On Monday, July 1, I proposed to the other candidates in the 5th congressional district special election that we enter into an agreement to keep independent spending by special interests out of the race. I’ve gone further and also proposed that we exclude contributions from lobbyists and political action committees. So far, none have taken me up on excluding lobbyist and PAC contributions.
Some have asked how my proposal squares with my previously stated views on the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case. I appreciate the question and I have put up a post responding to this question on my campaign website — willbrownsbergerforcongress.com. I monitor and usually respond promptly to questions or comments raised in the forum on my own website.
Thank you for the opportunity to post this link here.
When Will Brownsberger represented two of Arlington’s 21 precincts in the state legislature, he represented the entire town with passion and dedication. When he moved up to the state senate, in a district that doesn’t include any Arlington precincts, he continued to represent us visibly until a new state rep was elected to take his old seat.
How does he represent a district? Just look at his state senate website. It’s not the top-down, here’s my position kind of operation. It’s a tool for real dialogue.
I cannot tell you how many times Will has sent out emails with the basic message, “Here is an important issue before us. Here’s what I am thinking right now. Please join me on the website to share information, ideas, and perspectives as I make my journey toward a decision on this issue.”
Everybody in the MA-05 Democratic Primary race is a solid, liberal Democrat. What makes WIll different is that he is the sort of wonkish legislator who goes beyond talking points and orthodox phrases to truly examine an issue publicly. If we truly want to change the way things work in Washington, WIll is the sort of person we need to send to Congress.
Like Will’s Facebook page here.
a wonkish legislator has executed change in Washington in the recent history of the ineffective Congress?
What substantive changes have been initiated or championed by a wonkish liberal that have led to a significant benefit for the middle/working class in recent years?
I am sincerely asking this question. I lean toward wonks, purists and liberals out of principle. I also do not see a Lion in the House who can or will achieve change.
We are blessed to have a Lioness in the Senate who has been and I believe will continue to be a growing force for progress.
The House, however is a different jungle. Beacon Hill is a microcosm of Capitol Hill in a way…….What can a progressive state Rep. really accomplish under the lash of the Speaker in Boston? We have example after example of state reps. surrendering to the Speaker (fill in the blank…DeLeo, DiMasi, Finneran, etc.) in order to get anywhere in the pecking order and get a slightly bigger crumb for their district. Those that don’t get the corner basement office. Liberal state Rep. Ellen Story finally cashed in her “wonk” under DeLeo and voted pro-casino in order to get the Whip position and a little pat on the head – in exchange for favored status.
It’s the same dynamic in the US House of Representatives.
I think a pragmatic progressive is the key to the MA-5 seat being effective.
It is awesome to see people enthralled with their state Senator, be it Brownsberger or Spilka blogging here and engaged in the MA-5.
Ed Markey is a wonk. He is one of those congressional workhorses who master a few issues. The prime example is Ed Markey’s work on environment and global warming. He is the expert in the Democratic caucus, and has had tremendous influence on policy.
I think the voters sensed this about Ed during the primary – he is not the gifted campaigner, but he is at his best when he talks details about issues.
Will Brownsberger is the environmentalist in the race, he will effectively fill Ed Markey’s place at the table when it comes to issues of climate change and environmental policy. MA-05 would be replacing one wonk with another – and I like that idea.
supports repealing Citizens United.
Just read this letter he asked people to sign:
Can Brownsburger stand with Ed and ‘sign here?’
and the ACLU, not with Mr. Ed.
But honestly, you are the first person I have seen/heard describe Ed Markey as a wonk. He appears a bit awkward and even overly earnest in social/public situations at times but that is not to be confused with being a “wonk.” Markey has been effective on climate change in the past several years. He was effective with moving the 9/11 commission’s recommendation to screen 100% cargo containers. But he was not the brain-trust of the MA delegation – smart yes, but not an uber-intellectual. Sorry, but again, I don’t see an example of an effective wonk in the House of Representatives.
Kucinich – For all his principled, idealist, intellectual positions as the leftest in the House, his actual achievements were limited and after losing as an incumbent in a primary, he took a gig with Fox News as a commentator.
When I have lobbied our delegation in DC, it became apparent that everyone in the delegation (with the exception of Lynch) worked well together. Each representative had their specialty, and staff would routinely defer to the specialist in a particular area. Markey was the unquestioned expert on environmental issues, and if you engaged in a discussion on the topic, Markey would go off in tremendous detail.
