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GOP gave Obama no choice but to go after the ‘fat cats’

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 2/14/2012, 9:38 a.m.

GOP gave Obama no choice but to go after the ‘fat cats’

The reversal of President Barack Obama’s decision to keep his hands off the fundraising efforts of his reelection campaign’s aligned super Political Action Committees (PACs) has raised a few eyebrows among campaign finance reform advocates.

This seems like a betrayal of Obama’s position that the relentless chase and dependence on “fat cat” donors to bankroll campaigns have gone way off the deep end.

In 2008, Obama said that he would raise the bulk of his campaign funds from small donors. He further said that he would not take a penny from lobbyist groups and he would back an overhaul of campaign financing rules.

Obama’s sharp attack on the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” decision — which essentially gave free license to corporations to dump money directly into partisan campaigns — was cheered by campaign finance reform advocates. This renewed hope in the expectation that Obama would push Democrats to enact proposed legislation that would blunt the court’s decision and restore checks on corporations as well as the financial industry’s power to sway elections.

So far that legislation has gone nowhere in Congress. But Obama’s reversal on super PACs is not a betrayal of principle — it is a reflection of the brutal reality that to run and keep the White House will cost a pretty penny.

There were two glaring things that again drove that brutal reality home to the White House. The first is that the GOP has rebounded from its anemic fundraising takes in 2008, and has drawn almost dead even with the Democrats in fundraising. A huge chunk of the money is coming from its corporate dominated super PACs.

The second is former Gov. Mitt Romney. He will likely be the GOP presidential nominee and is every bit the cash fundraising cow as Obama. According to recent reports, nearly 60 corporations and individuals dumped more than $100,000 into a super PAC backing Romney.

A typical contributor of hard money pouring in for Romney is his old outfit, Bain Capital. According to the Center for Public Integrity, current and former Bain executives and their relatives have shoved nearly $5 million toward organizations that back Romney’s presidential bid.

He’s also banked with tens of thousands of dollars from Walmart’s Walton family members and Koch family members. The heavy duty cash has poured in just to help Romney get the GOP nomination. It takes little imagination to figure that once he bags the nomination, the corporate and financial industry donors will radically up their ante for him.

The ideal is to make public financing the rule and the law for federal elections. In a perfect world, that would be the case and big money would not obscenely skew the election process toward those who can essentially pay the most for it.

But the Supreme Court decision effectively killed that ideal. It ensured that neither Obama nor any other presidential candidate can be competitive in a hard-fought primary and even harder fought general election campaign without the tens of millions that lobbyists, PACs, corporations, Wall Street and labor unions shove into a presidential candidate’s campaign coffers.