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Conley calls on Walsh to take Boston Pledge

State Representative Martin J. Walsh

Aram Boghosian/Globe Photo/File 2013

State Representative Martin J. Walsh

Under renewed attack from fellow candidates, State Representative Martin J. Walsh reiterated Friday afternoon his refusal to criticize special interest groups that are spending money on his behalf, calling the so-called Boston Pledge heralded by some of his opponents a “political gimmick.”

“Marty will not participate in political theater or political gimmicks,” S.J. Port, Walsh campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement. “He will continue to run an aggressive grass-roots campaign to ensure the people of Boston understand what kind of Mayor he will be: open, honest and representative of the working families who live in our great city.”

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Widely considered a top-tier candidate in Boston’s first open mayor’s race in 20 years, Walsh has come under fire for receiving significant support from labor unions and other interest groups.

On Friday, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley again called on Walsh to commit to the Boston Pledge, under which a candidate would have to match any money spent on his or her behalf by an outside group with a donation to the One Fund, which was set up to benefit victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.

“You can’t talk about transparency and then not be transparent with your campaign war chest,” Conley said. “It’s time for Marty to level the playing field and not take unfair advantage with special interest money.”

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Advocacy groups, political action committees, and labor unions often spend money on behalf of favored candidates, rather than donate directly to their campaigns, where they would be restricted to limits dictated by election laws.

Those independent expenditures remain controversial, however. The Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that money spent on behalf of political candidates is a protected form of free speech as long as the candidates and their campaigns do not coordinate the spending with the groups.

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Early in the race, Councilor Rob Consalvo proposed the Boston Pledge, which is modeled on the so-called People’s Pledge that was taken in 2012 by Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown during their US Senate race.

Consalvo remained the pledge’s sole signatary until earlier this week, when Conley agreed to sign on after a national nonprofit education group, Stand for Children, said it planned to spend $500,000 on promoting John Connolly’s mayoral campaign. Even though he himself had sought the group’s endorsement, Conley criticized Stand for Children’s promised expenditure for his opponent.

Just one day later, Connolly asked Stand for Children and other interest groups not to spend money on his behalf and said he too would sign the pledge.

That stance, critics note, came after another group, Democrats for Education Reform, had already spent about $40,000 in support of Connolly’s campaign. Meanwhile, Walsh has made it clear he will not follow suit. “It is important to understand that no campaign is in a position to coordinate with those who make independent expenditures,” Port said.

Walsh has accepted heavy backing from labor unions including Working America, the political organizing arm of the AFL-CIO, which has spent $35,230 to date on behalf of Walsh’s campaign, according to election contribution filings.

“Voters should be concerned that Marty Walsh’s campaign is benefiting from enormous ad buys based out of nondescript office buildings in the D.C. suburbs,” Conley said Friday evening. “It’s fair to ask why anonymous donors who have never set foot in Boston are spending such vast sums on his behalf and who these donors are.”

Walsh, Connolly, and Conley have raised significantly more money than other candidates, each more than $700,000.

Conley, however, brought to his mayoral effort the war chest he built up from a decade of unopposed reelection bids for district attorney. That war chest had a balance of $868,000, a significant chunk of which came from practicing lawyers across Massachusetts.

Wesley Lowery can be reached at wesley.lowery@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.
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