Markey has been a workhorse in the House, and everything I have seen about Will Brownsberger indicates that he will also be a hard worker and will also bring an environmental expertise to the delegation.
I do not disagree with your reply. But, you did not answer my question, twice. Thank you.
Note that I never claimed Markey was an “uber-intellectual. He is, however, a smart guy who does his homework and became an expert in his own right on issues of climate change. When confronted with a policy that doesn’t make sense, he does his homework and crafts solutions, such as his efforts on cargo safety. There is depth to Mr. Markey, and I think he is a wonk when it comes to environmental issues.
Will’s commitment to genuine dialogue on his website(s). That’s rare in politicians and it’s worth a lot.
May I add, David, I was the first to point this out over a month ago, but that is okay, nobody here gives me credit. I wrote back in May
“Will will work and make compromises to get a handle on the deficit, as Obama has suggested. Will realizes the one-trick pony offered by many in his party, just raise taxes on the rich, is intellectually dishonest and lazy. Will has concerns with just repealing Citizens United and the implications to the First Amendment. I look at Will as a liberal, with a brain, like Ed Koch, for instance.
Will has an interactive website, taking questions from anyone. I love that about a candidate, his willingness to have a dialogue with the voters, so everyone can learn something, check it out for yourself.”
Thing I respect about Will, he is not demeaning of people who have different opinions. He listens first and then tells you his thoughts and insights on a particular subject. Doesn’t call people “deniers” or “flat earthers” or other such rubbish. In fact, I registered on his campaign and asked him a question, and he gave me a thoughtful answer, one that I respect and largely understand where he is coming from, and vice-versa. Although I may disagree with Will on many issues, I believe he will listen to all sides of an argument, and welcome counter-points to validate his current position and explain why he is voting a certain way.
If I had to describe Will’s candidacy, it would be ” Balls To The Walls” which is rare from the pre-filled, consultatant driven, robotic answering candidates we normally get.
Hi Candidate Brownsberger:
It’s unfortunate you require people to register on your website to comment on your discussion of Citizens United as compared to PAC or lobbying donations. So I’ll comment here and hope you might reply.
I happen to agree with your analysis of what Citizens United does and hope every Sierra Club member will internalize your example of how Sierra Club advocacy might be affected.
In rejecting PAC money, would you also reject money from the entities (informally known as leadership PACs) elected legislators are allowed to raise money for and donate from? Would you agree to propose, if elected, the abolition of these entities?
It’s unfortunate you swallow Professor Lessig’s maunderings so uncritically. As a (frequently maxing-out) donor, I’m not sure I like your suggestion that my relations with a candidate are “inherently corrupt,” as Professor Lessig so colorfully puts it. Besides, if you can forgo lobbyist and PAC contributions, nothing prevents you from putting a ceiling on any direct contribution you would accept, or just turning down contributions from people with distasteful affiliations.
Thank you Will for responding here and for taking the time to talk to your constituents. I also echo David and Pablo’s comments.
I would like to ask if you would favor mandating the kind of self regulation you favor for an entire field? Can’t we argue that paid lobbyists and special interest PACs, particularly corporate ones, represent a more direct conflict of interest and are in a separate category than advocacy groups like the Sierra club or to be balanced, the National Right to Life Committee? If AT&T gives to Rep. Smith (D-MA) on the telecom committee to fund her pro-choice ads against a pro life opponent and also gives to Rep. Jones (R-AL) on the same committee to fund his pro-life ads against his opponent isn’t this entering the realm of a commercial transaction rather than articulating a political point? The “speech” paid for in this example, a common one I might add, is articulating conflicting political viewpoints save for the shared commercial interests the two Representatives have for AT&T vis a vis the committee that regulates it. Shouldn’t that ‘speech’ be subject to greater regulation?
In summary, based on reading his post, Brownsberger is concerned about the effects of money on politics but does not believe regulation can solve the problem, and furthermore, agrees with the Supreme Court not only that the specific law struck down in the CU decision went too far, but also more generally that it’s okay to claim constitutional protection to bar Congress from regulation political spending by corporations.
