Robocalls aren’t TV ads, but still violate spirit of pledge

In January, Republican Senator Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren promised to keep outside groups out of their high-stakes Senate fight. Their pact specifically blocked super PACs, nonprofits, and other third-party groups from funding television, radio, or Internet ads on the candidates’ behalf. If either Brown or Warren is the beneficiary of such ads, that candidate must pay a financial penalty to charity.

Now, Crossroads GPS — a group backed by Republican consultant Karl Rove — is running robocalls in Massachusetts that attack Warren, in hopes of helping Brown. Since the candidates’ vow says nothing about mailings or phone calls, these ominous telephone messages do not technically violate the “People’s Pledge” signed by Brown and Warren. But surely they violate its spirit.

One of the Rove-backed robocalls, according to a transcript posted by Mother Jones, suggests that Warren’s support for President Obama’s health care law could limit Medicare eligibility — even though the law says nothing of the sort. Another call criticizes Warren’s management of a watchdog panel that monitored the federal bank bailout.


The goal of the pledge was to keep the Brown-Warren race focused on issues and hold each side accountable for its advertising. It set Massachusetts apart from the rest of the country, where outside groups are pouring millions into attack ads.

However, even in Massachusetts, the promise is fraying. Each campaign filed recent complaints accusing the other of collaborating with third-party groups. The AFL-CIO sent out anti-Brown fliers. The League of Conservation Voters is sending canvassers door to door against Brown. Now, robocalls cross into new and darker territory, putting the pledge in further jeopardy. Both candidates should tell super PACs and other third-party groups their interference isn’t welcome — whether in ads, in fliers, or over the phone.