Republican Sen. Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren on Monday signed a pledge to try to block political advertising in the race paid for by advocacy groups or outside organizations known as super PACs.
It appears to be the first time opposing candidates have tried to stop outside influences. The two sides negotiated for about a week to come up with the agreement, which has financial penalties.
"If it does in fact work then pressure will grow in the next election cycle for candidates to agree to this kind of truce.”Jeff Berry, Tufts political science professor
Brown and Warren wanted to make this more than a political pinky swear, so the deal requires that each candidate donate to charity half the cost of any outside ad that either supports a candidate or attacks his or her opponent.
"We’re saying that we want to be able to run our own campaigns," Warren said. "For me this is a matter of personal responsibility. I will be responsible for what I say and I assume that Scott Brown is willing to be responsible for what he says."
The agreement covers broadcast and cable television, radio and Internet ads.
Brown, who first proposed the idea, says the pledge is a bold statement to super PACs that their interference in the race could hurt the candidates they’re trying to help. Hurt them with ads like this one that shows Brown getting into his pickup truck and throwing trash out the window:
Brown sided with Big Oil, taking thousands from oil companies just weeks before he voted to keep their special tax breaks.
That Massachusetts ad campaign by the League of Conservation Voters cost $1.8 million. Now, under Brown and Warren’s “People’s Pledge," if the LCV makes a similar ad buy, Warren’s campaign would be required to donate $900,000 to a charity of Brown’s choice. The LCV's Navin Nayak says his organization will respect the agreement, however.
"Our biggest concern is we hope that Sen. Brown will hold up his end of the bargain when we inevitably see Crossroads and the Koch brothers break it," Nayak said.
Crossroads GPS is an outside organization co-founded by Karl Rove that has run ads in Massachusetts attacking Warren. One says: "Fourteen million American out of work but instead of focusing on jobs, Elizabeth Warren sides with extreme left protests."
The head of Crossroads says the agreement has loopholes Teamsters could drive a truck through. It still allows outside groups to pay for union phone banks, direct mail and get-out-the-vote drives.
The group Common Cause is working to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allows corporations and individuals to make unlimited donations to super PACs. Common Cause spokeswoman Mary Boyle calls the agreement admirable, but assays it’s unlikely to work.
"They are not going to be able to deliver on this; it’s out of their control if a third party wants to just go and do this anyway they can and will," Boyle said.
How this agreement plays out will be closely watched in this important Senate race, says Tufts University political science professor Jeff Berry.
"I think the eyes of the nation will be on Massachusetts for more than the excitement of this closely contested Senate race," he said. "But if it does in fact work then pressure will grow in the next election cycle for candidates to agree to this kind of truce."
The candidates have also asked broadcast stations to refuse to run political ads produced by third parties. So far, no Boston station has agreed to comply.
This program aired on January 24, 2012.