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Timeline: A People’s Pledge

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Incumbent Senator Scott Brown and his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren, have made headlines this election year by agreeing to eliminate third-party involvement in their closely-contested United States Senate race in Massachusetts. For almost 10 months, the two candidates kept their pact alive.

Until now.

With neither candidate gaining a significant lead in the polls, third-party groups have begun to take action.

In five hundred words or less, here is a detailed timeline of the rise and – perhaps imminent – fall of Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren’s ambitious political pact.

2010: Sen. Brown starts the conversation

In 2010, Scott Brown ran against Martha Coakley in a special election to fill the vacant Senate seat created after Senator Ted Kennedy passed away. At the beginning of his campaign, he urged third-party groups to stay out of the race, saying he and his opponent needed to “do their jobs” and not get “sidetracked by red herring issues.”

November 2011: Elizabeth Warren announces her candidacy for the 2012 election

Shortly after declaring herself as a candidate for the Democratic Senate nomination, Brown once again released a statement asking for independent groups to pull their attack advertisements.

January 2012: The People’s Pledge

Senator Brown challenged Warren to join him in his effort to eliminate third-party spending in their election. After weeks of negotiation, on January 23rd, a final draft of their agreement was presented to both candidates. Scott Brown grabbed a blue pen; Warren, a black one, and with their respective signatures, the People’s Pledge was made official. Both candidates were applauded for their bipartisanship, and average citizens rejoiced.

February 2012: Both sides want credit

Since their successful agreement proved to be popular with the media and voters, Brown and Warren argued back and forth as to who deserves more credit for its success. Brown’s camp reminded the media it was his idea from the beginning, while Warren claimed that the original proposal she received “included loopholes that Karl Rove could drive a tank through.” Despite their arguing, both candidates remained true to their word. Independent groups continued to stay out of the election. Average citizens continued rejoicing.

 

March: The agreement is tested.

In early March, an oil lobbying group produced and aired radio advertisements in Brown’s behalf. One day later, Brown’s campaign delivered a $36,000 check to the Autism Consortium in downtown Boston.

Brown stated he was happy to help a good cause, and both candidates said they were thrilled that nobody had attempted to find loopholes in their agreement.

June-July: Polls are neck and neck

The Senate race in Massachusetts quickly became one of the most closely-contested elections in the nation. In early July, Warren was beating Brown in the polls by two percentage points, 43% to 41%.

In such a close race, people thought the third-party groups would get restless and begin exploring ways around the agreement. Brown and Warren continued publicly supporting their pact, but several influential politicos started predicting the agreement’s “inevitable demise.”

August-September: Warren’s takes a fundraising advantage

Warren’s fundraising team stepped its game up, as she established herself as one of the most effective fundraisers in any Senate race in the nation. Brown supporters were likely frustrated because they had the money but still didn’t think they could use it.

The pact lived on. People were surprised.

Late September-Early October: The week the gloves came off

In the last week of September, Americans for Tax Reform – a conservative political action group – spent $215,617 on direct mail literature that attacked Elizabeth Warren. And with that, the floodgates had opened. In the following days, The League of Conversation Voters (anti-Brown) and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (anti-Warren) spent over $1 million dollars on direct mail and door-to-door canvassing to support their candidate of choice.

Alas, after months of critics and skeptics being proven wrong, the People’s Pact began to crumble. The third-party groups couldn’t wait any longer. They found the loopholes, and they leaped through them.

Where are we now?

Neither Brown nor Warren has made a statement regarding the apparent breach in their agreement. The independent groups are claiming innocence, saying they didn’t violate anything because the language in the agreement doesn’t specifically prohibit direct mailers. However, the agreement does specifically mention the prevention of loopholes. The last bullet point states, “the Candidates and their campaigns agree to work together to limit the use of third-party advertisements and to close any loopholes that arise in this agreement during the course of the campaign.”

Unless either candidate decides to acknowledge the agreement’s final point – unless they work together to close this loophole – it seems as though the People’s Pledge has lost its appeal in this election year.

