Former White House Aides Starting Non-Disclosing Independent Group — Like the Kind President Obama Called a “Threat to our Democracy”

By Nick Gass

Apr 29, 2011 11:54am

ABC News' Jake Tapper reports:

“We don’t control outside groups,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters today on Air Force One, as the president flew from Washington, DC, to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “These are not people working for the administration.”

Carney was referring to Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action, the new outside groups formed by former White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, who served as chief of staff to then-White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.  Priorities USA Action will register itself in the tax code as a “social welfare group,” which does not require the disclosure of donors. Or, as Burton and Sweeney put it in a press release: “Priorities USA Action is an Independent Expenditure PAC that supports candidates who will advance policies that provide the strongest and most sound outcomes for middle class families.”

In the 2010 elections, President Obama repeatedly protested the way outside that do not disclose their donors filled the airwaves with television ads.

“They don't have the courage to stand up and disclose their identities,” President Obama said on October 15 of these groups’ donors while campaigning in Wilmington, Delaware. “They could be insurance companies or Wall Street banks or even foreign-owned corporations. We will not know because there's no disclosure. But this isn't just a threat to the Democrats: It's a threat to our democracy.”

Sweeney in a statement said that the new groups are part of “an effort to level the playing field.  Americans deserve an honest debate about job creation, the economy, national security and education.  That debate will never happen if only right wing extremists are engaged on the battlefield.”

The conservative independent group Crossroads GPS – one of the main groups President Obama criticized last year — was founded in part by former Bush White House political guru Karl Rove. A spokesman or the group, Jonathan Collegio, said that “last year, Obama’s White House and hard left allies launched a coordinated PR and legal assault on non-disclosing conservative groups – and now, just six months later, Obama’s own political operatives are launching the very type of groups they demagogued as ‘shadowy threats to democracy.’”

“Obama’s brazen hypocrisy, in encouraging his own operatives to start groups exactly like the ones he demagogued last year, shows how cynical this President can be when it comes to perpetuating his own power,” Collegio said.

Burton said that “while we agree that fundamental campaign finance reforms are needed, Karl Rove and the Koch brothers cannot live by one set of rules as our values and our candidates are overrun with their hundreds of millions of dollars.  We will follow the rules as the Supreme Court has laid them out, but the days of the double standard are over.”

Said White House press secretary Carney when asked about the groups today: “The president’s position on disclosure remains the same.”

-Jake Tapper

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