President Obama speaks to workers at the Master Lock factory in Milwaukee. (Scott Olson / Getty Images )
President Obama maintains that he's against allowing unlimited and sometimes undisclosed donations to pour into candidate "super PACs" this year, but authorized his own campaign to assist one supporting his reelection bid to avoid giving Republicans an unfair advantage.
"My strong preference would be to completely eliminate that super PAC process," Obama told an interviewer at the White House Tuesday. "But we're not gonna just let a whole bunch of folks who are not only self-interested but aren't always disclosing what their contributions are to be able to simply purchase an election."
The comments from Obama were his first since his campaign announced he had given the go-ahead to his donors to contribute funds to Priorities USA Action, a group headed by former administration aides. It marked a reversal of his previous opposition to the involvement of outside groups in the campaign.
The decision clears White House officials to appear at events for Priorities USA Action, though they will not explicitly solicit donations for the group, nor will they appear in support of Priorities' nonprofit arm, called Priorities USA, which does not have to disclose its donors. The president, vice president and first lady will not appear at Priorities USA Action events.
Obama was asked about the shift by a reporter from WBTV in Charlotte, one of several local television outlets invited for a brief Q&A with the president.
"It used to be morally wrong and now you're going to take the money. Why?" anchor Paul Cameron asked.
Obama said the impact of these super PACs has already been significant in the Republican nomination battle.
"You've got billionaires who are just writing checks for tens of millions of dollars, and suddenly the entire dynamic of the election has changed regardless of what voters' preferences originally might have been," he said. "We've got some of these super PACs that have pledged to spend up to half a billion dollars to try and buy this election. And what I've said consistently is, we're not gonna just unilaterally disarm."
Priorities USA Action raised $4.4 million last year. Priorities USA, the nonprofit affiliate, raised an additional $2.3 million, but those donations are not disclosed.
By contrast, the pro-Romney Restore Our Future raised $30.2 million in 2011. American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS (the super PAC and nonprofit arms, respectively) raised $51 million.
Melanie Mason contributed to this report.