Dems decried big money in campaigns — and then caught up fast

FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2014, file photo, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks with reporters following a Democratic policy lunch at the Capitol in Washington. Reid has twice won elections he was supposed to lose. If Democrats avoid a bloodbath and maintain control of the Senate in November, much of the credit will go to the wily Nevada Democrat. Reid is not on the ballot this year, but his position as majority leader depends on Democrats denying Republicans the net six seats they need to retake the Senate. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Remember back in the day when President Barack Obama and Democrats were in high dudgeon over “fatcat” super PACs corrupting the political process?

"All across America,” Obama said while campaigning for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid four years ago, "they are pouring hundred of millions of dollars into a bunch of phony front groups running negative ads.”

That was so 2010.

One of the striking features of this year’s  midterms is the degree to which Democrats have embraced the brave new post-Citizens United world of big-money super PACs (groups that take unlimited cash from wealthy donors, corporations and labor unions) to the point where they are now pretty much equal players with their GOP counterparts.

Take Senate Majority PAC, the super PACs with close ties to Reid (its co-chair is his former chief of staff). It’s the No. 1 biggest spending outside group in this year’s congressional elections, pumping in $47 million, according to recent analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The Reid super PAC fueled with six-figure checks from liberal megadonors (hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer and Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner have chipped in $5 million a piece) has blasted out  more than 45,000 ads in Senate races, mostly skewering GOP candidates. The group was responsible for one in every 20 ads that have run this year, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

And they’re not alone. The No. 2 spending super PAC is — surprise — House Majority PAC, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s backed counterpart of Senate Majority PAC, which has spent $29.4 million. Indeed, of the top 10 spending super PACs, exactly half are backing Democrats, half Republicans.

To be sure, this is only part of the money picture in this year’s elections: As the Center for Responsive Politics notes, Republicans still have the edge when you throw in so-called “dark money” nonprofits, which also spend unlimited amounts on attack ads — but don’t give voters the courtesy of letting them know where the money is coming from.

But it’s clear that Democrats are aggressively playing catch-up — and the days of decrying the role of unlimited donations by well-heeled donors (so much a part of Democratic rhetoric in years past) is a fast-fading memory.