Democrats frequently criticize Republicans for taking Grover Norquist’s No New Taxes pledge — and rightly so. That promise is at least public, however, which lets voters consider whether they want to support someone who has surrendered his independence to the anti-government zealot.
But as Democratic congressmen Steve Lynch and Ed Markey vie to succeed John Kerry in the US Senate, they are busy offering pledges on campaign questionnaires that neither they nor the relevant interest groups will make public.
So far, the Curious Case of the Covert Campaign Commitments is a decidedly Democratic affair. GOP Senate hopeful Dan Winslow pledges to release any campaign questionnaire he fills out. Gabriel Gomez has a no-questionnaire policy. Mike Sullivan remains a question mark. Sullivan says he hasn’t filled out any such forms yet — but wouldn’t immediately commit to releasing them if he does. “I’ll check with other folks on what the protocol is,” Sullivan said.
The protocol I’ve encountered in this campaign is best summed up as the Questionnaire Iron Curtain. I first encountered it when I asked Lynch’s campaign for the endorsement application he had completed for the AFL-CIO. The answer: No. I then asked Markey’s team the same question — and got the same answer.
If I wanted the questionnaire, both camps said, I should ask the AFL-CIO. Now what do you suppose Steve Tolman, president of the mega-union, said to that request?
Which was a word I heard a lot. No, said Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, when asked for the Democrats’ questionnaires. No, said Laura Barrett, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which supports Markey. No, said Cindy Luppi, New England director for Clean Water Action, which also backs Markey.
No, said Hugh Cameron, president of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, who gave a refreshingly candid reason for his denial: “We don’t want reporters knowing what’s in there.”
Let me check, said David Schildmeier, spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association. He did — and came back with this reply: No.
The two bright spots in my search for transparency were the UAW and SEIU, which sent me the questionnaires Lynch and Markey completed.
Surely I’m not the only voter who finds it troubling that two public servants running for one of the most important public offices in the land refuse to make public the answers they have given to often powerful, self-interested groups whose aid they want on the campaign trail.
The predictable dodge, which I heard from both Democratic campaigns, is that the candidates will answer any question reporters have about their positions. Here’s the problem: It’s difficult to imagine the full range of matters that interest groups have sought commitments on.
Sometimes, of course, a longtime observer can guess. In the past, the Massachusetts Nurses Association has been willing to bestow its endorsement on any candidate who will back mandatory nurse-to-patient staffing ratios. That was the union’s big issue this time around, too, confirms Schildmeier. Lynch was strong on it; he’s the MNA’s endorsed candidate.
One of the issues for the Coalition of Police, of course, is paid police details. Markey didn’t fill out the questionnaire. Lynch did, and gave the group the answer they wanted. He’s their endorsed candidate.
Now, at first glance, most of the commitments the UAW and SEIU looked for seem like pretty standard union stuff. That said, I was surprised to see that the UAW secured pledges from both Democrats to support raising overtime pay from time and a half to double time. And that both told the SEIU (which ended up endorsing Markey) they would oppose any federal budget cuts that would cause public or private sector layoffs. Doesn’t that rule out supporting any significant spending reductions?
I certainly would like to know what causes the two Democrats tied themselves to in seeking the AFL-CIO endorsement. In the past, that union has sought pledges that would impede reform efforts, limit competition, and enable rent-seeking behavior. It has, for example, asked for candidate commitments for Project Labor Agreements, for laws to prevent contracting out for public services, and for increasing the state’s share of employee health care premiums.
And even if one could divine all the matters the unions have asked about, you’d have no way of knowing that a candidate was telling you the same thing he had told them.
On this one, Republicans Winslow and Gomez win high marks, while Sullivan gets an incomplete.
And the two Democrats? They are doing a serious disservice to the idea and ideal of transparency in the democratic process.Scot Lehigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.