In the Massachusetts Senate campaign, where Super PACs have already spent millions blanketing the airwaves in what promises to be a spectacular slugfest, the candidates are giving peace a chance. Or so they would have us believe. Scott Brown, the Republican incumbent, and Elizabeth Warren, the progressive consumer advocate who recently left the Obama administration to launch a political career, tentatively agreed Monday to reject outside spending by third-party groups, whether traditional political action committees (PACs), party organs like the Democratic National Committee, or Super PACs like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. Under the terms of the deal, hashed out in both private meetings between the campaigns and publicly-available letters, whenever a third-party group spends money to air an ad attacking (or supporting) a candidate, the potential beneficiary must donate half the sum of the ad buy to a charity of their opponent’s choice.
Neither has anything to lose by coming across as an advocate for stricter campaign finance regulations that would limit or block the use of outside money in campaigns. This is especially true when it comes to Super PACs, the “independent, expenditure-only committees” that emerged in the wake of the 2010Citizens United and related Supreme Court rulings and have received quite a bit of unfavorable press coverage, including constant satire from Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. These groups can accept unlimited donations from individuals and corporations.
“With our joint agreement, we have now moved beyond talk to real action to stop advertising from third-party groups,” Warren said in a statement. “But both campaigns will need to remain vigilant to ensure that outside groups do not try to circumvent what is an historic agreement. This can give Massachusetts voters a clear choice come Election Day.”
The gambit reflects a sentiment on the part of both campaigns that they have a viable path to victory without outside help. Having seen Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid explode in the face of a Super PAC barrage in Iowa, the risks to third-party intervention might be greater than potential gains.