We know that the winner of October 15th’s Democratic primary will reliably win the general and go to Congress. The seat was last open almost 40 years ago. Bearing that in mind, we at Digital Fourth thought it pretty important to assess the Democratic candidates’ positions on the hot issue of surveillance, while the district’s registered Democrats still have a chance to affect the outcome.
We sent a standard questionnaire to all seven candidates running in the primary. We asked about whether the candidate supported requiring warrants for searches of digital data (ECPA reform); whether they would defund the “fusion centers” that capture data and generate reports on peaceful activists; whether they support the Mass. Attorney-General and Senator Clark’s proposal to expand electronic wiretapping; whether they would vote for the Amash-Conyers Amendment reining in the NSA; and finally, whether they would support Rep. Rush Holt (D-PA)’s “Surveillance State Repeal Act”, which would repeal the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act and provide protection for government whistleblowers.
Sen. Karen Spilka and Mr. Paul John Maisano were kind enough to respond in detail, and we have done our best to reconstruct the positions of these two candidates from past votes and public statements.
UPDATE: Sen. Spilka has provided answers to the questionnaire that place her in equal first place on surveillance, along with Rep. Carl Sciortino and Mr. Martin Long.
So, for your reading pleasure, here’s the Surveillance Voter’s Guide to The Democratic Field in MA-5!
If you go here, you will find the interactive version of the table, which allows readers to click on the candidates’ answers on each issue to open documents containing exactly what they said in their responses, as well as links to the candidates’ pages and the legislation we asked about.
The key insight from this data is that we can roughly rank the candidates in terms of their level of opposition to the surveillance state. (I know, I know, this ranking may spark fury. But this is just how it came out, weighting each question equally.)
The key insight from this data is that we can roughly rank the candidates in terms of their level of opposition to the surveillance state.
1= Rep. Carl Sciortino, Mr. Martin Long, Sen. Karen Spilka
4 Sen. Katherine Clark
5= Sen. Will Brownsberger, Sheriff Peter Koutoujian
7 Mr. Paul John Maisano (incomplete)
UPDATE: Previously, Sen. Karen Spilka was listed behind Sen. Katherine Clark, because Sen. Spilka did not respond to our questionnaire. We had to reconstruct her answers from her previous public statements, and were not able to find them all. She now ranks equal first, along with Rep. Carl Sciortino and Mr. Martin Long.
A secondary insight, given how split Democrats are over these issues nationally (at least during Democratic administrations), is that all of the Democratic candidates in MA-5 are willing to commit to at least some meaningful reform of surveillance abuses. Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian was willing to commit to vote for the Amash-Conyers Amendment to rein in the NSA, and to require a warrant for electronic communications, and Sen. Will Brownsberger was willing to oppose the expansion of electronic wiretapping in Massachusetts and also to explore broader NSA reform and consider voting for it depending on the outcome of a robust public debate. So in general, the Democratic MA-5 candidates set a high bar relative to the average current Democrat in the House of Representatives.
However, Rep. Sciortino, Mr. Long, and now also Sen. Spilka, stand out from the pack for their deep skepticism of government surveillance efforts. They
both all appear willing to support the strongest legislation currently proposed in Congress to limit government intrusion into our private communications.
Thanks for doing the work on this. It’s important to know the policy differences between the candidates when so often these candidates get lumped together as being essentially the same on the issues. I agree that Sciortino stands out on these issues, and I think he can be counted on to be a champion for civil liberties in Congress.
I think Clark gets off a bit light, however (but thank you for acknowledging that). Being the lead sponsor on the wiretap bill seems like it should count (negatively) much more than just getting a check mark on a particular topic.
That Clark got off light in the survey – which is similar to a job interview and people can say what they think wants to be heard. It concerns me that the words and actions don’t match. I hear a lot of chatter.
“Can You See Me, Hear Me and Stalk Me Now?”
Sciortino and Spilka have the internal progressive compass. Brownsberger has his own analytical version of a strong if not strident progressive compass. Clark and Koutoujian seem to test the waters…..too Coakley for me.
Spilka’s leadership and actions are what puts her at the top of the list for the surveillance issue. Effective legislating is critical and she is ahead of the curve on this and many other issues when it comes to action.
It’s sad that Spilka didn’t respond to the survey, and that therefore I had to go by what she had previously said publicly. I was unable to determine whether she supported defunding fusion centers or repealing the PATRIOT Act. If she had responded, she might well have been in favor, and if so, would have come equal first with Sciortino and Long.
As for Clark, her support for the wiretapping bill is unequivocally a problem; but I thought it better to weight the five answers equally and be transparent about how I reached the conclusions, than to weight that alone more heavily. If she does win the primary, her sponsorship of the wiretapping bill on Beacon Hill will be less relevant than her (stated) support for the other four (federal) measures. People would think it monstrously unfair if I introduced a weighting based on my perception of “internal progressive compass”! As it is, Sciortino is clearly a safe bet for surveillance voters, and I will be voting for him.
The Spilka campaign has now responded, and I will upload their exact responses in the interactive table over at http://www.warrantless.org this evening. Sen. Spilka now ranks equal first, along with Rep. Sciortino and Mr. Long.