Democratic Senate contenders Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch aired their differences Monday night in a televised debate. But behind the scenes, it’s a lot tougher to find out what kinds of commitments the two have already made for their would-be Senate careers. Last week, Globe columnist Scot Lehigh hit many roadblocks when he tried to discover what Lynch and Markey were promising to various interest groups. Many groups that make endorsements ask candidates to fill out questionnaires. But groups often decline to release the answers, and in most cases even the questions — ostensibly out of respect for the candidates. Many candidates then decline to release their filled-out questionnaires — ostensibly out of respect for the groups whose endorsements they seek.
What’s not being respected is the public’s broader interest in transparency; most of the union interests that Lehigh contacted refused to say what candidates were promising them. Questionnaires can simply be a way of assessing a candidate’s general principles — and sometimes they’re a way of nudging candidates to commit to specific legal and regulatory changes that the group’s lobbyists will then press for behind the scenes. (The Globe editorial board doesn’t use questionnaires in assessing candidates.)