The People’s Pledge was championed by then-candidate Elizabeth Warren in her 2012 Senate campaign, when she was competing against Scott Brown to represent the Commonwealth. It was applauded by progressives, and appropriately adopted by a number of subsequent candidates, including then-Congressman Ed Markey in his Senate campaign the following year. In those days (actually, the year before, in 2012), Senator Markey was so appalled by dark money political contributions, that he called them “political pollution.” The People’s Pledge that he introduced in his 2013 race was almost identical to Elizabeth Warren’s Pledge from 2012, and almost identical to Joe Kennedy and Shannon Liss-Riordan’s today.
Senator Markey declined to attend the signing of the People’s Pledge yesterday, and instead is advocating for a loophole that would allow “positive” ads to be funded by outside groups who have no accountability. To call this a “loophole” is fairly generous on multiple counts. First, we all know that almost any message can be veiled in positive language, thus essentially nullifying the Pledge. Second, the “consequence” for violating the Pledge would be for all three candidates to publicly “condemn” the ad. (This would occur only after all three candidates agree that the ad was, in fact, negative.) Call me skeptical, but does anyone actually believe that this would ever happen, particularly given the disagreements we’ve already seen across the campaigns? Third, even if a message is “positive,” it shouldn’t be presented by outside, dark money, groups. Donations to political campaigns from outside groups with no accountability pollute the system. They undermine the voice of voters and obscure our democracy. Whether those outside sources are advocating for something with which I emphatically agree (like saving our planet or ensuring women’s reproductive freedom) or something I abhor, is irrelevant.
Some may argue that this is just a “process issue.” I disagree. The same way voter suppression and gerrymandering are not just “process issues.” These practices run counter to critical American values that put voters at the center of our democracy. It’s also worth noting that the People’s Pledge doesn’t prevent a single American from donating directly to a candidate whom they would like to support. It only prevents the funneling of their money into an organization that has no accountability for the source or amount of donations. So what exactly is the problem? I wish 2013 Ed Markey could have a quick talk with 2019 Ed Markey. Maybe that would help the Senator see the light.
(Full disclosure: I volunteer for Joe Kennedy; I have also voted for Ed Markey.)