The first People’s Pledge was a cap on spending by the candidates in the 1996 Weld-Kerry U.S. Senate race. Somewhat successful, the idea languished until 2012 when Senator Scott Brown challenged Elizabeth Warren to swear off outside spending in their race. What changed between 1996 and 2012? The Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that corporations, unions, and individuals could raise and spend unlimited amounts of outside money in support or opposition of candidates.
The result has been an explosion in outside spending. In the 2012 elections more than $200 million was spent by outside groups in state elections according the Center for Public Integrity, and according to opensecrets.org there was roughly $1 billion dollars in outside spending in federal elections, up from approximately $300 million in the prior presidential election cycle.
How does a People’s Pledge work? In the Brown-Warren case the two candidates signed an agreement that bound them to make a contribution to a charity equal to 50% of the value of any outside advertising purchase made on behalf of their candidacy. Unlike in 1996 when the Weld-Kerry agreement broke down in the final days of the election, the 2012 Brown-Warren pact was an overwhelming success.