The Obama campaign on Tuesday defended its decision to urge fundraisers to back the outside group backing his re-election bid, telling reporters the choice to reverse himself was approved by the president himself.
The campaign late Monday announced that it was not going to unilaterally disarm in the face of a half billion dollars' worth of contributions aimed at defeating President Obama.
"The president did sign off on this," a senior campaign official, who asked to remain unidentified, said on a conference call with reporters.
In an email distributed Monday, campaign manager Jim Messina said "we can't afford for the work you're doing in your communities, and the grassroots donations you give to support it, to be destroyed by hundreds of millions of dollars in negative ads."
As a result of the landmark 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission, super PACs can spend unlimited funds to support a candidate as long as they do not directly coordinate with the candidate's campaign.
As CBS' Phil Hirschkorn reported in December, super PACs could drive campaign spending by independent groups up to $1 billion dollars in the 2012 election cycle - in addition to an estimated $4 billion in expenditures by presidential candidates, congressional candidates and political parties.
The campaign would not characterize the president's thoughts on the decision, but noted that his reversal was tactical and did not represent a change in principle with regard to the Mr. Obama's position on campaign finance laws.
The campaign added that it would not be lending its support to the super PAC's sister organization, a 501(c)(4) which does not have to disclose the names of its donors, and emphasized that all donations to the super PAC would be fully disclosed.
Senior Obama campaign officials stressed that the campaign would adhere strictly to the laws surrounding the extent to which a campaign may communicate with its super PAC, noting that the only communication between the two groups would revolve around administration members' appearances at super PAC-related events (which is legal).
Still, the campaign's decision to so publicly support Priorities USA is markedly different from the positions Mr. Obama's Republican rivals have taken up with regard to the groups that support their own candidacies: While the pro-Mitt Romney super PAC "Restore Our Future," as well as the pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC "Winning Our Future" are staffed heavily by people who have recently been affiliated with the candidates they support, both Gingrich and Romney have been careful to avoid direct affiliation with those groups. Romney, particularly, has gone out of his way to note that he cannot take responsibility for the actions of Restore Our Future.
Relative to the money that the GOP-supporting PACs have raised, the Priorities contributions thus far have been relatively paltry: In 2011, the four most active Democratic Super PACS raised a combined $19 million. Priorities USA netted $7 million. Still, the Obama campaign has raised $140 million toward the 2012 elections, nearly triple the money raised by Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney for his campaign.