STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 25, 2014…..A long dormant dispute between Democrats about a proposal to limit third-party spending in the gubernatorial primary has re-emerged after the formation of a so-called super PAC to back candidate Steven Grossman.
Martha Coakley, the frontrunner, pressed Grossman on Friday to sign her version of a so-called People’s Pledge that differs in a key respect from a pledge Grossman called on her to sign when she entered the race last September. After Coakley’s public appeal for him to sign her version of the pledge, Grossman said he would no longer negotiate with her.
“We have an opportunity to do something about this right now, and I’m asking my fellow Democratic candidates for Governor to join me in signing this People’s Pledge today,” Coakley said in a statement Friday. “I also continue to ask Steve Grossman to stand up against special interests and disavow any SuperPAC formed by his supporters.”
Coakley’s version of the pledge includes an exemption for groups to respond to attacks against a candidate from other outside groups.
Grossman rejected the language Coakley proposed, saying it includes a “giant loophole,” and Juliette Kayyem, one of the three other Democrats seeking the office also weighed in, saying language Coakley’s campaign manager proposed in a Dec. 9 email “amounted to a poison pill.”
“It was why none of the other campaigns pursued the issue with you,” Kayyem wrote. She said, “As I am sure you agree – as a candidate and a lawyer – discussions about such detailed issues are best done in a face-to-face meeting, rather than form letters, blast emails, and press releases. No campaign is the same, as you also know from your career and previous campaigns where you did receive outside money.”
Emails from last December indicate the Coakley campaign also wanted to ban negative ads during the primary.
Massachusetts Forward Together, a political action committee that can raise unlimited sums of money, was formed Wednesday without Grossman’s knowledge by his friend, Barry White, a Newton attorney. PACs without donor-limits are a relatively new phenomenon brought about by federal court decisions that Democrats have decried.
In his own statement, Democrat Joseph Avellone recalled Grossman writing to him last August, expressing a desire to limit outside spending and asking Avellone to sign his pledge.
“I proposed a pledge, called the Commonwealth Pledge, that went even further on stopping outside influences. He was not interested. Now, 8 months later, the Treasurer’s close friend has opened his own Super-PAC in an attempt to spend outside money in a Democratic Primary,” Avellone said. “We know Super-PACs are all about special interests having special influence on the election and the candidate. This is hypocrisy at its worst and it is bad for the Democratic Party. Lining up big special interest money to spend in a Democratic primary is not good for the Party or its ability to appeal to ordinary citizens.”
In recent Massachusetts elections, Democrats have batted around and sometimes signed pledges that serve to limit outside spending by punishing the beneficiary with a requirement that he or she donate a certain percentage of the outside group’s expenditure.
The so-called People’s Pledge sprang from the highly capitalized and closely watched 2012 campaign between then U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren, who signed the first iteration.
The notion of a pledge in the gubernatorial primary was pushed by Grossman before Coakley entered the race, and the candidates have all agreed in general on the concept. Grossman sent out his proposed language right after Coakley entered the field.
“As I have said throughout this campaign, I will sign a People’s Pledge that is agreed upon by all candidates,” wrote candidate Don Berwick in a statement Friday afternoon. “I ask my opponents to negotiate in good faith to make the Pledge a reality. Massachusetts has proven before that our democracy is not for sale; I hope we can prove it again by coming to agreement on the Pledge,”
Grossman’s pledge differs on a key point from Coakley’s. Coakley’s proposed language includes an exemption for spending that is made in response to an attack on one of the candidates by an outside organization, such as the Republican party.
“More than six months ago, I proposed an iron-clad ‘People’s Pledge’ to deter outside interest group money from influencing the 2014 Massachusetts governor’s race. After ignoring our proposal for months, Martha Coakley rejected it, demanding instead a giant loophole to allow outside expenditures in a whole range of situations,” Grossman wrote.
Coakley spokeswoman Bonnie McGilpin called the provision “absolutely necessary” to protect Democrats from Republican attack ads during the primary. “The difference on this issue is very clear. Martha Coakley has fought against Citizens United and was the first AG to support a constitutional amendment to overturn it. Steve Grossman embraces SuperPAC’s in this race and their potential for bringing unlimited secret donations into Massachusetts,” McGilpin said.
As the far-and-away frontrunner in polls throughout the election, Coakley has been on the receiving end of several missives from the state Republican Party.
Grossman noted that Coakley’s campaign paid $24,000 to settle campaign finance violations, which was for improperly mingling of state and federal campaign committee spending, and said he had “no confidence Martha Coakley is serious about keeping all unlimited outside interest group money out of our primary.”
In light of that distrust, Grossman said he would “no longer” negotiate with her.
In a December email chain obtained by the News Service, Coakley campaign manager Tim Foley proposed a further restriction on campaigning, sapping the ability for Democrats to criticize one another in ads.
“Each of the undersigned candidates and their campaigns will not run paid advertising of any kind, including, but not limited to – television, print, web, or mail – that mentions the other Democratic candidates by name or uses their image,” wrote Foley, saying he is hoping to “avoid a divisive, negative primary that only benefits the Republican Party.”
In response, then-Berwick campaign manager Luke Quandt wrote that the Berwick campaign was open to discussing banning negative ads and is “on board” with allowing for responses to Republican attacks.
“Let’s stick to the issue here which is to agree on a pledge to limit outside expenditures – a pledge that serves the people of Massachusetts, not one particular candidate,” Grossman campaign manager Josh Wolf wrote at the time. “If we cannot focus on that goal, then these negotiations are going nowhere.”
The Coakley and Grossman pledges differ on two other points, as well. Grossman’s would force candidates to forfeit money to the One Fund as punishment for third-party groups running ads in their benefit, while Coakley’s would send the money to a charity of the candidate’s choosing. In nearly identical preambles, Coakley’s version also did not include the warning that political committees not registered in Massachusetts could seek to influence Bay State elections, which was part of Grossman’s preamble.
Both Coakley and Grossman, who are better funded than the other three Democrats, agreed that candidates should fork over 100 percent of the cost of the third-party spending.
Kayyem registered her disapproval in receiving a “form letter” from Coakley’s campaign.
“Because of the urgency of your interest, I look forward to your campaign putting together a meeting. If you aren’t interested, I can certainly have my staff do so,” Kayyem wrote. “Until then, you can send form letters released simultaneously to the press to my campaign manager or communications director, but in the future I would greatly appreciate if you refrain from using my personal email account.”
Copyright 2014 State House News Service