Senator Barack Obama will start looking the other way when it comes to the role 527s and other independent groups play in the election, a source close to his campaign told the Huffington Post.
The implicit acknowledgment that outside organizations have a role to play signifies a marked contrast from Obama's longstanding policy that electoral efforts be funneled through his campaign. A spokesman for Obama, Bill Burton, denied that any policy vis-à-vis 527s -- political organizations that can raise unlimited soft money -- and other outside groups had changed.
"Whoever is saying that has no idea what is going on inside our campaign," he said. "Senator Obama has said consistently that if folks want to help this effort, they should do so through our campaign."
But on Monday two reports surfaced suggesting that a softening of Obama's stance may already be taking place. Earlier in the day, Politico's Ben Smith wrote that PowerPAC, a 501c4 that was initiating voter registration efforts primarily in the South and West, was planning to spend $10 million during the election. In the afternoon, FireDogLake's Jane Hamsher reported that "a source close to the Obama campaign," acknowledged their position on independent expenditures was changing.
"Despite actively discouraging donors from giving to groups like Progressive Media at one point, they are now taking the position that it's nothing they have any control over," Hamsher wrote.
What effect contributions such outside groups could have on the election at this point remains to be seen. Anything organic would likely take weeks if not months to organize and finance. As such, advertising efforts from 527s likely aren't in the works due to budgetary restrictions. But grassroots efforts, especially if overseen by already established organizations like SEIU or ACORN, could yield important results.
"Independent groups can talk to constituencies where the Obama campaign or the DNC aren't credible messengers. The best example would be Working America and its reach into white working class communities," said Tom Matzzie, who had headed the organization Progressive Media before starting a new group to target right wing financiers. "There are some groups that are ready to take more donations: Working America, VoteVets, the Choice groups and ACORN to name a few. Otherwise it is almost too late to get a new ground group going. A new advertising outfit could be put together by experienced independent campaigners in a few days. The key is not to fund the grab-ass efforts that are mostly a consultant hustle. Instead invest in really good work."
The Obama camp has been, to this point, cold to the idea of unleashing outside groups, urging the party's big money contributors to not donate beyond the campaign.
"I think that our interest is in controlling the message of our own campaign and in not allowing others to develop a message for us," Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, told the Huffington Post in an interview in late May. "So to the extent possible we would like people to give their donations to us, so that we can use the money to deliver a message that is consistent with Obama's desires."
The extent to which such top-down oversight is possible was an object of debate and, at times, concern among Democrats. Certainly, there are risks to having outside groups play a major role. Message control can be lost and Obama's traditional opposition to independent expenditures would effectively be sullied. But in recent weeks, as John McCain has repeatedly launched negative ads at Obama, there has been some concern that equally negative counter attacks weren't in the offing.
"There have been some in the campaign all-along who have argued against the firm, hard-line position they have taken," said a Democratic insider.