First proposed by Scott Brown in his 2012 U.S. Senate race against Elizabeth Warren, the Pledge is a great way to control messaging in the race by curtailing outside spending on ads. The Pledge is a voluntary bilateral private agreement that has since been publicly proposed by a number of successful candidates including Senators Angus King and Ed Markey. The Pledge is also a tool to raise the issue of money in politics and to champion anti-corruption reform during the race itself. (Full text of the Pledge)
The Pledge (which only takes effect if taken by all/both candidates) has proven to be highly effective in reducing outside spending by super PACs and 501c4/c6 groups. It reduced such spending by 93% in the Brown v. Warren race, as compared to other highly contested 2012 Senate races.
The People’s Pledge.
The People’s Pledge, signed by Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren in the heated Massachusetts U.S. Senate race of 2012, was an agreement between the two senate candidates to reject outside advertisements on their behalf. The People’s Pledge stated that candidates would “work together to limit the influence of third party advertisements.” The candidates agreed that, if such an ad aired on television, radio, or in print, the candidate benefiting from the ad would donate, from their own campaign account, half of the cost of the advertisement to a charity of the opposing candidate’s choice. The Pledge worked.
The People’s Pledge Effectively Raises Transparency And Accountability
Common Cause Massachusetts compared the Warren vs. Brown race to tightly contested U.S. Senate races in Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio. In those three states, donations from the top 15 Super PAC donors outmatched all small donations by 5 to 1, despite there being 175,000 small donors. In contrast, in the 2012 Massachusetts race, small donations outmatched outside group spending by 3 to 1. In addition, there was five times more “dark money” in the Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio elections than in Massachusetts. Ninety-seven percent of ads bought by outside groups in Virginia, Wisconsin and Ohio were negative. No outside money was spent on television ads in Massachusetts.
The People’s Pledge Is Quickly Gaining Traction
Since the Warren/Brown Senate race, many candidates have joined their opponents in signing comparable versions of The Pledge or have gained positive media attention by requesting that their opponents join them in taking The Pledge.
Pledges have been publicly proposed nearly a dozen times by members of both major parties in 2014 federal races in Alaska, California, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. The Pledge has also been proposed in the Arizona governor’s race.
Pledges have already been signed in three instances in 2014: All three Democrats running for governor of Rhode Island have publicly signed the pledge. Two Providence mayoral candidates have also agreed to and signed a Pledge together. Warren Tolman and Maura Healey negotiated a pledge in their ongoing Massachusetts Attorney General primary.
The People’s Pledge was proposed several times in 2013 by candidates that went on to win. Senators Ed Markey and Angus King, as well as Eric Garcetti, the current Mayor of Los Angeles, used it successfully in their campaigns, though their opponents declined to sign or negotiate.
Polls Show Broad And Substantial Public Opposition To Outside Spending
Polled voters say they would be more likely to vote for candidates that favor the People’s Pledge by a more than five-to-one margin. Support is strong across party lines, with Independents being more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the People’s Pledge by a factor of 5 to 1, Republicans by nearly 4 to 1, and Democrats 8 to 1.
Lake Research Partners/Chesapeake Beach Consulting Poll, August 2014
83% of Americans (85% of Democrats, 81% of Republicans, 78% of Independents) want limits on campaign contributions from corporations. 90% of high-earners support such limits.
– Associated Press poll (August 2012)
8 in 10 Americans “support limits on the amount of money given to groups trying to influence U.S. elections” – AP-National Constitution Center poll (August 2012)