Warren and Brown sign agreement to fend off third-party advertising

This is a fascinating development, and is yet another reason why our MA-Sen race is the best one in the country this year.  There’s a battle of the press releases going on as to whose idea it was and who was dragged kicking and screaming into signing … I don’t much care about that, but the details are here, if you do.

Here is the good stuff.  First, the letters that Brown and Warren will jointly send to third parties:

Dear [Third Party Organization]:

We write you to notify you of the agreement our campaigns have entered into regarding outside third party spending in the 2012 Massachusetts Senate race - The Peoples’ Pledge. A copy of this pledge is enclosed.

The Pledge makes clear the following. If you spend money on advertising in Massachusetts in support of either one of us, that candidate’s campaign will pay 50% of the cost of your ad buy to a charity of the other candidate’s choice. If you spend money on advertising in Massachusetts in opposition to either one of us, the opposing candidate’s campaign will pay 50% of the cost of your ad buy to a charity of the opposed candidate’s choice.

In short, your spending will damage the candidate you intend to help.

The Peoples’ Pledge includes all independent expenditure advertisements, and any issue advocacy advertisements – including any issue advocacy advertisements coordinated with either campaign. It applies to advertising in all media – broadcast and cable television, radio, and internet.

It is a pledge we have made with the people of Massachusetts, and we are serious about honoring it. We hope that you regard our pledge seriously as well, and undertake no political advertising in our Senate race for the duration of the 2012 election.

We are determined to make our Senate race one in which we each stand on our own and speak to the people of Massachusetts directly. We are running to serve the people of Massachusetts, and we have taken The Peoples’ Pledge to be clear that they are who we will answer to as their Senator.


Scott Brown Elizabeth Warren

Next, the letter they are jointly sending to TV and radio stations:

Dear Station Manager:

We write to inform you of the agreement that we have entered into regarding third party spending on advertisements in our 2012 Senate race – The Peoples’ Pledge.

The Pledge imposes strict penalties on each of our campaign committees should a third party purchase advertising supporting or opposing either one of us. A copy of the Pledge is enclosed for your review.

We have entered into this historic agreement in order to ensure that in our race we each speak to the people of Massachusetts directly, as their candidates, and that our messages are not overtaken by special interests and outside agendas.

We have sent a letter to active third party organizations informing them of our pledge, and will send the same to any new groups as they emerge.

We ask you to support our efforts by refusing to allow any third parties to purchase advertising concerning our Senate race, or either of us individually. As you are aware, your station is under no obligation to air third party political advertisements – all we ask is that you exercise your option not to, and help us make Massachusetts an example for the nation.

We look forward to your response.


Scott Brown           Elizabeth Warren

And, finally, the agreement itself:

The Peoples’ Pledge

Because outside third party organizations – including but not limited to individuals, corporations, 527 organizations, 501(c) organizations, SuperPACs, and national and state party committees – are airing, and will continue to air, independent expenditure advertisements and issue advertisements either supporting or attacking Senator Scott Brown or Elizabeth Warren (individually the “Candidate” and collectively the ”Candidates”); and

Because these groups function as independent expenditure organizations that are outside the direct control of either of the Candidates; and

Because the Candidates agree that they do not approve of such independent expenditure advertisements, and want those advertisements to immediately cease and desist for the duration of the 2012 election cycle; and

Because the Candidates recognize that in order to make Massachusetts a national example, and provide the citizens of Massachusetts with an election free of third party independent expenditure advertisements, they must be willing to include an enforcement mechanism that runs not to the third party organizations but instead to the Candidates’ own campaigns:

The Candidates on behalf of their respective campaigns hereby agree to the following:

• In the event that a third party organization airs any independent expenditure broadcast (including radio), cable, satellite, or online advertising in support of a named, referenced (including by title) or otherwise identified Candidate, that Candidate’s campaign shall, within three (3) days of discovery of the advertisement buy’s total cost, duration, and source, pay 50% of the cost of that advertising buy to a charity of the opposing Candidate’s choice.

• In the event that a third party organization airs any independent expenditure broadcast (including radio, cable, or satellite advertising, or online advertising in opposition to a named, referenced (including by title) or otherwise identified Candidate, the opposing Candidate’s campaign shall, within three (3) days of discovery of the advertisement buy’s total cost, duration, and source, pay 50% of the cost of that advertising buy to a charity of the opposed Candidate’s choice.

• In the event that a third party organization airs any broadcast (including radio, cable, or satellite advertising that promotes or supports a named, referenced (including by title) or otherwise identified Candidate, that Candidate’s campaign shall, within three (3) days of discovery of the advertisement buy’s total cost, duration, and source, pay 50% of the cost of that advertising buy to a charity of the opposing Candidates choice.

