Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren demand ceasefire on third-party spending in Mass. Senate race


Hard to know what to make of this, but it seems that Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown and his Demcratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren, agree that there should be a ceasefire on third-party spending in the state's Senate race.

As Politico says:

Senior officials from Brown's and Warren's campaigns will soon meet to try to craft an unusual pact to curtail the influence of so-called super PACs that have grown in power since the Supreme Court's Citizens United case loosened campaign finance rules in 2010.

Warren has indicated that she would like to be able to run her campaign and, presumably, be responsible for the content of the ads run in her support feeling, perhaps, that voters might start to punish her if they got tired of the mudslinging.

For his part, Scott Brown has stated:

I think by sending a joint message to stay out, I'm hopeful they'll [the Super PACs] accept that message. This is going to be decided by the people of Massachusetts, not by the tens of millions of outside interest dollars coming to our state.

While federal law doesn't allow campaigns to coordinate with outside groups, it may be possible, as Warren has said, "to agree on a common response if third-party groups become active on the airwaves and ignore their demands."

The problem, of course, is that outside groups would have little incentive to listen to the very candidates they are supposed to be helping, unless they can be convinced that their unwanted intervention is helping their opponents.

This is one of the, perhaps, unintended consequences of the Citizens United case, that it would be almost impossible to fully coordinate message discipline in a campaign. The supportive Super PAC may have one agenda or strategic approach and the candidate another, which may not work well together. For example, if a candidate wants to run a fairly positive campaign but a Super PAC wants to sling mud, most voters won't make the distinction about the source of the attacks.

Maybe this is all bullshit on the part of both Warren and Brown, who might just want to give themselves distance from some of the uglier things said in their names, and I don't wan't to be too naive about how closely all of this is coordinated. I'm simply saying that it raises issues.

Campaigns used to be about message discipline and this really could screw that up in unexpected ways.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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