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February 18, 2020

Why Markey’s “Pledge” Doesn’t Work

“Outside money has no place in the Massachusetts Senate race”
- Ed Markey, February 2013

Senator Markey and his campaign have proposed an alternative People’s Pledge that they claim protects “positive” and “progressive” voices. They also claim they will somehow force these outside groups (separated by law from our campaigns) to disclose their donors.

Here’s why that doesn’t work.

1. Positive voices are subjective: A corporation can (and often does) promote a positive message. BP is currently blanketing cable news with an ad about their investments in biofuels. The Koch Brothers spend millions on positive spots for candidates and causes they support. The People’s Pledge takes a stand against more than negative advertising -- it takes a stand against untraceable and unlimited money in any form.

2. There are myriad ways that outside groups skirt donor disclosure requirements -- if they are subject to them at all. According to Open Secrets:

  • “While some outside groups — like super PACs — are required to disclose their donors, others are not, such as 501(c)(4)s” -- groups like Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood and the NRA.

  • “Even groups that are required to disclose their donors do not disclose them in real time. In many cases, much of the money that has been donated is not disclosed until long after the election cycle.”

  • “Super PACs can also be considered Dark Money groups...While these organizations are legally required to disclose their donors, they can accept unlimited contributions from political non-profits and “shell” corporations who may not have disclosed their donors, in these cases they are considered Dark Money groups.”

  • News broke last month that Environment America is working to organize a Super PAC for Senator Markey. If you look at Environment America's disclosures from last cycle, you can see they raised around $20M. Of that, more than half came from "Environment America Inc." -- a non-profit entity not required to disclose its donors. The majority of the rest came from similar non-profits. There are only four individual donors listed on their disclosures, totaling just $30k.

3. It’s about more than disclosure. It’s about unlimited dollars. Super PACs and independent expenditures are not subject to any limits. Even if we agree with the message behind a Super PAC, true advocates for equity and equal representation in our campaign finance system understand that interest groups should not have that kind of advantage over everyday voters.

4. That’s why Democrats have ALWAYS advocated for the elimination of all Super PACs and dark money -- not just the elimination of Super PACs they don’t like. According to End Citizens United, the central advocacy group for progressive campaign finance reform:

“Patrick Burgwinkle, communications director for political action committee End Citizens United, said a people’s pledge closer to what Brown and Warren signed, which covered all outside spending regardless of the source, was “the best way to ensure that every candidate runs a grassroots race and makes their case directly to voters across the commonwealth.”

5. As a proud progressive campaign, we welcome progressive voices in this race. They can endorse their chosen candidate, they can donate within standard limits and with their name attached, they can canvass and volunteer and rally and tweet and phone bank. They just can’t rely on undisclosed and unlimited money -- and they shouldn’t have to. Whoever wins this race will head to the Senate to face Mitch McConnell and his stranglehold on campaign finance laws. How can that person be an adequate representative for progressive Massachusetts if they aren’t willing to take a stand in their own race?

Posted on February 18, 2020 in Press Releases.