Obama Shifts His Position On Super PACs

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President Barack Obama's campaign has urged top donors to support a super PAC run by former Obama aides. The president previously called the fundraising groups a "threat to democracy." The Center for Responsive Politics' Sheila Krumholz discusses the shift and NPR's Ken Rudin reviews the week in politics.

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LYNN NEARY, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Santorum sweeps, but Romney rolls on, and Newt and Ron Paul still bring up the rear. It's Wednesday and time for a non-binding beauty contest edition of the Political Junkie.

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

SENATOR BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

SENATOR LLOYD BENTSON: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

NEARY: Every Wednesday, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. This week, Rick Santorum wins Big Tuesday in caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota and a primary in Missouri. A setback for Mitt Romney, who won Saturday's caucuses in Nevada. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul both had disappointing finishes.

Also, Super Bowl ads get political, a top-level resignation over the Planned Parenthood Susan Komen flap, a court reverses the California ban on gay marriage, and a couple of political veterans decide to stay in retirement.

In a few minutes, we'll be speaking with Sheila Krumholz from the Center for Responsive Politics about superPACs and the president's decision to embrace one of his own. And later in the program, the digital black hole for resumes. But first, we begin, as we always do, with a trivia question. Ken, good to have you with us, and what's that question?

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi, Lynn. Well, of course, as you might have known, Sunday was the Super Bowl, and I can't remember the team who - oh, the Giants won that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NEARY: Anyway, Eli Manning won the Super Bowl, the second time in four years, and the year before he won in the first time, his brother Payton Manning was the winning quarterback in the Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts. And that's a contorted path to this week's trivia question about brothers: What was the most recent occurrence when two brothers served together in the Senate?

OK, so if you think you know that answer, give us a call. Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And the winner gets a fabulous no-prize T-shirt in exchange for a promise that you can send us a digital image for us to post on our Wall of Shame.

So Ken, when we can, we like to begin with actual votes, and there were some actual votes yesterday in three states. So let's start there with what seems like a pretty big upset by Rick Santorum.

RUDIN: Well absolutely. Given the fact that, first of all, he never got the credit he deserved for winning Iowa - matter of fact, at the time, when the Iowa results were announced, we thought he had lost, and then it was weeks later when they decided that he actually won Iowa caucuses by 34 votes, and by then it was too late to pick up any momentum.

But he definitely got a big momentum, a big boost yesterday. We're not talking about a lot of delegates, and of course in the Minnesota - I'm sorry, in the Missouri primary there were no delegates at all; it was a beauty contest. But the fact is, there were three contests on the ballot yesterday, as you say - Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, and Rick Santorum won them all.

NEARY: What did it for Santorum, do you think?

RUDIN: Well, everybody keeps saying that it shows a deficiency in the appeal of Mitt Romney, the erstwhile favorite for the nomination, to appeal to strong conservatives. But we saw - last week, it was only last Tuesday in Florida where Mitt Romney won all those groups: the conservatives, the Tea Party, the - not the very conservative, but certainly all the spectrum of the Republican Party between right and very right, it used to be moderate and right, but now it's right and very right.

And in Nevada as well, I mean he won overwhelmingly. Of course, it was a big Mormon state in Saturday's caucus, but Romney won it big on Saturday, and again we were talking about the inevitable Romney nomination. We keep doing this. Every time he's inevitable, he comes into a speed bump.

We saw that on January 21 in South Carolina, and we saw it yesterday in the caucuses. In Colorado and Minnesota, four years ago, Romney swept there. He won - I think he won by 19 points in Minnesota four years ago. Yesterday he came in third. Ron Paul finished third - second, and Romney came in third. That's pretty remarkable.

NEARY: And where does all this leave Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul?

RUDIN: Well, Newt Gingrich says - I mean they keep saying that Newt Gingrich didn't do well because he doesn't have much money and much organization, but I'm sure he has more money and organization than Rick Santorum, and Rick Santorum won all three.

Newt Gingrich was in Ohio yesterday. Ohio is one of the many states on Super Tuesday, March 6. He thinks that states that are going to be favorable to him on Super Tuesday - states like Georgia and Tennessee and perhaps Ohio, and it'll come back then. But he really got shut out in, you know, those states, the three states yesterday.

As for Ron Paul, we always said that he was going to do the best in caucus states. That's where he was going to do really, really well. But he's still - he's the only contender in the race who has not won anywhere yet. We still have a week to - all this week. They're having caucuses in Maine. He hopes to do well there. But aside from a second-place finish in Minnesota, Ron Paul didn't have a good night either.