Given this position, his vote against the resolution calling for a constitutional amendment is straightforward: He does not want any such amendment. He’d like the legal/constitutional situation to remain as is.
to the laws, regulations, coalitions, and mechanisms that actually would get Progressive results.
“One person, one vote” is a standard of our democracy, but Will had a principled opposition to using the National Popular Vote instead of the Electoral College.
The rich should be able to buy as many Lamborghinis, mansions, and jewels as they want–but not more votes, nor more influence. Chief Justice Roberts (a deeply corporate man) knew exactly what he was doing in Citizens United. It’s pretty transparent what the GOP SCOTUS is doing, and I don’t see how more transparency will shame or stop them.
I think Will’s deepest principle is to the environment, but if he can’t make an alliance to restrict corporations’ influence, he will NEVER get laws passed to limit carbon pollution. Historically, the key environmental laws were passed in the 1970s, when corporate power was matched by strong central government (as well as strong unions, another way for ordinary people to have power to match the power of the rich). In those days, there were limits on corporate spending, and those limits were only seen as an injustice by the Lewis Powells and Richard Nixon types.
Will’s a nice guy, and he listens to people and encourages dialogue and he does get his voters to the polls (at least in local elections), and he might even win this race to go to the national level. But the way that he declines to build coalitions with other progressive causes will not help on the national level.
I think the real progressive in the race is Carl Sciortino even though Will is a nice guy. I really don’t like where his principled thinking goes…it seems to end up NOT seeing the difference between votes by people and influence by money. My vote should not be outspent by big monied corporations! And that is what is really happening now in our democratic system. The focus on an amendment to overturn Citizens United is a simple way to focus resources on the issue (just like the Equal Rights Amendment…although failing…focused the energy and the public to speak up for women’s rights) and by voting against it I cannot forgive Will for that.
I’ve posted at my own website a couple of responses to the thoughtful comments in this thread — in particular to maxdaddy, jconway and joel. I apologize for sending people to my site, but it just makes it easier for me to keep up with. I can’t always keep up with comments all across the blogosphere. With a little bit of quiet time over the 4th, I’ve been able to keep up with the thoughtful community at this site and I do appreciate the dialog.
This conversation about ideas is what distinguishes Will from the other candidates for this seat. There are no other candidates in this race who engage with constituents like this. There are no other candidates with websites that have years of thoughtful dialog and engagement. Will has been having this type of conversation since he started.
There’s not a lot of policy difference between the 5 candidates. Whoever wins, you’re going to agree with some things they say and disagree with others.
The reason to support Will is because his m.o. from the beginning has been to engage, inquire, listen, and respond. I want someone this thoughtful in Congress.
I’m still enjoying my July 4th weekend, so this might be my vacation addled mind… but this blog post seems to make Senator Brownsberger’s position even more muddled. It strikes me as just downright weird. Unless i’m missing something. I am hoping somebody here can help.
(He explained that he supports transparency and knowing exactly where those expenditures come from.)
Then, almost in the next breath, he writes the following:
This seems to be the worst of both worlds. Independent wealthy individuals or corporations can cut large checks to their Super PACs — creating vicious negative ads, polluting our airwaves — effectively becoming an independent major political apparatus overnight with no oversight (outside of disclosure). Meanwhile, the candidate benefitting from these ads (let’s call this person Candidate A) can say that he hasn’t taken a dime from that individual. So long as Candidate A does not take any PAC money whatsoever, A isn’t “corrupted” by an “independent” individual or corporation. (But, thanks to the transparency of disclosure, knows exactly who to thank after the election.)
Meanwhile, Candidate B has a record of being good on a lot of different issues — labor, women’s rights, you name it — and so receives donations from groups who represent working families, women, etc. This PAC supported candidate is considered indebted to those groups (“danger to democracy” Brownsberger calls it) to the detriment of the public good.
But, how, exactly, are the two candidates different? How does one demonstrate integrity by simply outsourcing their contributions to independent private individuals and corporations?
Let me put it another way: Do you think that Sheldon Adelson might have received special treatment from a President Romney, even though the bulk of his contributions were independent of the Romney campaign? By Will Brownsberger’s logic, as long as it’s “independent,” there’s less corruption involved, when the reality is precisely the opposite.
But here’s where it gets really, really weird:
Wait, what? Just who does he think is making the high dollar independent expenditures that he referenced in his the first quote I cited? Hint: it’s the 1%.