• In the event that a third party organization airs any broadcast (including radio), cable, or satellite advertising that attacks or opposes a named, referenced (including by title) or otherwise identified Candidate, the opposing Candidate’s campaign shall, within three (3) days of discovery of the advertisement buy’s total cost, duration, and source, pay 50% of the cost of that advertising buy to a charity of the opposed Candidate’s choice.

• The Candidates and their campaigns agree that neither they nor anyone acting on their behalf shall coordinate with any third party on any paid advertising for the duration of the 2012 election cycle. In the event that either Candidate or their campaign or anyone acting on their behalf coordinates any paid advertisement with a third party organization that Candidate’s campaign shall pay 50% of the cost of the ad buy to a charity of the opposing Candidate’s choice.

• The Candidates and their campaigns agree to continue to work together to limit the influence of third party advertisements and to close any loopholes (including coverage of sham ads) that arise in this agreement during the course of the campaign.


Scott Brown

Elizabeth Warren

I congratulate both candidates for doing this.  It will be extremely interesting to see how it plays out.  But we might well be looking at a campaign in which the people of Massachusetts base their decision on what the candidates themselves have to say – and not much else.  Wouldn’t that be something?



25 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Impressive development

    Since I’ve given Elizabeth Warren a hard time on the issue of money in politics, let me be first to say that this is a very intriguing development!

    Politics being politics, it’s probably still too soon to know how this will play out — but for now at least, I really appreciate the effort of both candidates to set a better example!

    I figured it would be easy for them to call out the Super PACs — so that did not surprise me — but, I see that they are also including “national and state party committees” in the definition of third party organizations. To me, that would set quite a strong example indeed.

  2. I'm mystified

    Here’s what I don’t understand.

    The Brown campaign had about twice as much cash on-hand as the Warren campaign the last time I looked. If I understand this agreement correctly, each campaign pays a penalty for each “un-authorized” ad buy.

    Call me cynical, but doesn’t that allow surrogates for the Brown campaign to run twice as many ads as those run by the Warren campaign?

    What stops the Brown campaign from saying (wink wink) “please don’t run those awful ads”, issuing press releases when they happen anyway (why am I reminded of Stephen Colbert’s campaign), and then paying the “penalty” with much hand-wringing and publicity?

    I hope Ms. Warren knows what she’s doing. I think this was a bad idea from the beginning.

  3. 50% off attack ads, nice deal....

    sorry, had to say it. But kudos to both campaigns. Never thought it was going to happen.

  4. I think this is a good thing

    for Scott Brown. He needs the reasonabless of this plan to shore up his moderate credentials. He’ll get more respect from the center than Warren would have lost from Rove’s attacks.

    I don’t know if it can harm Elizabeth Warren.

    • Maybe so.

      I think the foolish ads that Rove’s group, the US Chamber, etc. were going to run against Warren would largely have backfired, and I think that some of the ads that pro-Warren groups might have run (enviros, e.g.) could have been effective.

      But I think it’s worth it. Having the people of MA decide based largely on what the candidates themselves say is a good thing.

  5. Call me a cynic, but...

    I’m pleased that the Warren and Brown campaigns have agreed to this, but I fear it will have unintended consequences, much like every past attempt to corral outside spending. As they say, water always finds a way.

  6. So Many Questions??

    Does that mean the State Party can’t expend money for advertising on behalf of the candidate who wins the Primary?
    What about issue ads? If the League of Conservation Voters runs an ad that advocates for clean air but doesn’t mention names, does that count?
    And as someone brought up in the Globe comments today, will the money I donate to a candidate end up in a charity not of my choosing and for which I won’t get the tax write-off!!

    • Sort of, no, and yes.

      1) Not can’t. Shouldn’t. That addition boggled me at first too, but political parties can effectively act as SuperPACs, so allowing them to campaign is a loophole you could drive a Mack through.

      2) The phrase used is “a named, referenced (including by title) or otherwise identified Candidate”. Issue ads are fine unless they show a picture of one of the Candidates.

      3) Yes. If you give me $9000, it’s mine to do with as I please. I can turn around and donate it to charity and get a write-off; you would not get the write-off. Why would a political campaign be any different? If you want the write-off, donate it to charity yourself.

  7. Game the agreement

    What’s to stop a covert group that supports Brown from spending an incredible amount of money on anti-Brown ads that look like they come from a pro-Warren group? Would be relatively easy to bleed money from the war-chest, and it could be difficult to prove true allegiance.