NEARY: Now, if Gingrich stays in the race, as he's vowed to do, that's going to help Mitt Romney, isn't it?

RUDIN: Well, that's the thing. For all the talk about how badly Mitt Romney did yesterday, and he did do poorly, but at the same time, once upon a time Newt Gingrich was talking about this as a two-person race, Mitt Romney versus the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, and that was Newt Gingrich.

But as Rick Santorum showed yesterday, perhaps it's too soon to anoint the Mitt Romney alternative.

NEARY: All right, I think we have some calls waiting on the line. So we're going to go to Alex, who is calling - I think he's calling from Arkansas. Is that right, Alex?

RUDIN: It's the trivia question, the last two brothers to serve together in the Senate.

NEARY: That's right. OK, are you there, Alex? Do you think you have the right answer?

ALEX: Can you guys hear me?

NEARY: Yeah, go ahead.

ALEX: Hey, I'm guessing that they're currently serving, and they'd be Mark and Tom Udall of Colorado and New Mexico, respectively?

RUDIN: Well, that's a good guess except they are not brothers, they're cousins.

ALEX: Oh, dang it, OK.

RUDIN: Yeah, one is the son of Mo Udall, and the other one is, I think, Curly and Larry Udall.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Stuart Udall.

ALEX: OK, thank you guys.

NEARY: Thanks for calling in, Alex, sorry for the abuse, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NEARY: All right let's - shall we take another one?

RUDIN: I think we should.

NEARY: All right then, Jonathan calling from Glenwood, Colorado. Hi, Jonathan.

JONATHAN: Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and it's another Colorado brother duo, Ken and John Salazar.

RUDIN: Well, Ken Salazar was in the Senate, but they were not in the Senate at the same time. Ken and - they're not in the Senate at the same time. Ken Salazar, of course, resigned to join the Obama administration as interior secretary, but not together.

NEARY: All right, wrong again. OK, we're going to hold off a second here now. I have an email I want to read to you, OK? The last couple weeks, the media has been covering the primary season as if it is already a two-person race. As we saw in yesterday's votes, it is far from that, with Santorum winning all three and Paul finishing second in Minnesota.

Can you explain why there is so much fluidity this year?

RUDIN: No, and I guess, well - I mean part of it is, see, every time Romney does well, we say, well, he should do well. He has the establishment support, he has great organization, he has tons of money. He's competitive in all 50 states. And, you know, he – you know, that's why he's the frontrunner.

But then every time you see something, as I said, like the speed bump of South Carolina or all three contests yesterday, where he shows a clear weakness with conservatives, you wonder, well, if he's supposed to be such a strong contender against President Obama in November, if he's supposed to be the Republican dream candidate who's going to beat the president in the general election, why can't he win over these conservative voters?

And if he can't win them in the primary and caucus, there's no guarantee that he'll win them as the nominee, and that's not good news for the Republican Party.

NEARY: OK, are you ready for another trivia...

RUDIN: OK, I can't wait, OK.

NEARY: OK, let's go to Philip(ph) calling from Nashville, Tennessee. Hi, Philip.

PHILIP: Hi.

NEARY: Hi, go ahead.

PHILIP: (Unintelligible) Tim and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas.

RUDIN: Well, Tim Hutchinson was a one-term senator from Arkansas. He ran in - I guess he was '96, 1996, and he was defeated in 2002. Asa Hutchinson, who did serve in the House, never served in the Senate.

PHILIP: (Unintelligible)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NEARY: Sorry about that, try again next time.

PHILIP: That's a great sound. You don't hear that sound - it sounds like Howard Dean.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NEARY: Not quite, thank you. All right, let's take a call now from Brad. He's calling from Hamilton, Indiana, I think. Hello, Brad.

BRAD: Yes, the Kennedy brothers, Ted and Robert.

RUDIN: Well, that's going back a long way, though, and yes, that's the correct answer. I mean you'd think it happened more recently, but matter of fact, only twice in history have two brothers served together in the Senate. But Bobby Kennedy and Teddy Kennedy from 1965 until RFK was assassinated in '68, the two brothers served together in the Senate. That's the correct answer.

NEARY: You are the winner, Brad, so you hold on, and they're going to take your information so you can get one of those great T-shirts.

BRAD: This is my third.

