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Sunlight Foundation: Obama Super PAC Thoughts

Last night’s announcement came as no surprise — that the President would formally align himself with super PAC run by former White House staffers. The corrupting influence of money in politics, according to the President’s public persona, is a threat wielded by rank-and-file lobbyists and insider trading. It’s been about a year since the post Citizens United President Obama, who railed against the threat of dark money in the face of campaign finance regulation.

Messina’s announcement did make one helpful clarification — that the President still supports having a better disclosure law for outside spending. If that’s true, he sure has a funny way of showing it. A State of the Union that doesn’t even acknowledge that the floodgates have been opened, and continues to paint lobbyists as the problem (while continuing to accept bundled checks from their bosses.)

Now we know why disclosure and reform were absent — they’ve been jettisoned, relegated to an awkward reassuring line in the announcement that the biggest checks are now welcome, despite the President’s persistent warnings throughout 2010 that we should make no mistake in remembering how unlimited, often secret donations affect public service. Descriptive rhetoric was apparently insufficient, and thanks to Republican obstruction in the Senate (and absolute apathy towards the issue on their own) we’ll get to live through the dark money arms race, rather than imagining it.

The announcement suggests that the President negotiated with the super PAC, and that his involvement is predicated on disclosure that meets the standard set by the law. That’s a pretty low standard, since it’s the law, and since it’s the same law that Obama says he’s committed to (silently) changing.

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.

“As required by law” may as well be written “quarterly, unreliably, and in a way that still permits anonymity”. The technically legal presented as rigorously ethical. “We’ll follow the law I railed against as ineffective” might be a better paraphrase.

The partisan lines around campaign finance disclosure are about to get rearranged, and it’s unlikely that they’ll become a more productive force for reliable disclosure, especially if Obama continues to use disclosure as a rhetorical shield (through the visitor logs) and especially if the partisan logic of unilateral disarmament continues to obscure the thousand other choices about transparency and accountability that are involved in creating a Presidential dark money machine.

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