Super PACs Promise A Super-Packed 2012

Many political watchers say the 2012 presidential campaign is shaping up to be the most expensive election cycle in American history. One reason: the growing influence of political action committees, independent groups that raise money largely from corporations, trade unions and the wealthy. Host Scott Simon talks with Bill Burton, co-founder of the Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA Action, about his group's fundraising efforts for the 2012 presidential election.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Many political watchers say even in this economy the 2012 presidential campaign is shaping up to be the most expensive election cycle in U.S. history. One reason: the growing influence of political action committees - independent groups that raise money largely from corporations, trade unions and the wealthy. Bill Burton is co-founder of a leading Democratic Super PAC. That means it can raise an unlimited amount of money. His group is called Priorities USA.

Mr. Burton is also a former deputy press secretary in the Obama administration. Thanks for joining us, sir.

BILL BURTON: Thanks so much for having me.

SIMON: You launched this group in April this year, said you were going to try and raise a hundred million dollars to try and help keep the president in the White House. Given some of the challenges that we just heard about, how are you going to do it?

BURTON: Well, we've gone around the country and we've talked to progressive activists, progressive donors, people who really care about the direction of this country and President Obama, and what we've found is that there's a real hunger to make sure that things that we value and care about are being discussed in a fair way in the public space.

And the fact that Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers have dedicated some $300 million-plus to their effort to drive a pretty right-wing ideology, a lot of Democrats are very motivated to get involved and be active in our kind of group.

SIMON: Do you have good relations with the Democratic National Committee, or do they see you as some kind of fundraising rival?

BURTON: Well, for starters, we don't, we're independents so we don't have any contact with the DNC. And I wouldn't say they we're rivals of theirs. in the sense that there's a limit to how much donors can give. For a lot of folks if they're looking to participate further than they've already participated in the presidential campaign and with the DNC, often they look to us to see if there's anything else that they can do.

SIMON: But your priority at Priorities USA is President Obama, not necessarily the Democratic Party.

BURTON: Well, Priorities USA's action is dedicated to making sure that the president gets reelected, and then we answer to the right-wing money that's in the race. So I mean as the head of the Democratic Party, President Obama is pretty tied to their fortunes. You know, we're all Democrats here, we all want to see the DNC do well and the president get reelected.

SIMON: Mr. Burton, with respect, help me understand the feeling of people, perhaps outspoken in your party who say, you know, there's too much money in politics and now I'm going to raise as much of it as I possibly can.

BURTON: Hmm. I would be one of the folks who said that there is too much money in politics, and that these rules are no way to run a democracy. But we didn't make the rules. We don't like the rules. But the only way you change the rules is if you get control of the system. And to paraphrase Don Rumsfeld, you go to war with rules you have, not the rules you wish you had. So we're participating in a system that's imperfect but we're doing our best to make sure that there's at least a level playing field.

SIMON: Bill Burton, co-founder of the Democratic political action committee, Priorities USA, thanks so much for being with us.

BURTON: All right, thanks for having me.

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SIMON: And you're listening to NPR News.

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