FOR SHEER ANTIDEMOCRATIC GALL, it is hard to top the so-called "People's Pledge" signed on Monday by US Senator Scott Brown and Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren. The agreement is designed to keep third-party advertising from playing a role in their closely-watched race for the seat that Brown won in a special election in 2010. Of course there is not the slightest chance the deal will actually keep independent ads off the airwaves or the internet between now and November's election. Yet Brown and Warren claim to be sincere in their determination to keep third parties from trying to influence this year's campaign.
If so, shame on them.
The Republican incumbent and his presumed Democratic challenger have agreed that if an outside group spends money targeting either candidate in broadcast or online advertising, the campaign that benefits will suffer a financial penalty: It will have to donate half the value of that ad buy to a charity named by the other campaign.
Thus if the League of Conservation Voters were to sink another $1.85 million into commercials like the one that accused Brown of having "sided with Big Oil," the Warren campaign would have to fork over $925,000 to a charity designated by the commonwealth's Republican senator. And if Crossroads GPS chooses to double down on the $1.1 million it spent recently on anti-Warren videos, such as the one linking her to the bonuses bank executives were paid out of federal bailout funds, Brown's team would have to kiss $550,000 goodbye.
The candidates say their objective is to "provide the citizens of Massachusetts" with a Senate campaign free of messages coming from any source "outside the direct control of either of the candidates." On Monday, Brown proclaimed it a "great victory" that he and Warren have put "third parties on notice that their interference in this race will not be tolerated." But what they mean by "third parties" is not just heavily endowed superPACs parachuting in from out of state. They mean anyone not taking orders from them, including individuals, charitable groups, policy advocates, and party committees.
And what they mean by "interference" is political free speech.