Labor and liberal group officials made clear Monday that the left should disregard President Obama’s strong and repeated denunciations this year of anonymous money and set up groups to take undisclosed donations in the 2012 election.
“Progressives should look at all vehicles that are available to them that allow them to get their message out there,” said Khalid Pitts, director of strategic campaigns for the Service Employees Union International.
Pitts, speaking to reporters after appearing on a panel at the National Press Club, said it was his preference that campaign donations be disclosed, but said that “it’s going to be very difficult now” with a Republican-controlled House for any legislation to be passed changing the new rules of the road put in place by the Supreme Court’s ruling this year in the case of Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission.
Conservative groups like American Crossroads set up nonprofit arms under the tax code’s 501c4 classification, allowing them to spend money on advocacy and electioneering without disclosing who was financing them. The group’s political director Carl Forti said Monday that Crossroads raised and spent more than $70 million in 2010.
This became one of Obama’s main points of attack against Republicans in the fall campaign.
“This is a threat to our democracy. The American people deserve to know who’s trying to sway their elections,” Obama said Oct. 7 at a rally in Bowie, Md.
The Democratic National Committee accused conservative groups of taking money from foreign donors and of “stealing our democracy.”
But Pitts, along with Ilyse Hogue of MoveOn.org, said that while they agreed with Obama’s ideals, the political reality had become too dire for them to handicap themselves.
“We can take the moral high ground and turn the other cheek, but it’s only so many times that cheek is going to get slapped. In the battle of issues and ideas, you can’t go into it with your arm tied behind your back,” Pitts said, at an event hosted by FactCheck.org and the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
Hogue said that “the donors on our side are starting to feel like unilateral disarmament may have been a big mistake.”
“It’s no good to actually hold the principle that every American should have an equal voice if you are not going to ever have any chance of implementing that through any of the three branches of government,” she said.
While MoveOn has a 501c4 which was used to solicit campaign donations in 2004, Hogue said they have not used it in elections since. She said that they will not use their 501c4 arm for “electoral work” in the future.
Pitts added that “the labor movement cannot continue to bankroll the entire progressive side of political discourse.”
“It’s very difficult, and you see what trends are happening, the percentage of union households shrinking, it’s going to be increasingly hard to do,” he said.
He said afterwards that he was not pointing the finger at the rest of the liberal movement.
Forti said in a second panel discussion that people were “overestimating the amount of corporate money that was involved at all,” saying that they raised a good share of money from small dollar donors.
When asked if they would have received as many large contributions from corporations as they did if disclosure was required, Forti said it was “impossible to know.”