Washington (CNN) - Saying it's time "fight back," Democrats with strong ties to President Barack Obama are unveiling a double-fisted fundraising push to counter an expected tidal wave of money from independent GOP-leaning groups in the 2012 battle for the White House.
Organizers say the two groups launched Friday, Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action, aim to raise a combined $100 million to defend the president from what they say will be a flood of attack ads from similar independent groups on the Republican side.
But the strategy of using unlimited and sometimes secret contributions is something that Obama opposed in the past.
"This is 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," says Sean Sweeney, one of the two organization's senior strategists.
Sweeney and Bill Burton, the groups' other senior strategist, recently departed the White House. Sweeney was a senior adviser to former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Burton was a deputy White House press secretary and before that national press secretary for Obama's presidential campaign.
"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," Burton said.
Rove, the top political adviser to former President George W. Bush, was one of the founders last year of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, along with former Republican National Committee chairmen Ed Gillespie and Mike Duncan. The two independent groups raised more than $70 million in last year's midterm elections and say their goal is to raise $120 million in the 2012 election cycle.
American Crossroads is a 527 organization that must disclose its donors. Crossroads GPS is a 501(c)(4) group, which is not required to disclose its contributors. Last year Democrats, including the president, criticized Crossroads' efforts for accepting funds from undisclosed donors.
Obama highlighted the issue on the campaign trail last fall. At a rally in Madison, Wisconsin last September, Obama said Republicans were being helped "by special interest groups that are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money on attack ads. They don't even have to disclose who's behind the ads. You've all seen the ads. Every one of these groups is run by Republican operatives."
A few days later at a rally in Philadelphia he added that "the American people deserve to know who is trying to sway their elections."
A spokesman for American Crossroads says Friday's move makes the president a hypocrite.
"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," American Crossroads communications director Jonathan Collegio tells CNN.
But the White House says they don't "control outside groups."
"These are not people working for the administration," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Friday, adding that "the president's position on disclosure remains the same."
Two top players who helped fund some of the Republican independent committees last year were Charles and David Koch, who own a large energy firm. Friday's press release from Priorities USA says "the Koch brothers have pledged to raise and spend $88 million over the course of the next two years."
Paul Begala, a top political adviser in the Clinton White House, who will serve as a senior strategist for Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action, said "It's time somebody decided to stand up and fight back."
"In 2010 progressives stood by and watched Karl Rove and the billionaire Koch brothers practice the politics of lie and buy, fear and smear. We're not going to let them get away with it any more. We are committed to defending the American middle class against the Rove-Koch assaults." Begala is also a CNN contributor.
The new groups are being set up in a similar fashion as the two Crossroads organizations, with Priorities USA is being organized as a 501(c)(4) group, which means it does not have to disclose the names of its donors. The new groups' launch was first reported by Politico.
The explosion of political ad spending by independent groups last year can be traced to a January 2010 Supreme Court decision. "Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission" allowed corporations and labor unions to make unlimited donations to some political groups, but continued to ban them from giving to candidates and party committees.
While Republican-leaning groups took the lead in last year's midterm contests, Democratic-leaning groups appear to be catching up this year, with the recent creation of organizations to help defend the party's Senate majority and to help try and recapture control of the House.
- Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @PsteinhauserCNN
This group will be Beck's new target as a freedom hating,commi-luvin, Soros funded, anti-christian, alien led (both illegal and galactic) group. They are going to destroy America, corrupt our children and eat our beloved family pets. I'm starting to hope that the end does in fact come in 2012...
Yes, lets level the playing field. Go to it!!!!!
What a laugh this article is. The Democrats have been doing the same thing for years, the public employee unions have been spending hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars collected as dues from members in past elections attacking Republicans. Moveon.org with the funding of George Soros has been spending millions and millions against Republicans for years with the most vile and hatefull attack ads.
Just a bit of fair and ballanced reporting from CNN would be appreciated for time to time.
Dem's need to keep it real though too. As the swamp has NOT been drained yet, contrary to what Pelosi promised. There are too many deadbeats that are stuck in the past in both parties – that prefer smoozing the Big $ Lobbyists instead of the constituents they are suppose to serve. Obama is a change agent – but until campaign financing gets reformed and lobbyists get kicked-out...we will still have a broken system in D.C.
This is absolutely great news. It's about time
Ain't plutocracy grand? Thank you GOP for ushering it in....we'll have you to thank in 20 years when tha pesky middle-class no longer exists.
Even GOP knows they can’t beat Obama in 2012. 2010 GOP theory hurting them now
I'm Independent but I'M to go Democrats In 2012, We have to get as many Republican Out Of the Congress and Senate as we can. And we really have to make sure One DON'T GET IN THE WHITE HOUSE. If we Don't the Middle Class ,the POOR and The OLD will end up with Nothing. The Republican and the Tea Party have to go In 2012. Just One more thing I think Paul Ryan Plan Is a Bunch of CRAP. We need to have as many people to call The Republican In congress and most of all JOHN BOEHNER and they them know how the American people Really real ,not just the RICH and BIG BUSINESS. If we Jam John Boehner phone line may be he will get what we are saying. Because he keep saying he doing this for the American people, But I don't know about some of you. But for most American people he not doing anything for Us, and we have to tell him.