The “people’s pledge,” signed by Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown in last year’s Senate race, was never a perfect instrument, but it represented a commitment by both candidates to take ownership of their campaigns. The pledge tells shadowy third-party groups not to run attack ads that would malign one candidate while allowing the beneficiary of the ads to stand by and claim no involvement. The pledge, under which each side was to pay a penalty for any outside ads by its supporters, largely worked. It didn’t prevent negative campaigning. But when uncomfortable issues came up — such as Warren’s claim to have Native American ancestry — neither side could delegate the dirty work to outside groups: Warren had to explain herself, and Brown had to make any attacks directly.
Almost immediately after Democrat Ed Markey and Republican Gabriel Gomez won their parties’ nominations on Tuesday, they began squabbling over the pledge: Markey endorses it, but Gomez doesn’t. While both sides have somewhat distorted the meaning of the pledge, Markey is right that it is a force for clean campaigning. Gomez should take it.
Warding off campaign ads by outside groups wouldn’t necessarily give Markey, who has a larger campaign chest, an advantage. In a high-profile race at a time when no other states have Senate elections, Gomez should have little trouble collecting funds from GOP donors. And his own private-equity fortune, which helped propel him to victory in the Republican primary, represents yet another asset at his disposal.
In a press release, the National Republican Senatorial Committee accused Markey of “hypocrisy,” noting that Markey has benefited from “decades of dollars” from special-interest groups. That’s not the point: The people’s pledge doesn’t bar contributions to a candidate’s own campaign fund, whether by special-interest donors or anyone else. It simply discourages groups from running their own attack ads, thereby allowing candidates to escape responsibility for them.
Markey’s campaign responded by noting that Gomez once collaborated with a “far right” group that attacked President Obama — also off point. The group in question, a purported veterans’ organization, attempted to claim that Obama released national-security secrets in taking credit for the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. It was a sleazy attack, and Gomez showed poor judgment in vouching for the group, but doing so wouldn’t violate the people’s pledge.
The pledge simply discourages groups from running their own attack ads in the election.
Too bad there isn’t a pledge against hyperbole and distortion. But for now, the Commonwealth would be well-served if Gomez joined Markey in committing to the same levels of restraint and transparency that marked the Brown-Warren race.