We don't know whether President Obama watches "The Colbert Report," but if so, he must have felt a sense of deja vu when he endorsed a supposedly independent "super PAC" that will air advertising on his behalf. You may remember the show: To comply with campaign finance law, Stephen Colbert, a mock candidate for president, transferred control of his super PAC to pal and business partner Jon Stewart. Hilarity ensued because supposedly there would be no coordination between Colbert and his buddy.
Now Obama has done almost the same thing, despite his longtime opposition to massive special-interest spending in political campaigns. His decision to embrace Priorities USA Action, a political action committee founded by two former aides, is as much an indictment of campaign finance regulation as of an incumbent president who decided to take full advantage of provisions that Republicans have successfully exploited.
In theory, super PACS are independent of campaigns, consistent with Supreme Court decisions drawing a distinction between contributions made directly to campaigns, which can be limited because of their potential for "quid pro quo corruption," and independent expenditures, which supposedly pose less of a threat of such corruption. Campaigns are forbidden to coordinate strategy with independent groups, but it's understandable that some voters are skeptical when they see that the super PACs supporting Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney — and now Obama — have been organized by former aides. You don't have to believe in telepathy to recognize that they will be attuned to the campaigns' strategies.