NEARY: Oh, wow. Well, congratulations, good for you. All right. I'm going to put you on hold now. OK, I want to move on here.

RUDIN: You should give everybody Brad's home number so that people can call him for T-shirts, because, you know, he has extra ones.

NEARY: He can start selling them, a little small business. OK, you know, you mentioned the Super Bowl earlier. And I wanted to bring up - a couple of commercials that ran, one nationally, one I think locally, during the Super Bowl were politically controversial. Let's talk about that.

RUDIN: Oh, I was waiting to hear, if we were going to hear them. Well, there was one ad, it was a Chrysler ad during the Super Bowl, a national ad where you have Clint Eastwood, who's a conservative, I mean he's no friend of President Obama, but he was talking about the coming back of the auto industry, the coming back of Detroit.

And it seemed like a feel-good ad about the economy coming back, but to some people, people thought that as a political ad. Karl Rove said he was offended by it. He said it was - he called it Chicago-style politics in that it was basically an endorsement of Obama's policies.

Now, I guess, you know, both sides can take - see the ad they want to see it, but the way I saw it was just, you know, America is coming back, and of course Chrysler is coming back.

NEARY: And I think Clint Eastwood has said he had no political intention at all.

RUDIN: Oh no, Clint Eastwood and President Obama, if you did a Nexus search, you wouldn't find them on the same page politically.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: But a lot of people thought that it was too deferential to Obama's economic policies.

NEARY: And then there was this ad by Pete Hoekstra that was considered by many to be racist.

RUDIN: Well, this did not air nationally. It's in Michigan. Pete Hoekstra, the former congressman who ran for governor and lost the primary there, is now the leading, we think the leading Republican against Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, who is running for re-election.

And Hoekstra has this ad where you have this Asian woman in accented English talking about - I mean it was just – it was just the worst stereotypical stuff, but it talked about Debbie Stabenow is, you know, responsible for the - increasing the national debt by helping China. So you hear her saying we, you know, we thank you for everything you're doing for China.

And while Hoekstra remains very - he's defending the ad, a lot of people thought of it as racist, and at the least stereotypical and pretty ugly.

NEARY: Yeah, and apparently some Republicans were concerned about this ad as well, I mean some - yeah, some Republicans...

RUDIN: Oh yeah, well, Mike Murphy, former McCain aide, talked about how it was not only, you know, bad - it was just dumb, and there were a lot of Republicans who rolled their eyes on it. But again, certainly it got Pete Hoekstra more attention than he ever would have gotten as a long-shot candidate against Debbie Stabenow.

One more Super Bowl story, by the way, very briefly: Harry Carson, former New York Giant, may run for Congress in New Jersey.

NEARY: All right. Well, when we come back after a short break, we'll be talking about President Obama's reversal on superPACs. If you're an Obama supporter, does his change of heart make a difference to you? Call us at 800-989-8255. Or send us an email to talk@npr.org. More in a minute, I'm Lynn Neary, this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary. The president reversed his long-held opposition this week to so-called super PACs, outside groups that can raise money and spend it on a candidate of their choice. Donors to these groups can give unlimited amounts and anonymously, although that hasn't exactly been the case with everyone.

Already Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have given $10 million to the Winning Our Future super PAC, supporting Newt Gingrich. Critics say super PACs are a way for the wealthiest people to control politics. It's an argument the president made throughout the 2008 campaign.

Now his advisors say they need the outside cash to compete in the November election. If you are an Obama supporter, does this make a difference to you? Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Political junkie Ken Rudin is still with me here in Studio 3A. Now he does the weekly ScuttleButton puzzle, and Ken, I understand you've got a new winner.

RUDIN: There is. This is obviously more important than money and politics. But anyway, last week's puzzle, there was a LBJ please stay button, and there was a dove from Vietnam button, and when you add that and a few other buttons together, you have stay dove the union, which is how you got that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: And Jack Davis(ph) of Columbus, Ohio, is the winner.

NEARY: OK, congratulations, Jack Davis. I've seen some of those puzzles of Ken's, and some of them are pretty hard. Some of them are easy, and some of them are...

RUDIN: Some of them are, and some of them are even fun.

NEARY: And some of them are fun. All right, joining us also now is Sheila Krumholz. She's the executive director of The Center for Responsive Politics. Good to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: Thank you, pleasure to be here.

NEARY: So tell us: How did we get to this point? Take us a back a little back with - how did super PACs come about in the first place?

