WASHINGTON--All bets are now off when it comes to 2012 presidential fund-raising.
On Friday two former Obama White House staffers started fund-raising to support President Obama's re-election bid, taking the big donations from sources they will not be compelled to disclose, the kind of "secret" campaign money Obama has deplored.
The move comes as outside groups loom as important players in the 2012 contests, far more than in 2008, when different campaign finance laws were in place.
Democrats are bankrolling the new groups after seeing a tidal wave of Republican money--much from undisclosed donors--pour into 2010 contests.
Former Obama staffers Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney will be senior strategists for two allied groups, Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action created "in response to the extremist right-wing efforts pledged by Karl Rove and the Koch brothers," they said in a statement.
Rove, President Bush's former political strategist, is an advisor to groups that operate under the umbrella name "American Crossroads," funded in part by oil billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch. American Crossroads spent millions in 2010 to influence contests and pledged to defeat Obama in 2012.
Burton is a former Obama deputy press secretary; Sweeney was chief of staff to former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, the mayor-elect of Chicago. Democratic strategist Paul Begala will be senior advisor to the groups.
"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," said Sweeney in a statement.
"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 Burton in a statement.
"We're eager to meet Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers in the public arena. As long as they're spending millions telling lies in their effort to destroy the middle class, we will answer them by telling the truth," said Begala in a statement.
Jonathan Collegio, communications director of American Crossroads said in a statement, "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."
"This move may cause the biggest ordeal for the so-called 'good government' groups who publicly called for IRS and FEC investigations of conservative groups last year. To maintain their own "nonpartisan" tax exempt status, will these groups call for investigations of the new non-disclosing liberal efforts?