Thursday, December 12, 2013
Maine's U.S. Senate candidates apparently won't follow the example being set in Massachusetts' high-profile Senate race for diminishing the influence of third-party groups.
U.S. Senate candidate Angus King holds a news conference Wednesday.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
KING'S LETTER TO CYNTHIA DILL:
First, let me congratulate you for winning the Democratic nomination to the US Senate. I know that putting yourself forward for public office is a serious commitment these days and respect your investment of time, effort, and energy. I look forward to engaging with you and the other candidates over the next five months as we define and debate the critically important issues facing Maine and our country.
I know that we will disagree from time to time but expect there will be areas of agreement as well, given our common commitment to improving the lives of our citizens through work in the United States Senate. In this sense, this campaign will be like all of the elections in Maine which have gone before--where able candidates vigorously debate the issues and each other in an effort to help the voters decide who they want to represent them.
But in another sense, this will be radically unlike prior Maine elections, because of the changes wrought by recent developments in campaign finance law, particularly the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case. In the past, campaigns were fought out between the candidates using the financial resources they were able to muster on their own behalf, all subject to strict contribution and disclosure limits designed to curb undue influence on our electoral process by any one individual or group. Now, under Citizens United, these limitations have been effectively swept away and a small and often anonymous group (or even one wealthy individual) can spend unlimited sums to promote (or oppose) the candidacy of any one or the other of us.
In fact one of these groups has already sprung up and created an ad on my behalf in this election.
But in spite of its potential benefit to me, I think this development is harmful to the process and poses a very real threat to our electoral system--and therefore I’d like to propose that we join together to keep these groups out of Maine using the model that seems to be working in the Senate campaign in Massachusetts between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren.
The concept is simple — we explicitly disavow super PAC or similar political-committee spending in Maine which is designed to promote any of us or denigrate any of our opponents and commit ourselves to actively discouraging any such “independent” expenditures which might help us one way or the other in this election. This agreement can be reduced to writing and include an enforcement mechanism which would penalize us if such activity takes place on our behalf, just as is the case in the Brown-Warren agreement. Although somewhat more complex because we will have more than two candidates, I’m sure some satisfactory arrangement can be worked out among our respective campaigns if we have the will to do so.
I sincerely hope you will join me in this effort; together, we can establish an important precedent in Maine that the integrity of our elections should not be compromised by unlimited and effectively anonymous flows of cash into our political process.
I stand ready to enter into such an agreement; please let me know at your earliest convenience whether this is an issue upon which we can stand together.
With my best,
Candidate for the United States Senate
Independent candidate Angus King sent a letter to his five opponents Wednesday morning asking them to forgo the benefit of expenditures made by outside organizations on their behalf.
The former Maine governor noted that Massachusetts Senate candidates Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, and Scott Brown, a Republican, agreed earlier this year to discourage spending by third-party groups. They signed a pact requiring the candidates to notify outside groups that they do not want them to advertise on their behalf on television, radio or the Internet. If the groups do, the candidate being supported must pay a price by donating half the value of any ad to a charity of their opponent's choice.
King's proposal to do a similar thing in Maine was dead by late Wednesday afternoon.
Charlie Summers, who won the Republican nomination in Tuesday's primary, rejected King's offer. He said in a prepared statement that his campaign will not get involved in the "tit-for-tat gimmickry of Washington politics."
Summers said King is trying to distract voters by talking about the intricacies of campaign financing rather than the economy. "This is exactly what is wrong with Washington," he said.
Cynthia Dill, who won the Democratic primary, issued a statement Wednesday that managed to be both supportive and critical of King's proposal.
She said she appreciates the chance to have a dialogue about money's corrupting influence on politics, which she described as an issue of great concern to her. However, she said, King's proposal lacks detail and substance.
"Given the number of candidates in the race and the vast disparity of personal wealth among them, the devil will be in the details," she said. "We look forward to seeing a proposed agreement, the terms of which would be carefully considered."
The third-party groups that figure in King's proposal are known as super PACs, a new kind of political action committee created in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in 2010.
Super PACs are allowed to raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to advocate for or against political candidates.
"This money is destroying our politics," King said at a news conference Wednesday at his campaign headquarters in Brunswick. He said he would agree not to benefit from super PACs if the other candidates agreed.
In his letter to Dill, which she provided to the Portland Press Herald, King said an agreement in Maine would be more complex than the one in Massachusetts because there are six candidates here, including independents Steve Woods of Yarmouth, Danny Dalton of Brunswick and Andrew Ian Dodge of Harpswell. But he said be believes an arrangement could be made.
King wrote: "I sincerely hope you will join me in this effort; together, we can establish an important precedent in Maine that the integrity of our elections should not be compromised by unlimited and effectively anonymous flows of cash into our political process."
Super PACs were created two years ago, after the outcome of a federal court case known as SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission. That ruling was influenced by the Citizens United ruling earlier in 2010, in which the Supreme Court ruled that corporations and labor unions may spend their own money to support or oppose political candidates through independent communications, such as television advertisements.
Super PACs are prohibited from donating money directly to candidates.
King said Wednesday that third-party money has created a system in which candidates aren't held accountable for the way campaign money is spent on their behalf.
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