In the history of negative political television ads, the one that began airing Saturday in Massachusetts appeared unremarkable: a stock attack on Charlie Baker, a Republican candidate for governor.
But for Pam Wilmot, the executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, the spot is a harbinger of a “a tidal wave of money” set to flood the 2014 Massachusetts gubernatorial race.
The ad, she said, is the first aired in the contest by a super political action committee, an organization that can raise unlimited amounts of money from people, labor unions, and corporations and spend as much as it can bring in.
She predicted that it was the start of “tens of millions of dollars” of spending from super PACs which she said would lead to more “big money, secret money and negative advertising” in the race to succeed Governor Deval Patrick.
The new spot, backed by the National Association of Government Employees Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee, attacks Baker, the leading Republican candidate, for his tenure as CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.
Wilmot said ads from super PACs, such as the one airing against Baker, are not as transparent in their funding as ads from candidates. Outside groups are also more likely to air negative spots than candidates, she said.
But some super PAC proponents say they expand people’s ability to engage in Constitutionally protected political speech.
Under state regulations, super PACs must file spending reports within seven business days of money being spent. But they only need to report a list of contributors three times: eight days before the primary election, eight days before the general election and in a year-end report.
Candidates, who are prohibited from coordinated with super PACs, must file lists of contributors much more frequently.
Stephanie Zaiser, a spokesman for the PAC, said in an email the ad began on Saturday and will run for at least five weeks “on select cable channels in targeted communities.” She said the group was funded by the National Association of Government Employees, a union. And she said the super PAC has “not determined how much will be spent on this ad or if it will air any other ads.”
Tim Buckley, a Baker spokesman said it was “disappointing that the special interest machine that is desperate to protect one party rule in Massachusetts has decided to start slinging the sleaze already.”
Buckley also defended Baker’s tenure at Harvard Pilgrim.
“We look forward to discussing how Charlie’s experience saving a health care company from bankruptcy and making it a national leader, make him best prepared to protect Massachusetts’ health care,” he said.
In recent days, the Democrats running for governor have engaged in a back and forth about a potential pact to limit outside spending in the race. But political specialists said they are unlikely to agree to one.
That likely means there will be many more super PAC ads in the coming months.