A Plea for A Pledge

Written by Tyler Creighton on May 2, 0013


Thumbnail or People's Pledge campaign

A new report by Common Cause Massachusetts shows that limiting outside spending in last year's U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts helped to increased electoral transparency, accountability, and fairness, and calls on the current Senate candidates Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez to agree to limit outside spending in the current election.

Since the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC (2010) paved the way for unlimited fundraising by independent political groups, outside spending in elections has skyrocketed. In the 2012 federal election cycle, outside groups spent a staggering $1.3 billion, an over 400% increase from both 2008 and 2010.

In an attempt to curtail this rapid influx of outside money in their 2012 race for U.S. Senate, U.S. Senator Scott Brown and challenger Elizabeth Warren reached a ground-breaking agreement, dubbed the "People's Pledge," which instituted a fine to be paid out from a candidate's campaign funds should an outside group purchase radio, cable, or online advertisements that would benefit that candidate. The fine applied equally to negative and positive advertisements. Many were rightfully dubious that this voluntary pact would hold up given the election's high national stakes. But it did.

Outside spending in Massachusetts made up just 9% of total election spending, compared to an average of 57% in 2012 competitive Senate races in Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio. The Pledge's success in limiting the degree of outside spending had huge impacts on secret money, big money, and negative advertising.

  • The People's Pledge increased the influence of small donor donations relative to big dollar donations. Small donations (less than $200) to the candidates outmatched outside groups by 3 to 1 ($23.5 vs. $8 million) in Massachusetts. On the other hand, outside groups in Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio outspent small donors to the candidates by more than 5 to 1 ($135 vs. $23.8 million).
  • The People's Pledge resulted in substantially greater public disclosure of political donors. There was 5 times more "dark", completely undisclosed, money on average in Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio than in Massachusetts" $19.8, $13.6, and $14.1 million respectively versus $3.3 million in Massachusetts.
  • The People's Pledge resulted in significantly less negative advertising. Television advertisements in Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio were more than twice as likely to be negative compared to Massachusetts -- 84% vs. 36% negative on average.

In short, the Pledge produced many desirable outcomes and deserves to be repeated in future races. Please join us in urging Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez to negotiate a renewed pledge.

Office: Common Cause Massachusetts

Issues: Voting and Elections, Voting and Elections

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