Our studies on the effects of a “People’s Pledge” on the 2012 U.S. Senate race in and follow up study on the 2013 U.S. Senate race without a “People’s Pledge” make a strong case that candidate negotiated agreements to limit outside spending in elections are short-term, immediate solutions to the flood of big, secret money financing negative advertising in our elections.
In 2012 the “People’s Pledge” greatly reduced the amount of secret money, big money, and negative advertising flooding our elections. Without an agreement during the 2013 U.S. Senate election, outside spending came roaring back and caused the election to follow disconcerting national trends in elections: more big money and more secret money.
The People’s Pledge drastically reduced outside spending.
- Outside groups were outspent by the candidates in Massachusetts by 10 to 1. Outside group spending made up just 9% of total spending in Massachusetts. By comparison, outside groups outspent the candidates in Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio by 34% on average. Outside group spending in the Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio Senate races made up 62%, 64%, and 47% of total spending respectively.
- Outside spending in the Massachusetts Senate race constituted 2% of total outside spending in 2012 U.S. Senate races. In contrast, Senate races in Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio combined for 40% of total outside spending in senatorial elections – $135 million. That’s more than the combined outside spending in 34 of the remaining 37 Senate races.
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.
- Dark money made up just 4% of total spending in Massachusetts, compared to 23%, 20%, and 17% of total spending in Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio respectively.
- One group, Crossroads GPS, spent more dark money in each Senate race in Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio than all outside sources in Massachusetts.
The People’s Pledge increased the influence of small donor donations relative to big dollar donations.
The top 15 Super PAC donors, giving an average of $7.6 million each, in Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio matched the $114 million raised from 175,000 individual donors by all of the candidates in those states combined.
- 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).
- One donor to American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS matched the $23 million in small dollar donations raised by the candidates in Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio—that’s at least 119,000 people giving less than $200. The top three donors more than doubled that of all small donors to the candidates. The duo spent an average of $9.2 million in each Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio. It spent $600,000 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.
- 97% of television advertising paid for by outside groups in Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio was negative. Outside groups did not air a television advertisement in Massachusetts.
Without a People's Pledge, the 2013 Senate election was influenced by more outside money, more big money, and more secret money.
- As a total share of the money raised for the election, outside spending rose more than threefold from its 2012 total, accounting for nearly 36% of all money raised in the 2013 contest.
- Small candidate donations, which comprised more than a quarter of all money raised in the Warren-Brown race, fell to 12% in the Markey-Gomez contest.
- Outside groups outspent small candidate contributors 3 to 1.
- Two of the most active outside groups, Americans for Progressive Action and CE Action Committee, were funded entirely by two individuals whose combined contributions of over $2 million made up more than a quarter of all outside spending.
- 22% of outside spending was not fully disclosed, and this undisclosed outside money comprised 8% of all funds raised in the race. This figure is twice that of the Warren-Brown race—and yet it could easily have been worse.