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Environmental super PAC to spend $200,000 on Democratic primary ads for Senator Markey

Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III elbow-bumped Senator Edward Markey after their debate for the Democratic primary on Monday.
Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III elbow-bumped Senator Edward Markey after their debate for the Democratic primary on Monday.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff/Associated Press

An influential state environmental group plans to spend $200,000 this month on print and digital ads supporting US Senator Edward J. Markey in his primary fight against challenger US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, the organization’s state director said Wednesday.

Environment Massachusetts, which endorsed Markey early in the race, will purchase the ads through the Environment America Action Fund, the organization’s national super PAC, according to State Director Ben Hellerstein.

“Environment America Action Fund works to protect our environment by supporting candidates for public office who champion clean air, clean water, wilderness preservation, and strong action to address global warming,” Hellerstein said in an e-mail Wednesday.

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Markey has been an advocate for environmental causes since his previous tenure in the US House of Representatives and has long enjoyed wide support from environmentalists.

Since announcing his candidacy in September, Kennedy has pushed for Markey to sign a People’s Pledge to keep outside groups from spending money to influence the race.

The Newton Democrat and labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, then a challenger to Markey, signed a pledge in December that closely resembles one Markey backed when he ran for Senate in 2013. Liss-Riordan dropped out of the race in January.

Despite vociferously denouncing such outside spending when he ran seven years ago, Markey has effectively welcomed the assistance in advance of the Sept. 1 state Democratic primary, as the Malden Democrat faces a challenge from the scion of a political dynasty.

Rather than a People’s Pledge, Markey proposed a weaker agreement that would allow “progressive” groups to spend on positive advertising in the race, but otherwise bar outside money. Kennedy said such an exception would be impossible to enforce and defeats the purpose of the pledge.

Emily Kaufman, a spokeswoman for Kennedy, said in an e-mail Wednesday that Markey “has a troubling record of changing positions during election season.”

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“Senator Markey . . . used to be against Super PACs. Today, he is accepting their support,” Kaufman said. “This is the kind of typical politics that voters are tired of. The progressive movement — and the people of Massachusetts — deserve leaders who will stand by their principles.”

Liz Vlock, a Markey spokeswoman, said he was proud of his record on the environment and his work on the Green New Deal resolution, co-authored with US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

“That record is unmatched in this race,” Vlock said in an e-mail. “We trust that this group will abide by our stated wishes that any money spent will avoid negative advertising and that they will disclose their donors.”

Vlock also defended Markey’s proposed pledge, saying it “would keep negative advertising and dark money out of this race while celebrating the positive, progressive voices of labor unions, environmental groups, LGBTQI+ organizations, reproductive freedom advocates, and more at a time when Donald Trump is trying to silence them.”

Hellerstein, of Environment Massachusetts, called Markey “one of the best champions we’ve ever had for the environment in Congress” and added “we’re lucky to have him representing Massachusetts. It’s one thing to talk about how much you care about the environment. It’s another thing to actually lead.”

Hellerstein pointed to the Green New Deal, calling it “a bold new vision” for a world where 100 percent of power comes from clean energy. He said the environment is under greater threat than ever from industrial polluters and climate change, and the state especially needs a “proven leader” like Markey now.

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“Markey has been a champion for environmental issues for as long as he’s been in office,” Hellerstein said. “He’s fought for — and won — policies to limit pollution from cars and trucks, expand solar and wind energy, make our homes more energy-efficient, and stop the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Environment Massachusetts said the day before Kennedy officially declared his candidacy that it would put together a $5 million campaign with other organizations to promote Markey and support his reelection campaign. The organization pledged $1 million toward the effort, including this $200,000, though it will continue to assess the need as the campaign moves forward, Hellerstein said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Markey has been endorsed by several other influential environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Sunrise Movement, and 350 Mass Action.

Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, which is affiliated with the national League of Conservation Voters, said in an e-mail Wednesday that the league has endorsed Markey “for his tireless commitment to advancing energy, climate and environmental policy.”

Turnbull Henry added that “the Commonwealth has had no greater champion in Congress on these issues, and the next six years of climate policy will be make-or-break for the planet. We desperately need his expertise in the Senate, period.”

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David Abel and Victoria McGrane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.