CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Super PACs are spending much of the week in Charlotte courting major donors in town for the convention, but some prominent Democrats are struggling with the reality of embracing the outside influence so many within the party still hope to rein in.
“Unfortunately, they don’t have any choice” retiring Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.) says of his party welcoming help from outside groups. “If you don’t play by these rules, you’re going to lose.”
Priorities USA, the Democratic Super PAC headed by former Obama deputy press secretary Bill Burton, has been working many of the major donors who have descended on Charlotte. Super PACs focused on Democratic House and Senate contests are also courting donors.
Coming off its best month of fundraising so far—$10 million in August—Priorities USA has held a number of events this week, including one headlined by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has joined the group to help bolster its fundraising efforts ahead of November.
But amidst the parties, plenty of Democrats in town are decrying the influence of Super PACs. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell lamented the negativity of the 2012 campaign on Wednesday, laying the blame at the feet of outside groups.
“It’s the Super PACs most of all,” says Rendell. Calling Citizens United “the worst decision ever by the Supreme Court,” Rendell says while he understands the party needs to keep up with the outside money coming from conservative groups, he doesn’t think it means Democrats should stop talking about campaign finance reform.
Others in Charlotte this week contend the Super PAC events are far in the background at a convention focused on generating enthusiasm for President Obama and promoting the party’s values.
“I’m not aware of them,” Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) said of fundraising events for Super PACs taking place this week. “I will tell you that everyone I see—Democratic candidates and elected officials—is bringing up the issue of reform. I know I have been and I’m going to continue.”
“Who’s Bill Burton?” was the response from Delaware Sen. Chris Coons when asked about the fundraising efforts of the former Obama deputy press secretary. Coons says he’s completely unaware of the group’s presence in Charlotte, but noted the massive amount of money conservative groups have spent attacking the Democratic ticket.
“The fact that the president and the vice president face a withering tsunami” of attacks from well-funded groups, says Coons, means that the party has to fight back in some way. “But I would rather see us able to pass the DISCLOSE Act.”
One Democrat who doesn’t mind expressing his disappointment at the Super PAC fundraisers in Charlotte is Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio). Rather than spending time courting donors for Super PACs, Kucinich says top party officials should put their efforts toward a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United.
“That decision has been a disaster for our country,” Kucinich says. “It opened the floodgates to turning campaigns into auctions where the policy goes to the highest bidder.”