-By Glenn Thrush and Kenneth P. Vogel
January 18, 2012- Last spring, Sean Sweeney — a co-founder of Priorities USA Action, Barack Obama’s not-so-super super PAC — rode an elevator up to a donor’s office atop a Chicago skyscraper, hoping to ride down with a big check.
His pitch: Sure, Obama has made a career of railing against the power of big money in politics — but the president’s 2012 campaign needs a handful of his rich supporters to write six- and seven-figure checks to counter the hundreds of millions Karl Rove and others plan to raise for Republicans.
Sweeney’s host leaned back in his chair, pained expression on his face, and asked: “Is this what we’ve become?”
Unfortunately for Sweeney, who declined to comment for this story, Obama feels the same way. That’s a major reason Priorities USA Action and its nonprofit affiliate raised only about $5 million through the first half of 2011 — less than half of the $12 million collected by the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney.
But the scorching effectiveness of the pro-Romney PAC attack on Newt Gingrich in Iowa, and the lack of a defense from any super PAC supporting the former speaker, has some of the president’s top campaign officials questioning a clean-hands stance born of principle and circa-2008 political packaging.
“I don’t think the president is just ambivalent about his super PAC. He’s flat-out opposed to it,” said former South Carolina Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian, a member of the Obama campaign’s national finance committee who has raised more than $200,000 for the president’s Chicago-based campaign so far this cycle.
“I was at the national finance committee in Chicago, and these are the people with these connections, and nobody was talking, even behind the scenes, about writing checks to the super PAC,” Harpootlian said. “That’s a problem. We didn’t make the rules. The president has called out the Supreme Court on Citizens United to their faces. … But it’s the state of play now, and we have to look at what Romney’s PAC did to Newt in Iowa. It’s dangerous. We can’t unilaterally disarm.”