    • The devil will be in the details

      What does it mean to “promote” or “oppose” and, most critically, who will decide? Personally, I think that the BMG community, with its exceptional record of impartiality and dedication to the well-being of the citizens of the Commonwealth, would be the best judge of what constitutes a violation of the agreement and triggers a charity payment.

      A worthy effort, yes, but in practice this will likely become a political football. The problems with our system are systemic. A band-aid on a patient with severe lacerations probably won’t hurt, but it also won’t do much to resolve the underlying problem.

  8. Curtains for DSCC

    So, I guess Elizabeth Warren’s supporters don’t need to give to the DSCC anymore. The DSCC is the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

    The DSCC is run by Harry Reid. So, if Elizabeth is elected, she won’t have any obligations to Reid.

    • It's a good question

      and one I’d like clarified…you can make the argument that the Dem/Repub State Parties, and even the DSCC and the Republican equivalent, are not really outside groups, though. I wonder if this came up during negotiations?

      What I think this does is symbolically tie the hands of the real perpetrators of this crap. Tamp it down, maybe even eliminate it for this round. Sure this whole thing isn’t MUCH more than a simple condemnation would have been, but it makes a pretty bold statement. If this is the case, not sure the details are that important logistically.

    • Hmm

      Given that the DSCC is mainly an incumbent-protection racket that will succor a wild-eyed Senator who calls himself a Democrat as a top priority, they don’t get much of my money anyway.

      sabutai   @   Mon 23 Jan 5:14 PM
  9. fascinating

    will be interesting sidebar to see which charities become the recipients….

  10. Count me among those...

    …who would argue that partisan organs such as the state parties and senatorial campaign committees should not be considered “third parties” for the purposes of this agreement. As to another question raised about issue ads, if they make no mention of candidates at all, they are not covered; if they slip into “Call Scott Brown and tell him…” mode then I would argue that violates the spirit if not quite the letter of this agreement.

    • They are covered by the agreement

      The state parties, like the Mass Democratic Party are covered by the agreement.

      So is the DSCC. Specifically included in the agreement.

  11. Other Venues

    I’m curious what this means for the other communication venues, such as direct mail, signage, soundtrucks, leaflets dropped from planes (kind of hoping those last two come back in vogue), etc.

    They definitely aren’t as effective (or expensive) as radio and TV, but lots of campaigns invest significant resources in them as is. They can be better targeted than TV and radio also. Linda McMahon down in CT spent millions sending mailers to every voter in the state multiple times in her last Senate bid. Obviously didn’t work, but a 3rd party group looking to impact the race has to be thinking about it.

    For that matter, maybe we’ll see more paid phone banks and canvassers than past campaigns.

  12. I'd been hoping

    ..that each candidate would be required to release public position statements and include in their ads responses to 3rd-party ads on their behalf. So, Scott Brown would have been required to come out and say in public whether he agreed or disagreed with the Rove-funded ads about Elizabeth Warren, and vice versa.

    This wouldn’t stop the money from flowing in, but it would have prevented outsiders from doing a candidate’s dirty work without the candidate having to take responsibility.

  13. Probably good for Warren overall

    I’m guessing the thinking on her campaign’s end was that she has the organizational advantage (after all, this is Massachusetts, where Republicans are essentially not an organized party), and that third-party ads are the one way Brown could try to make up for that organizational advantage. She’s also likely to out-fundraise Brown the rest of the way, especially if she maintains a lead. Brown’s campaign thinking is pretty straightforward too — he thinks, probably correctly, that Democratically-aligned groups would spend more on this race than GOP-aligned groups. Still, I think the agreement is probably a better deal for Warren overall (though it’s hard to say).

    It won’t matter in the end, though, because I highly doubt this agreement holds up to the end. There are too many third-party groups to keep out, and once one says “screw it” and starts advertising, the floodgates will open and you won’t see a dime of either campaign go to charity.

    • Like and dislike

      I like the spirit, the ’50%’ business is a little too cheeky and seeing as our media both locally and nationally love covering political tactics and strategy a lot more than political issues it could overshadow that very intrepid spirit of integrity both campaigns want. Also it could end up as effective as the Kerry Weld pledge back in 96′, both candidates repeatedly violated and it became forgotten by the end of the race as both candidates blamed the other for breaking the pledge.

  14. This is great!!!

    I hope it works out. I’m sure that Scott Brown agreed because he has so many goofs and gaffs that it makes for terrific soundbites that would quickly dilute his God status and bring him back down to earth as the useless excuse for a senator that he is. Smart move on his part…..however the candidates themselves can still run adds so I hope the Warren campaign is creating some good ones.

  15. So when do the RethinkBrown PAC ads disappear?

    They are still on BMG as of this writing.

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