I appreciate Senator Brownsberger coming onto BMG to link to his blog explaining his position. Thank you, Senator Brownsberger, for being willing to have an open conversation about this.
But, BMGers, what some people see as “nuance,” I see as Senator Brownsberger tangling himself up in knots intellectually. You can’t say that PACs such as labor unions, whose funding comes from working families, corrodes our democracy… but allowing unlimited expenditures from wealthy individuals is fine.
Something else might be at play here. Is it possible that Will is betting he will not win many PAC endorsements from organizations that give money (like labor unions, etc.) … and so he wants to downplay the importance of those endorsements? Perhaps even turn what a strength (support of women’s groups, social workers etc.) into a weakness? Thus, PACs = bad? Otherwise, this logic is just…really strange.
Again, apologies. The heat may be getting to me. Help me understand!
It’s very simple and it’s not nuanced. Independent spending, whether by the left or the right, 1% or aggregations of the 99%, is best left free. That’s what Citizens United says. Direct contributions whether by the left or the right, 1% or 99%, should be limited. Direct contributions are more corrupting — they can augment a candidate’s lifestyle.
It is not correct to assume that independent expenditures are all on one the R side or that direct contributions are all on the D side. Lots of different stories in lots of different races.
It’s a distinction with a difference, but not a practical difference.
“If Candidate X” sees that “Super PAC Y” is doing a lot of independent spending on negative TV ads on X’s opponent, that augments X’s lifestyle because the candidate’s committee now knows it doesn’t have to spend money on negative ads and can focus on spending the money they would be using for negative TV ads on, say, positive mail pieces or organizers. Independent expenditures *very much* augment a “candidate’s lifestyle.” Or, PAC Y can see the candidate’s own TV ads and just run a TV campaign with very similar messaging, independently. It’s not rocket science for political consultants to figure out how to coordinate campaigns without coordinating campaigns. And, you would have to admit that post-victory, Candidate X might easily feel indebted to those Super PAC contributors just as much as if they had directly donated.
And, for the record, I don’t assume that independent expenditures are GOP and direct contributions are Democratic — it of course cuts both ways. But that’s the whole point — when both GOP and Democratic candidates are beholden to large 1% contributions, it weakens our ability to regulate industries in desperate need of regulation. And that’s just one reason Citizen’s United was a bad decision. Which is why your position is just so puzzling to me.
That said, thank you, again, for taking the time to explain it to me.
You have given me good cause to rethink this decision, and the actions that are permissible and are able to be regulated under Citizens United. Let me pose these questions:
1. Under the current situation, can we mandate full and immediate disclosure of the source of contributions used for political expenditures?
2. Under the current situation, can we prohibit political expenditures by tax exempt nonprofit organizations?
3. Under the current situation, Sheldon Adelson dumped a ton of money into the Gingrich and Romney campaigns, and got nothing in return. If he spent that money on media outlets (newspapers, broadcast outlets) and use his media corporations to influence the election. How do you prohibit purchasing airtime or space in the media outlet, but not prohibit the purchase of the entire media outlet?
I don’t think money is speech, and I don’t think corporations are people, but once you allow the New York Times and Wall Street Journal to editorialize to influence elections, what’s the constitutional difference between buying a full page ad or buying the entire newspaper?
we, with all due respect, disagree with it and want it fixed, because we agree with Justices Stevens, Breyer, Ginsberg and Sotomayor, who viewed it as a fundamental and existential thread to Representative Democracy in America.
We appreciate your willingness to wade in these waters, but can’t we all agree that there is an inherent danger when Verizon, Exxon Mobile, HMOs, drug companies, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America can spend unlimited amounts of money to alter the results of elections, when actual human beings are essentially limited to what little change we have in our pockets, or at max — for the few who could afford it — $500 in Massachusetts and $2,600 federally?
Whether Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, HMOs and Exxon Mobile’s unlimited money is going to elect Democrats or Republicans is immaterial. It’s an existential threat to Democracy in any direction.
Somehow free expression survived a century-long ban on such expenditures.
You’ve merely re-iterated the money is speech argument. You have said nothing about ‘Citizens United’.
