Obama Campaign May Have Embraced Super PAC Earlier Than It Let On

Book suggests campaign began supporting big-money groups even as it denounced their existence.

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Democrats apparently no longer have reservations about super PACs. Look no further than Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's announcement Wednesday that he is resigning his job as the Obama campaign national co-chair to help raise funds for pro-Democrat super PAC Priorities USA.

But it's unclear when Democrats changed their minds.

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After two years of speaking out against the Citizens United decision, President Obama only begrudgingly gave his blessing to Priorities USA in February. At the time, Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager, said the decision had been made because "our campaign has to face the reality of the law," which allows spending by outside groups, in order to keep up with the Republicans.

The Obama campaign, however, may have embraced the super PAC far earlier than it admits.

A passage from the new E-book Obama's Last Stand by Politico reporter Glenn Thrush alleges Team Obama contemplated weighing in on leadership decisions at Priorities USA back when the super PAC launched in 2011. According to Thrush, the Obama campaign even discussed putting senior campaign adviser Robert Gibbs at the helm of Priorities USA instead of former campaign official Bill Burton. Gibbs, the campaign reasoned, could better woo wealthy donors.

Burton says the Obama campaign didn't start sending surrogates to events until February. "That is when they started helping," he says.

And experts say the Obama campaign has not violated campaign finance rules, even if it did influence leadership decisions at Priorities USA.

But if the Obama campaign was privately considering influencing Priorities USA during 2011, it would conflict with Obama's public remarks denouncing super PACs for much of last year.

It would also call into question Messina's words in February 2012. That month, Messina wrote that it was because of Republican super PAC spending "over the last few months" and filings on the Romney campaign's spending "last week" that the Obama campaign had made the decision to embrace Priorities USA.

Mitt Romney's campaign has also been accused of collaborating with big Republican super PACs. In June, for example, Romney hosted former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, founder of super PAC American Crossroads, at a private retreat in Utah.

"The real scandal in the 2012 election is the activities that are perfectly legal," campaign finance lawyer Paul S. Ryan told Whispers. "The simple fact that current law accommodates these relationships... most certainly poses a threat of corruption."

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at eflock@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.