We’ll wait and see what happens next, but these two candidates respected their pact for longer than most people thought they could.

It was fun while it lasted.

 

Super PACs Crash the Conventions

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Brett Smiley – the founder and president here at CFO Compliance – hopped on a flight to North Carolina last week in order to serve as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention. This meant I had nobody in the office to badger with my pesky questions about campaign finances. Left to my own devices, I spent a lot of time reading news articles about Super PACs, while, incidentally, reruns of the television show, Friday Night Lights, were on in the background.

Actively consuming one form of media and passively consuming another at the same time forced my mind to merge them together in one collective blob of information. I started seeing real-life politics in a fictional program about sports. Let me explain.

Buddy Garrity is the fictional president of the fictional Dillon High School’s booster club. In the small town of Dillon – where the locals place nothing in the world above their love for high school football – Buddy has dedicated his adult life to convincing upper class, small-town Texans to write him large checks so that the football program can afford to buy things like JumboTrons and fancy uniforms.

Buddy and his booster pals are separate from the high school itself. They aren’t coaches, employees, or teachers. They are simply passionate supporters who raise funds and act in what they feel is the organization’s best interest.

Do you see where this is going?

Buddy Garrity, in his small sphere, is a Super PAC.

Super PACs are “non-profit” organizations that raise money to support certain political candidates. In this election year – the first since the Citizens United decision to allow unlimited, anonymous donations into independent political action committees – wealthy men and women are dedicating their time and talents to running these organizations. They are convincing other wealthy men and women to write large checks so that the group can afford things like prime-time political advertising.

These organizations are separate from the official campaigns they support. They have their own bank accounts, and their messages are uninfluenced by the particular candidate’s communication team. They are simply passionate supporters who raise funds and act in what they feel is the organization’s best interest. Because of this separation – because they are their own entities – the Supreme Court ruled that Super PACs do not need to adhere to FEC campaign contribution regulations.

However, that separation tends to blur in both cases. Buddy Garrity would tip-toe around the borderline by showing up to closed practices and making speeches at organized team events. Over the last few weeks, Super PACs have followed in his footsteps by making appearances at the conventions in Tampa and Charlotte.

Despite rules that prohibit official campaigns from planning and coordinating with their independent support groups, the conventions featured a lot of intermingling between elected officials and their Super PAC supporters.

According to this New York Times article, representatives from Restore Our Future, Americans for Prosperity and American Crossroads had “all but merged into a unified conservative machine.” They hosted parties that featured elected officials as guest speakers, had dinner with Senators, and stayed in the same hotel as the Romney campaign.

This probably shouldn’t matter. Wealthy people have always had more access to glamorous privileges than the average Joes. Miley Cyrus met the Queen of England; why should we surprised that these billionaires – who, it must be noted, are brilliant and successful human beings – are rubbing shoulders with politicians at the National Convention?

But it clearly does matter. It seems to be a cause of concern for many American people, and it’s the lack of regulation that seems to be disconcerting. FEC regulations and donor contribution limits exist in order to, yes, prevent an unfair fundraising advantage for either candidate, but they also exist to ensure that every individual vote – the ones from the broke 21 year-old college student all the way to the billionaire casino magnate – are counted equally. Elected officials are voted into office and represent the people with decision-making power. Everyone else is a tally mark on Election Day.

Super PACs weren’t breaking any rules in Charlotte or Tampa; they were simply showing how easily groups can get around them. The billionaire leaders of political action groups certainly aren’t bad people. Neither are the real-life, small-town equivalents of Buddy Garrity. But they’re powerful. And if a six or nine-figure check is enough to buy a meeting with a presidential candidate at a convention, average voters may fear that the people sign those checks will be given the power to voice their opinions at closed-door meetings about public policy issues that affect the entire nation.

In Dillon, Buddy was able to leverage his power to convince the head coach of a high school football team who to start at quarterback.

In an election year in the United States of America, Super PACs have already shown they have the money. Without regulation, voters seem to fear the leverage that money could create.