KRUMHOLZ: Well, the Citizens United decision at the Supreme Court in January of 2010 paved the way for unlimited money coming from any source, including directly from corporations, trade associations, unions, being spent on express advocacy - expressly advocating the defeat or election of a candidate.

Shortly after that, in late March of that year, the Speech Now decision paved the way for super PACs, and these are independent expenditure-only committees. They do have to disclose where the money is coming from, unlike their nonprofit counterparts.

So what's happening is that these organizations are popping up. Many of them, right now, that are spending big are supporting a specific candidate for the presidency, but they have - many of them have two arms. They have the nonprofit arm that does not disclose their donors and then the super PAC arm, which does but sometimes takes money from those nonprofits that don't disclose. So secrecy abounds.

NEARY: Now, we're focusing here on presidential politics, but these can be used in congressional elections, as well, and are having an effect there also, right?

KRUMHOLZ: Yes, a number of super PACs have ramped-up spending or rather fundraising recently, and I think we'll be seeing those ads start to, kind of, elbow out some of the airwaves that are replete with presidential ads right now.

NEARY: Yeah, now in 2008, both the president and John McCain were opposed to super PACs, but why do you think that the president has changed his mind now? What do you think has led to this?

KRUMHOLZ: I think it's a pretty simple calculus. They're just seeing that they're not necessarily going to be as financially competitive as they assumed they would be if they could just rely on their own campaign coffers. The campaign had predicted that they would raise a billion dollars this time around, up from three-quarters of a billion dollars last time, but the advent of fundraising and spending by super PACs and again outside groups like Crossroads GPS and Priorities USA, the nonprofit arms, means that they're not the only players they need to consider when they're fundraising.

So, you know, the Obama campaign has their own campaign, they have the DNC working for them, but they are seeing the hundreds of millions that'll be raised by outside groups for the conservative candidate and thinking that they need to kind of let loose the donors to give to their super PACs, as well.

NEARY: So, you know, this is a simple calculus, but is it also hypocritical - isn't it also hypocritical to - it's a pretty big reversal.

KRUMHOLZ: Yeah, you know, it's going to be uncomfortable for this campaign, not the least of which is because it opens up a pretty big gap in their armor that is going to be taken advantage of by the opposition, undoubtedly.

NEARY: Ken, what do you think of this - the politics of this?

RUDIN: Well, yeah, I mean, there is talk about hypocrisy. There's also the talk about the Obama campaign saying, well, look, you know, it's like we're fighting with one arm tied behind our backs if they're doing it.

But the thing is, he does - the president almost sets himself up for this. In 2008, he said I'm absolutely going to take public financing, I'm definitely going to do that, and then he says wait a second, it'll be more to my advantage not to, because I'm raising so much money, so he didn't.

The question is: Do people care? I mean, yes, it takes away the anti-Republican argument, saying that super PACs are bad, super PACs are bad. Well, if they're bad for Republicans, they should be bad for the Obama campaign, as well, and so that takes away that argument. But I just wonder if voters really care.

I mean, they either want the Republicans, or they want the Democrats, and I don't think anybody cars how these candidates finance themselves.

NEARY: I wonder if there isn't a fairly significant - I don't know how large - but a significant portion of the president's base that will care.

RUDIN: Well, we saw Russ Feingold, we saw other people like that, saying that this is just a bad decision. It takes away the argument that all this money in politics is evil. And by allowing Democrats to do it or for encouraging Democrats to do it, you just get more money. I mean, not that there's going to be any less money in this campaign, but it'll be more and more money, and then it just, everything gets drowned out by money.

NEARY: I mean, Sheila this - it's not like this is going to get rolled back. I mean this - is this the future of campaigning or...?

KRUMHOLZ: Oh yes, I mean, until the courts reverse that decision or some of the other decisions that have come before, even, and after, that have really focused on the First Amendment rights, freedom of speech, money equals speech, until that all shifts at the judicial level, I think, there's very little that any of us can do short of maybe encouraging Congress to at least let us see where the money is coming from, focusing on the disclosure, getting access to the information about which donors are ponying up the money for these independent expenditures to campaign.

NEARY: All right, let's take a call, we're going to go to Ernie(ph) in Boston. Hi, Ernie.

ERNIE: Hi, how are you guys?

NEARY: Good, thanks.

ERNIE: Great show. I had a couple of comments on the issue of super PACs and the president reversing field on that.

NEARY: OK.

