Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III publicly called on supporters not to form a super PAC to boost his Democratic primary challenge to Senator Edward J. Markey.
A group of undisclosed Kennedy supporters has been working in recent days to form an outside expenditure group to help Kennedy after an influential state environmental group announced plans to spend $200,000 this month to help Markey.
News of their efforts, first reported by Politico Friday morning, prompted Kennedy to tell the unnamed supporters to halt their plans.
“I know nothing about this. I didn’t ask for it, and we don’t want it, we don’t need it,” said Kennedy via a video posted on his Facebook page. "We need to, as Democrats, reject dark money. We need to reject super PACs. We need to stand by our principles.”
He told the organizers to spend their money on a more urgent cause than a Democratic primary, pointing to the civil unrest that has gripped the nation since the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis.
“Focus on what matters most in this moment. That’s where that money should go,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy reminded supporters that he’s called for Markey to join him in signing a so-called People’s Pledge to limit outside spending in the race since shortly after he got in the race last fall. The pledge Kennedy has proposed closely resembles the one Markey backed when he first ran for Senate in 2013.
“I’m ready to sign it today,” Kennedy said. “We should be able to run this on our own merits, and I challenge Senator Markey to do so.”
Environment Massachusetts, which endorsed Markey early in the race, said earlier this week that it planned to spend $200,000 on print and digital ads supporting him, purchasing the ads through the Environment America Action Fund, the national group’s super PAC.
Ben Hellerstein, state director 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.”
Markey’s refusal to sign the same People’s Pledge he supported in 2013 has been read by political observers as an acknowledgement that he cannot raise enough cash on his own to fight off Kennedy’s challenge. Kennedy ended March with $6.2 million cash on hand, almost $2 million more than Markey has, according to federal filings. The Newton Democrat also has already launched TV ads, and plans to stay on the airwaves until the Sept. 1 primary.
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.
Markey’s campaign has defended his alternative proposal as allowing “positive, progressive voices” such as labor unions and environmental groups to contribute to the race, while keeping out negative advertising funded by undisclosed donors.
“As independent groups have emerged to support both candidates, the major question now is whether the Kennedy campaign will sign Senator Markey’s updated 2020 People’s Pledge to send a clear message to any group that Ed Markey’s conditions for their activities include no dark, secret money and no outside negative advertisements,” said Markey campaign manager John Walsh.
“Provided these groups disclose who their donors are, and do not run negative ads, our campaign will not silence progressive groups at a time when Donald Trump and his allies are throwing political mud around against all Democrats making their positive voices needed now more than ever.”
The outside group of Kennedy supporters has not yet filed any paperwork to become an official super PAC or other legal entity, according to a person involved in the effort, who said it would be “well-financed.” There are about 10 people involved, though more have expressed interest, this person said.
Although the legal details are still being sorted out, the group plans to call itself Massachusetts Future. Longtime Massachusetts political consultant Doug Rubin is among the organizers.
The group started to coalesce around a plan once the Environment Massachusetts spend was announced and it became clear Markey would not be signing the People’s Pledge, the person involved in the effort said. If Markey does end up signing the pledge, “we would honor that, no question,“ the person said.
Victoria McGrane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.