Russ Feingold on Obama Super PAC Reversal: “It is a dumb approach”

Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) ripped President Obama and his re-election team on Tuesday morning for reversing themselves on their previous criticism of super PAC money and instead embracing unlimited cash from special interest groups and their influence in politics.

“It is a dumb approach,” Feingold said in a phone interview with The Huffington Post. “It will lead to scandal and there are going to be a lot of people having corrupt conversations about huge amounts of money that will one day regret that they went down the route of what is effectively a legalized Abramoff system.”

“I also think it guts the president’s message and the Democratic Party’s message,” he added. “We are doing very well right now. The president is doing brilliantly. This is no time to blunt that message by starting to play this game. I think people will see it as phony that Democrats start playing by Republican rules. People will see us as weak and not being a true alternative and just being the same as the other guy. And as I have said before, to me this is dancing with the devil.”

One of the few vocal proponents of strict campaign finance rules, the former senator offered a similar denunciation when some of the president’s former aides first set out to form a super PAC, setting up the group that stands to benefit most from the Obama campaign’s new policy, Priorities USA Action.

One of the founders of that group told The Huffington Post that the campaign’s new approach to super PACS will be to continue to publicly disapprove of their existence while simultaneously encouraging donors to help fund them. The blatant hypocrisy of this strategy is lost on them as they say it’s simply a recognition of modern political realities.

“As has become evident in the past month, the only enthusiasm in the Republican Party is among oil company billionaires and investment bankers on Wall Street looking to defeat President Obama,” said Bill Burton. “We’re committed to providing a balance to Karl Rove and the Koch brothers who have pledged more than half a billion dollars to their effort.”

Aides to the president’s re-election campaign have pointed to the sucess that Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has had in taking down Romney’s primary opponents. They argue that to simply accept the same fate would constitute campaign suicide.

“I’m sure super PACS have had some role [in damaging former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s candidacy],” Feingold said of the latter point. “But the fact is that Romney’s best advantage is he has terrible opponents. It’s true. If these people were even remotely credible I don’t think all the money in the world would help. It’s that he has complete duds as opponents who people know can’t beat the president.”

Feingold is obviously not persuaded by the Obama campaign’s argument.

“The president is wrong to have embraced the corrupt corporate politics of Citizens United and that’s what you’re doing when you start using and consorting with super PACs. They can raise unlimited amounts of money from wealthy individuals and corporations and often they can do it in total secrecy,” he said. “I am a supporter of the president. I will continue to support the president. But on this one I couldn’t disagree more.”

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