ERNIE: I think that, obviously, it is a reversal of his earlier position, but I think it's inevitable that he had to change that position. I'm a supporter, and I think the expression you don't bring a knife to a gunfight applies here. You know, people are going to - people are going to criticize him, but the criticism can't come from the GOP. So I think it's going to be a short-lived controversy.

NEARY: OK, Ken...

ERNIE: And I want to make another point about the - the Clint Eastwood ad. When I saw that, I almost fell out of my Super Bowl chair, and after the Patriots lost, I did fall out of my Super Bowl chair.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Who won?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ERNIE: But I think more than the question of whether it was intended by him, more interesting is the reaction that that ad got. And I read it to mean - when I saw the comment about how this is a despicable ad, you know, coming from the right, that read to me like the GOP is very worried that they're losing the economic issue as a divisive issue in this campaign.

NEARY: Interesting point, Ernie. I'm going to ask Ken to respond to that. I think that's an interesting point, that really, the significance is the reaction, maybe.

RUDIN: Well, yeah, I mean, the ad may very well be nonpolitical, but the watching, the reaction to it from both Democrats who liked it and Republicans who hated it just typical in a very volatile Republican - volatile political year.

NEARY: All right, I want to read three emails that came in that represent sort of different reactions to this super PAC issue we're talking about. This is from Brenton(ph) in Seattle: Although I generally support Obama, his decision to embrace super PACs is very disappointing to me and makes me much more likely to consider third-party candidates come November.

And this is from James(ph) in San Antonio, Texas: Why is that call - why is this called a change of heart? Why not call it what it is, an out-and-out lie? The first one he told was this one: I will use public funds for my presidential run, 2008, right.

Charles(ph) from Orlando says: I agree with Obama about the dangers of super PACs, but it would be the height of irresponsibility for him to voluntarily disarm himself just to make a point on one issue. So there's a range, Ken.

RUDIN: Well, yeah, and obviously the hypocrisy argument will - may inflame folks in the progressive wing of the party, and they're talking about maybe voting Green Party in November. Look, the first caller, who called and said look, it'll take the issue away from Republicans because they can't possibly criticize the president since they do it themselves, that's true. I think the thing that the Democrats have to worry about the most, if at all, is that, you know, the purists - I hate to use that word in - and it's not a sarcastic term - but the purists on campaign finance feel betrayed.

But again, you know, do you go into a gunfight with a knife? And that's part of the problem.

NEARY: Yeah, Sheila, do the super PACs, in a way, don't they allow candidates to kind of keep their hands clean?

KRUMHOLZ: Yes and no. I mean, these are an extension of the campaign. They're run by the former top lieutenants of the campaigns. Some of them have just stepped off the campaign months before to lead these organizations. So - in fact they might have even been the architects of the campaign strategy.

So it's hard to say that these are really as uncoordinated and independent as they technically ostensibly are.

RUDIN: And so...

NEARY: And so...

RUDIN: And so when a candidate says changing inaccurate ads is beyond my purview, I mean, that's not true, is it?

KRUMHOLZ: Well, they can't redirect traffic at the superPAC. But this is interesting with regard to the Obama announcement because he said OK. Obama won't directly ask for money from - for the superPAC at fundraising events. But if three Cabinet officials show up at an event and they're not going to get the $5,000 hard-money-limit checks because they didn't ask for them, fine. No, they're going to get $100,000 checks because that's what the donors are prepared to give.

NEARY: You - maybe just explain the difference between hard money and soft money.

KRUMHOLZ: So hard money is the money that can be spent by the campaign. It can go - be used to contribute to federal candidates. It's limited to 2,500 per election per candidate. And so they could solicit a $5,000 contribution in this cycle for the Obama campaign. And the candidates can go to a superPAC event that, again, is ostensibly independent and ask for money for the superPAC. But it can only be up to that hard-money limit of $5,000.

NEARY: All right. Let's go to a caller. We're going to go to Sarah(ph), and she's in Sacramento, California. Hi, Sarah.

SARAH: Hello.

NEARY: Go ahead.

SARAH: Well, I'm an Obama supporter. And, you know, I didn't agree with the SCOTUS ruling on this matter. But for all practical purposes and he has to do it. I mean, it's interesting that the Republicans would come out against his move to do this when, in fact, everyone of them - Mitt Romney, Santorum, Gingrich - they are all utilizing this new finding by the Supreme Court. So I just - I see no hypocrisy in this. And even if he doesn't support it, but yet he utilizes the law, I see no hypocrisy in that, either. The law exists, and he must - he has to use it.

