Public Citizen Applauds Pledge Proposal to Curb Outside Spending in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate Race

Russ Feingold Proposes a ‘Badger’s Pledge’ to Limit Spending by Third Parties

June 12, 2015

Contact: Lisa Gilbert (202) 454-5188
Aquene Freechild (202) 588-7752

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen today applauded U.S. Senate candidate Russ Feingold’s proposal for a “Badger’s Pledge” that candidates in that race could take to limit the influence of outside groups.

The pledge is modeled after a “People’s Pledge” made popular in 2012 during the Massachusetts U.S. Senate battle between Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren and GOP candidate Scott Brown. In that race, Brown proposed, and the two candidates signed, the “People’s Pledge” to stem the flow of outside money into that election.

“The American people are fed up with contests driven by the interests of big election spenders rather than the interests of voters,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “We applaud Russ Feingold’s proposal to limit the influence of outside spending, and encourage U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson to negotiate and accept the terms to ensure a cleaner, more accountable election in Wisconsin.”

In the 2014 election cycle, candidates in three races inked similar “People’s Pledge” agreements. Fifteen additional candidates campaigned on proposals to exclude outside spending of different kinds, including U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Dan Sullivan (who was elected to the U.S. Senate from Alaska) and Evan Jenkins (W.Va.), who won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Across the political spectrum, Americans feel disempowered and drowned out by the flood of election spending,” said Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign. “Until we can restore limits on third-party election spending, the pledge provides an immediate way for candidates to prove they will stand up to big money in politics and run a different kind of race.”

In the face a breakdown in enforcement of election laws by the Federal Election Commission, and the deregulation of election spending by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings, the pledge offers candidates an option to take control of their own messages and cut down on the mudslinging that advertising by “outside groups” – groups other than the candidates’ campaigns or parties – so often entails.

Under the terms of the novel agreement, if an outside group purchases any broadcast or online ads, the candidate the ads were designed to help must donate 50 percent of the ad’s cost to a charity of the opposing candidate’s choice. Brown ended up making two small donations. Feingold’s proposal for his Wisconsin race is very similar.

“We hope pledges such as this proposal in the Badger State will lead the way for others to follow suit in the 2016 battle,” added Freechild.

In Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court gave corporations and the wealthy the green light to spend unlimited sums to influence elections. That prompted a surge of money to flow through trade associations and newly created nonprofit groups that do not have to disclose the identities of their donors. As a recent New York Times poll shows, Americans are ready for a “complete rebuild” of the way elections are financed, which helps explains the popularity of the movement for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

This deregulation of outside spending led to increased spending on negative advertising, according to a November 2012 Public Citizen analysis. More than 85 percent of unregulated independent expenditures made by the 15 largest outside groups in the 2012 election cycle financed negative messages.

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