Mass. U.S. Senate Hopefuls Clash Over 'People's Pledge'

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Democrat Edward Markey is resorting to stagecraft to press his Republican rival in the U.S. Senate race, Gabriel Gomez, to sign the so-called "People's Pledge."

The agreement is intended to keep outside political groups from buying broadcast advertising in the Senate race. Under the pledge, a candidate who benefits from such advertising would have to contribute to his opponent's designated charity.

On Monday, Markey rented a downtown Boston hotel conference room, sat down at a table with an empty chair his campaign had set up for Gomez, and held a press conference.

"I am going to continue to pressure him in order to sign this contract," Markey told reporters. "I'm just going to keep pressuring him, OK? Obviously, he doesn't want to sign it."

Gomez wasn't present, but waiting outside the conference room to help make Gomez's case was Tim Buckley, communications director for the Massachusetts Republican Party.

Gabriel Gomez, left, and U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (WBUR file photos)
Gabriel Gomez, left, and U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (WBUR file photos)

"Congressman Markey's call for the People's Pledge is hypocritical," Buckley said. "He's been taking millions and millions from special interest groups and lobbyists from the industry that he oversees, that he regulates in Congress."

But Markey points out that law forces him to disclose his donors.

"No contribution which I have ever taken is undisclosed," he said. "Everything and every contribution I have ever taken is completely disclosed and is limited."

Some outside groups who could end up advertising in the Senate race wouldn't have to disclose their donors.

Markey's campaign also points to his voting record. Independent groups have found he only votes with his contributors half the time.

Gomez says voters care more about other issues.

"I'm not going to be part of a political ploy," Gomez said. "If he wants to keep talking about the pledge, the pledge, the pledge, well, I'm going to be talking about the economy, the economy, the economy, which is what people care about. I don't have any control over his campaign or his campaign managers, but they're down the wrong path."

Stonehill College's Peter Ubertaccio, chairman of the political science department there, agrees with Gomez.

"Massachusetts voters are concerned about the role of money in politics, but many voters also believe it's a process issue that they're not terribly interested in," Ubertaccio said, "and the debate over should there or should there not be a People's Pledge for many voters is sort of background noise, which is why I think Gomez's calculation is by opting not to sign it, he's probably not doing himself significant political damage."

What's more, Ubertaccio says, Gomez probably wouldn't win over many voters if he did sign the pledge.

"I think that voters who are really passionate about money in politics and are very much in favor of the People's Pledge are already very likely in Markey's corner," he said.

There is a chance that Gomez's refusal to sign the pledge could backfire. Outside groups already worked on Markey's behalf in the primary by knocking on doors and calling voters.

Tufts University political science professor Jeff Berry says that without the pledge, these groups could decide to buy advertising to criticize Gomez's positions.

"And so the advantage that the Democrats would have is they would be able to run some very negative TV commercials against Gomez and try to define him before he's fully defined in his own terms," Berry said, "so in that sense, I think Markey's advantaged."

Among the groups that have already spent money to organize on behalf of Markey are the League of Conservation Voters, the Service Employees International Union, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood.

This post was updated with the Morning Edition feature version.

This article was originally published on May 06, 2013.

This program aired on May 6, 2013.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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