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Hollywood & Politics: Why a Former White House Press Secretary Won't Apologize for His Pro-Obama Super PAC

Bill Burton
Riccardo Vecchio

Bill Burton says his Priorities USA must fight a GOP that will do everything short of "lie, cheat and steal."

This story originally appeared in the May 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

This election, Republicans will have more than a billion dollars in their war chest to do whatever it takes to defeat President Obama. Shy of lie, cheat and steal, Republicans will attack, distort and mislead to win the presidency.

To quote Jaws' Chief Brody, "In order to fight back, we're going to need a bigger boat." That's why Sean Sweeney (former chief of staff to ex-White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel) and I started a super PAC after we left the White House last year.

To all Democrats who might criticize the president for condoning a super PAC and would want to take the higher road here: That is not an option. Yes, we are still committed to campaign finance reform, but we simply cannot bring ourselves to sit on the sidelines as the right washes over us with a monetary tsunami to advance the most conservative agenda we've seen in a generation.

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We hear it all too often: The money doesn't matter because President Obama can't lose. Good, smart Democrats are too quick to say the Republican circus that produced Mitt Romney will ensure he wins re-election in a walk.

We wish that were true, but it isn't.

The economy is still recovering from George W. Bush and will be for some time. And the right wing has already begun to flood the airwaves with special-interest dollars, all designed to demonize the president. Billionaire oil barons Charles and David Koch have pledged to spend $200 million geared toward dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency to boost their profits at the expense of clean air and water. Republican operative Karl Rove has pledged to spend at least $300 million from his group American Crossroads, funded by corporations and individuals with an anti-consumer, anti-middle-class, anti-choice agenda.

President Obama could lose this election to Romney. If he does, the consequences will be catastrophic.

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The advances President Obama made on clean energy: gone. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell": back. The president's 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan: replaced with an unending presence in that country. A tax code that makes the rich richer and makes everyone on Medicare and student loans pay for it.

If the election were just a contest of ideas, we would win. Romney did not win the GOP nomination on his ideas -- most are retreads from the failed Bush presidency. Romney is winning for one reason: big money. And he intends to bring that power to bear against the president. This Republican primary season, we've already seen the impact of Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC. In key primary states, Romney's allies have torched their opponents by outspending them with tens of millions of dollars' worth of blistering, negative ads.

Our turn. Last year, with the support of Hollywood progressives, including Jeffrey Katzenberg, who helped us get off the ground, we started Priorities USA Action to counter the attacks coming from right-wing special interests.

Priorities USA has a unique role in the election: to expose the truth about Romney's agenda by communicating with millions of voters across the country over the airwaves.

President Obama deserves to be elected because he is the only candidate looking out for the middle class. In his first term, he has helped end the Bush recession, saved GM, signed into law equal pay for women, ended the war in Iraq and passed sensible, smart rules of the road for Wall Street. He brought the country a pro-consumer health reform law, invested in clean-energy jobs, reduced our dependence on Middle East oil and will continue to be a champion for middle-class economics. Four more years of Obama will guarantee our country will work for the middle class, not protect the safety net for those who do not need it.

There is too much at stake. Repub­licans will do whatever it takes to take down Obama and his progressive vision. We cannot let them win.

Burton worked as Obama's campaign national press secretary during the 2008 election, then served as White House deputy press secretary, a position he held until early 2011.