you are the president?
Perhaps no other secular office in the world wields the power to do right more than the office of the President of the United States of America. But Obama now embraces that which he decried as “a threat to our democracy”—the unlimited and undisclosed influence of super-PAC funds on our electoral process.
The president owns the bully pulpit. He can set the tone, set the direction for the campaign, for the country. Rather than fight to change the rules that allow this perversion of the democratic voting process, he instead lowers the standards, giving his blessing to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC backing his reelection.
Once an outspoken critic of current campaign-financing laws, he now “reluctantly” embraces what he once called “shadowy groups.” With early fundraising numbers reportedly below expectations, perhaps it is no surprise the easier road is being taken. But Obama is now running against Karl Rove and the Koch brothers rather than running on his record.
The debate-deprived presidential candidate Buddy Roemer, the only one to limit contributions to his campaign to $100, reacts: “I was deeply saddened to learn that President Obama had decided to give up his principles and give in to the money by joining forces with super PACs tied to his reelection bid. Being president requires bold leadership on issues you believe in, and until recently I thought the president, like me, believed in this one.”
And perhaps most damning, Roemer asks the key question: “Who wants a follower as their president?”
But Messina was right in his message delivery. The Supreme Court Citizens United decision, he says, “has accelerated a dangerous trend toward a political system increasingly dominated by big-money interests with disproportionate power to spend freely to influence our elections and our government.”
Why then does Obama not stand boldly in defense of the people? It is the power of the people being perverted. The job of elected leaders is to deliver results that represent the interests of the citizens who placed them in a position of authority with their voice, their vote.
But these days, money talks louder. That is why I urge Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York to hold the hearings he promised last week into whether super PACs, as they operate today, violate federal law.
If unlimited giving by individuals, unions, and corporations remains constitutionally protected as free speech, then we need to demand that the full disclosure, full transparency, and full prohibition on coordination the Supreme Court assumed applied actually does apply.
The president will not demand it, but we the people should.
This is the second time Obama has recanted on campaign-finance reforms. (He was against it before he was for it. Where have I heard that before?) In 2008, he also broke his pledge to accept public financing, which would have restricted his general-election spending.
Sadly, the president’s pant creases may be sharp, but on the issue of money, his suit is filling with more empty promises.