WASHINGTON -- Details are beginning to emerge about the Monday night announcement that President Barack Obama's reelection campaign would lend its support to a super PAC run by a former Obama aide. According to senior campaign officials, the president, who has been very critical of super PACs and the court decisions that helped to create them, signed off on his campaign lending support to Priorities USA Action.
In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, senior campaign officials explained that the move to support Priorities USA Action was made after watching super PAC spending flood into the Republican primary and hearing about the combined $500 million benchmark set by the Karl Rove-linked Crossroads groups and the Koch Brothers to defeat the president.
"With the influx of Republican spending on super PACs [and] the recent reports that Republican super PACs are committed to raising half a billion to defeat the president," a campaign official said, "we made the decision to not allow the Republicans to be the [sole] beneficiary of unlimited spending."
Priorities USA Action was founded in May 2011 by former White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton. The group, like all other super PACs, can accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals. It has, however, struggled to raise money, at least in part because of the previous lack of support from the president and his campaign.
How it raises money going forward could conflict with some of the policies put in place by the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee to reduce the influence of special interests.
Senior campaign officials noted that they had no control over whether the super PAC accepted contributions from registered lobbyists, which the campaign and the DNC do not accept, and that they would not lend support to the so-called secret-money arm of Priorities USA Action.
"That's not a decision we can make," a senior campaign official said when asked about the super PAC receiving contributions from lobbyists. "That's a decision for Priorities."
The Obama campaign has made it a central point that the campaign does not raise money from lobbyists or political action committees. If Priorities USA Action allowed lobbyists to give money and attend events featuring Obama campaign and administration officials, that could undermine the lobbyist-free message of the campaign. A request for comment from Priorities USA Action on its practices was not immediately returned.
As for Priorities USA, the 501(c)(4) nonprofit arm of the super PAC that is not required to disclose its donors, a campaign official said, "We're not lending support to the 501(c)(4)."
In a Monday night blog post on the Obama campaign's website, campaign manager Jim Messina noted the campaign's wish that all contributions it funnels to the super PAC be disclosed: "We will do so only in the knowledge and with the expectation that all of its donations will be fully disclosed as required by law to the Federal Election Commission."
But Priorities USA Action and the affiliated Priorities USA operate under a cost-sharing agreement for administrative expenses. So far, the secret-money group has covered upwards of $215,000 in costs for the super PAC. That's money supporting the super PAC for which the donors will not be disclosed.
When asked about this on the conference call, a senior campaign official responded, "That doesn't implicate our direct appearances."
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