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Obama's Latest Money Decision: Less Control, But It Matters Less

The move -- like the key decisions in 2008 -- is at its core about tactics, not philosophy.

Posted on February 6, 2012, at 11:34 p.m. ET

Charles Dharapak / AP

Priorities USA's Bill Burton, left, who will have some money to spend.

Back in May of 2008, Senator Barack Obama's top fundraiser put out the word: The campaign would prefer its donors not support nascent independent groups, David Brock's Progressive Media USA and John Podesta’s Fund for America.

Today, the campaign took the opposite tack, with a moralizing email to supporters:

With so much at stake, we can't allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm.

Therefore, the campaign has decided to do what we can, consistent with the law, to support Priorities USA in its effort to counter the weight of the GOP Super PAC.

That 2008 decision wasn't made entirely out of some reformist purity. Obama would go back on a pledge to take public financing, accepting the hit on his reform credentials (which was enacted solely on the Times editorial page) in exchange for a serious financial advantage over John McCain. And his team decided that outside allies -- whether the 527s or the more traditional DNC independent expenditure, could only muddy up the purity of his very pure message.

So what has changed? One major shift is that Obama faces an opponent whose rich friends really will pour tens of millions into outside groups, unlike the underfunded and relatively isolated John McCain.

"This is a very different political environment than 2008," said an Obama aide, going on to blame outside Republican spending for "the shift and the reality of the political environment, even as we fight for reform."

The other reason is that this campaign won't have 2008's purity. The President of the United States doesn't have the luxury of message control. Priorities USA can take its cues from the White House, but if it drops a stray piano on Romney's head on the wrong day of the week, that's a risk the Obama campaign seems willing to take.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.