That’s not at all what ‘Citizens United’ says. The decision said nothing about money but everything about speech and, specifically, who could speak: redefining the parameters into meaninglessness by saying “anybody can speak and we’re noting going to be all that particular about the definition of ‘anybody”. After this the court merely pointing to the already existing “money is speech” argument and said, “so there.”
The actual best and clearest explanation of what was decided in ‘Citizens United’ can be found in Justice John Paul Stevens blistering dissent in same. You should read that before you support it further. The money quote: “The free speech guarantee thus does not render every other public interest an illegitimate basis for qualifying a speaker’s autonomy; society could scarcely function if it did.
“Citizens United’ actuall weakens free speech protections: it does so by watering down the definition of speaker, specifically voiding prior decisions (Austin and portions of McConnell), thus strengthening the speech only of those who have money and weakening the ability to be heard of those who do not have money.
Senator Brownsberger, thank you for offering this avenue to directly share our thoughts and concerns about your position against a legislative remedy to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. While we don’t agree on the issue itself, it is helpful to get a better understanding of your rationale.
One of my chief concerns regarding your opposition to a legislative remedy to Citizens United coupled with your call for a voluntary ban on PAC and lobbyist contributions – which seems existentially out of whack to me – is that the joint position appears to consider, for instance, Sheldon Adelson’s $150 Million spent on the 2012 election to be a less “deeply corrupting force” (to use your words) than, say, a single $200 direct contribution from a lobbyist (regardless of whether the lobbyist advocates for clean air and water or for bulldozing playgrounds). BMGer afertig touched on this topic, and your response to him included – and boiled down to – the following sentence from you: “Direct contributions are more corrupting — they can augment a candidate’s lifestyle.” This seems to be a dangerously, and perhaps willfully, naïve statement in a post-Citizens United political landscape.
If Candidate A knows that they have a multi-million-dollar political “sugar daddy” funding misleading attack ads against Candidate B, then Candidate A knows that they can run a positive campaign out of their office and leave the dirty work to the Citizens United-empowered outside spender. That ability clearly alters a “candidate’s lifestyle” (again, to use your words) more than any single contribution of a couple hundred dollars from a PAC or lobbyist. That’s why, in part, Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown originally established the People’s Pledge, so that the candidates themselves would have to do their own “dirty work” and not have their message or “lifestyle” enhanced by the outsiders’ spending.
In fact, in this most recent special election for U.S. Senate between Congressman/Senator-elect Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez, in the final days of the campaign, an outside spender calling itself the intentionally-misleadingly-named Americans for Progressive Action spent over half a million dollars in ads on Gabriel Gomez’s behalf. The group was reportedly funded by a single person who spent over $1.2 million on the effort on Gomez’s behalf.
Forget Party affiliations and forget the ultimate margin of victory on the election. Do you really believe that individual direct contributions are more corrupting to our democratic processes than Citizens United-empowered outside spending? Can you really suggest that a single, transparently-contributed direct contribution from a single PAC to either Ed Markey or Gabriel Gomez was more corrupting to our democratic processes than the $1.2 million spent by that single individual on Americans for Progressive Action?
On that note, this weekend, at the Massachusetts Democratic Party’s 2013 Convention, one of the hour-long break-out sessions will be entitled “The ‘Citizens United’ Decision & Why it Matters.” Congressman Jim McGovern, who introduced the Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, will be discussing the issue. Will you commit to attending this one hour-long discussion, sharing your concerns with those present, and engaging in a hopefully productive exchange of ideas on the topic?
I don’t begrudge him, I guess; I suppose he’s rather busy. (Although, I am a 5th Congressional district resident and voter.)
That said, I do wonder if Senator Brownsberger will attend the Citizens United session at the convention this weekend.
Hi Candidate Brownsberger:
You note in your comments on NPV that the interstate compact mechanism was settled on to avoid a Constitutional amendment. It’s doubtful such a compact would avoid the scrutiny of Congress though, as under Article I, section 10, “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, … enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State….”
Thanks for weighing in, Brownsberger, but in my mind you are now off the list of reasonable MA-5 candidates.
Massachusetts needs and deserves a champion against corporate interests, not a Citizens United apologist who sees protecting the First amendment free-speech rights of corporate entities as the noble purpose of that ruling.
Yes, it’s great to be an independent-minded maverick, but that doesn’t give candidates a pass when they choose the wrong issues and stand up for corporate interests.