NEARY: Well, I guess, the only hypocrisy would be involved in the fact that he said he wasn't going to and...

SARAH: Yeah. But...

NEARY: ...because he thought that there was something - he indicated that he didn't think they were a good idea. So the hypocrisy lies within what he said, I think.

SARAH: Yeah. Well - and I think that he still doesn't believe that it's a good idea that this law exists, and he doesn't agree with the Supreme Court ruling. But I mean, in this political climate, and there's a lot of money at stake and there's a lot at stake in this country, in this political battle, I believe that they all should utilize whatever legally they're entitled to utilize in order to, you know, retain the White House or to gain access to it. So...

NEARY: All right. Well, thanks so much for your call, Sarah.

SARAH: Thank you.

NEARY: And I just want to remind our listeners that you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Ken, did you want to say something?

RUDIN: Yeah. I just wanted to ask maybe you a question, but anybody this question. Were superPACs bad when the Republicans were using it, but now that Obama is using it it's understandable? It just seems like people who were furious with superPACs are sudden - well, in the - pre this week are suddenly saying, well, it's a necessity. You know, we're not crazy about it, but it's a necessity.

KRUMHOLZ: Yeah. I think the difficulty is that this was a principled stance. So if you can backtrack on your principles, what more will you backtrack on? And you might say, well, but the option - the alternative was political suicide, and so many people will feel like, well, it wouldn't be worth sacrificing financial competitiveness for. But other people would say what are principles if not something you, you know, can be counted on to uphold?

NEARY: Which Obama - he has some problems in that area already with some people in his base, I think, that they're feeling like he's backing off of things that they - that he has throughout his first term backed off of some principles that they thought he held very dear. Maybe just one more example of that. So we have some more emails here. This is from Pam in California. I think the only mistake the Obama administration made was changing their stance on the superPACs is not giving a speech explaining why.

I think we all get to need to level the playing field. But without explaining the game plan, it makes him look hypocritical when he didn't have to. He's always good at speechmaking. Do you think a speech would have helped, Ken?

RUDIN: Well look, it wouldn't have helped - as I said, it probably wouldn't have helped with the Fred Wertheimers and the Russ Feingolds and the purists in this. But I think a lot of people who would try to - look, everybody who hated the superPACs until now would love to have an argument why it's OK now and perhaps a speech by the president would have given that argument.

NEARY: You know, I think that, you know, people will say, well, the superPACs keep the candidate from having to go negative in his campaign - in his advertisements that are paid for by his campaign. But I think we've seen so far that the result, though, is really very, very negative campaigning, right, Sheila?

KRUMHOLZ: Oh, yeah. That won't suppress or prohibit the negative campaigning. And in fact, the candidates, because they have fewer resources, are going to want to take the high road and use them wisely. The outside groups that can raise $10 million overnight from one single donor, you know, to be able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars outside of that and target it in a way that kind of divides up the territory, you take the high road, I'll take the low road. It's, you know, it's to their great advantage to have that asset. Unfortunate...

NEARY: To what extent do you think voters really distinguish between the advertisements that are paid for by the superPACs and the advertisements that are paid for by the campaigns? Do they really know?

KRUMHOLZ: I don't think this dichotomy is fooling anyone. And further more, the kind of parsing words that the Obama campaign is using on lobbyists' donations is also, I think, not fooling anyone. So he implemented a ban on lobbying contributions to the campaign. And here, there's - they're throwing up their hands, saying we can't prohibit lobbying contributions to the superPAC since they can't coordinate with the superPACs. They can't stop them from doing it. But as our outreach coordinator tweeted the other day, Evan Mackinder said upon the announcement a resounding shrug went up among the campaign staff.

You know, there's nothing they can do, but they don't really want to prohibit the lobby, you know, you - one suspects that they may want to prohibit those lobbying contributions.

NEARY: And let me just read one last email. I was 18 when I voted for Obama. He ran a very ideological campaign and played on young people's disgust with the political status quo. With this move, he has officially lost the moral high ground he started with at the beginning of his term. I will probably still vote for him in November, but without the hope for change that I had last time around. And with that, we will close the program at this point. We'll close this section of the program.

And, Sheila, I want to thank you very much for joining us. Sheila Krumholz is executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. And, Ken Rudin, the political junkie, always good to have you with us.

RUDIN: Thanks, Lynn.

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