CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Barack Obama urged delegates at the Democratic National Convention to beware “the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election” in his acceptance speech Thursday night.
“If you reject the notion that our government is forever beholden to the highest bidder, you need to stand up in this election,” Obama said to a roaring crowd in the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte.
The impassioned speech came the same week that the main pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action, said it raised $10 million in August, a record for the group, and enlisted the aid of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s campaign co-chairman, to help it raise money.
Democrats staked out positions against secret election spending, big-money politics and the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision throughout the convention.
The party is being seriously outraised by Republican super PACs and nonprofits, and its position is in stark contrast to Republicans, whose party platform opposes efforts to undo the high court’s decision.
The 2010 Citizens United ruling overturned an existing ban on corporate- and union-funded advertisements that advocate for the election or defeat of federal candidates.
It further said that independent political ads — even those funded with unlimited corporate cash — do not pose a threat of corruption. That’s a point that campaign finance reformers have disputed.
In other speeches, Democratic officials, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Massachusetts U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, also criticized special interest groups and their outsized influence in Washington.
“We believe in government of the many, not the privileged few,” said Pelosi, who added that Democrats will “work to overturn Citizens United.”
Warren said the “system is rigged,” and she argued that Obama would fight for a “level playing field.”
The Democratic Party’s platform supports “campaign finance reform, by constitutional amendment if necessary,” as well as legislation to “require greater disclosure of campaign spending.”
The Republican Party platform calls for repealing the campaign finance reform law authored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis. and opposes the DISCLOSE Act, which seeks to institute new disclosure requirements for groups that run political ads.
The DISCLOSE Act was thwarted by Republican opposition in both this Congress and the previous one.
Republicans frame the debate as a First Amendment issue.
“The GOP will defend freedom of speech, and it does not view citizens’ political speech and involvement as a bad thing for democracy,” said Brad Smith, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission.
Those sentiments are echoed by Republican Dan Backer, an attorney at DB Capitol Strategies.
“The GOP has consistently stood up against the over-reaching, over-intrusiveness of the federal government in all aspects of our lives,” Backer said. “Here they are standing up against the notion that the government gets to dictate what speech is permissible.”
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has endorsed the notion of unlimited campaign contributions to political candidates. He opposes a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
Last week Obama endorsed the idea of a constitutional amendment to override Citizens United during an online chat on the popular website Reddit.com.
In the Reddit chat, Obama criticized the “no-holds barred flow of seven- and eight- figure checks, most undisclosed, into super PACs.”
Obama’s statement confused super PACs with nonprofit spending groups.
Super PACs are permitted to accept unlimited contributions but are legally required to disclose their donors — that’s how casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, Texas homebuilder Bob Perry and Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner have become headline fodder.
Nonprofits, organized under section 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) of the U.S. tax code, can make the same types of expenditures but are not required to publicly disclose their donors.
Despite the banner month for Priorities USA Action, the GOP super PACs have raised and spent far more.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, pro-Romney super PAC has raised nearly $90 million so far this election, though much of that was used to fight off opponents in the GOP primary. Conservative super PAC American Crossroads has raised more than $47 million.
And that does not include tens of millions more raised by conservative nonprofits like Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity, which do not reveal their donors.
Priorities USA Action, not including the August amount, has raised $25.5 million.