WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama blasted the Supreme Court case challenging campaign contribution limits, which was argued Tuesday morning, and said he believes the court's earlier Citizens United decision "contributed to some of the problems we're having in Washington right now."
The comments came Tuesday afternoon in response to a question about McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission at the president's press conference, which focused on the government shutdown and congressional Republicans' refusal to raise the debt limit without policy concessions.
Obama connected the flood of money into politics with the obdurate partisanship now fueling both the shutdown and debt ceiling showdowns.
"I continue to believe that Citizens United contributed to some of the problems we're having in Washington right now," Obama said. "You have some ideological extremists who have a big bankroll, and they can entirely skew our politics. And there are a whole bunch of members of Congress right now who privately will tell you, 'I know our positions are unreasonable but we're scared that if we don't go along with the tea party agenda or some particularly extremist agenda that we'll be challenged from the right.'"
The 2010 Citizens United decision and a subsequent lower court ruling opened the door to unlimited independent electoral spending by individuals, corporations and unions. Very conservative groups seized on the opportunity to pump more money into Republican primary elections and ultimately managed to elect some of the stars of the current crisis, including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.).
On the McCutcheon case, Obama said, "Well, the latest case would go even further than Citizens United. I mean, essentially it would say anything goes, there are no rules in terms of how to finance campaigns."
The McCutcheon case challenges the aggregate limits on the amount an individual can contribute to candidates, political parties and PACs in a two-year period. Without those limits, a donor could give millions of dollars overall in direct contributions to multiple candidates and committees. The Supreme Court also allowed a lawyer representing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to argue for the overturning of all campaign contribution limits, although the court did not seem very interested in this argument.
"There aren't a lot of functioning democracies around the world that work this way," the president said at his press conference. "Where you can basically have millionaires and billionaires bankrolling whoever they want however they want, in some cases undisclosed, and what it means is ordinary Americans are shut out of the process."
Obama acknowledged that he is no innocent in the excesses of campaign fundraising. He was both the first presidential candidate to shun the public financing system for the general election and the first $1 billion candidate.
"I had to raise a lot of money for my campaign," he said. "There's nobody [who] operates in politics that has perfectly clean hands on this issue."
Obama has long been a supporter of campaign finance reform, but has done little to advance the issue as president.