In 2012, then-Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) proposed a “People’s Pledge” to keep outside groups from interfering in his re-election race against now-Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D). But two years later, as he explores a Senate race in neighboring New Hampshire, he is flatly rejecting a similar agreement offered by incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D).
After the 2010 Citizens United ruling opened the floodgates to outside spending in political campaigns, Brown had to contend with millions of dollars in “independent” ads against him as he won a special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s open seat. Up for re-election just two years later, Brown proposed a plan to keep independent expenditures out of Massachusetts — a proposal that lead to a historic agreement between Brown and Warren.
On January 18, 2012, Brown wrote to Warren, suggesting the deal:
BROWN: I write to propose a mechanism by which together we can express out disapproval out outside parties’ political advertisements in our Senate race and, ideal, help to actually stop these ads from airing in Massachusetts.
… The people of Massachusetts deserve a Senate campaign in which they hear about their candidates from the candidates themselves, not through 30 second attack ads funded by special interests and shadowy third party groups. I want to make that possible. This proposal will do it. I hope you remain true to your public interest and sign it.
This election does not belong to outside interests; it belongs to the people of Massachusetts.
Soon after, Warren and Brown signed an agreement, promising to donate campaign funds to charity in the amount spent by any outside group on ads on their behalf. And, for the most part, the idea worked. Super PACs and 501(c)(4) groups like Crossroads GPS spent millions on other races, but generally stayed out of Massachusetts or used their money for something other than attack ads. And, according to one analysis, the tone of the race changed for the better.
On Saturday, noting that the 2012 pledge had successfully “limited the influence of outside groups and allowed the people’s voices to be heard,” Shaheen wrote to Brown, offering an identical deal for their potential 2014 race. “I have signed and attached two copies of an agreement with the exact same terms for the New Hampshire 2014 Senate race,” Shaheen told Brown, “I hope you will join me in once again committing to the same People’s Pledge you signed in Massachusetts and limiting the influence of outside groups in New Hampshire this year.”
But this time, Brown seems less enthusiastic about the idea. “It’s hard to view Jeanne Shaheen’s actions as anything other than hypocritical and self-serving,” Brown said in a statement. “The people of New Hampshire can see through the Washington-style game she is playing.”
Brown criticized Shaheen for offering the pledge while raising money for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of Senate Democratic Caucus. But in 2012, Brown and his campaign raised millions with the National Republican Senatorial Committee through a joint fundraising committee called the Scott Brown Victory Committee. And the People’s Pledge would discourage those party committees and others from running attack ads, lest they cost their own favored candidate.
One reason why Brown may not be eager to agree to his own pledge again: according to Mother Jones, American Crossroads just launched a $650,000 ad campaign attacking Shaheen and the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity spent $700,000 recently attacking her support for the Affordable Care Act.
Brown said Tuesday that because Shaheen had incorrectly claimed that people who like their health insurance could keep it, he would agree to limit campaign spending. “I’m not going to be doing the People’s Pledge, because I have a real problem, and so do the New Hampshire people, with her pledges,” he claimed.