For forty years Common Cause has highlighted the corrosive role of money in our political system. In Rhode Island we’ve lead the way on campaign finance limits, requiring electronic filing of campaign finance information, and the disclosure of the sources of outside spending in our elections. We have advocated for the expansion of our system of public financing to include our General Assembly.
In 2014 Common Cause Rhode Island called on all candidates for Governor of Rhode Island to join a People’s Pledge to reduce outside spending in the election. Executive Director John Marion worked with the campaigns of the three leading Democratic candidates to negotiate a Pledge that barred most types of outside advertising. The Pledge exceeded expectation as the most expensive Democratic primary in state history saw only $1200 in advertising by outside groups.
The first People’s Pledge was a cap on spending by the candidates in the 1996 Weld-Kerry U.S. Senate race. Somewhat successful, the idea languished until 2012 when Senator Scott Brown challenged Elizabeth Warren to swear off outside spending in their race. What changed between 1996 and 2012? The Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that corporations, unions, and individuals could raise and spend unlimited amounts of outside money in support or opposition of candidates.
The result has been an explosion in outside spending. In the 2012 elections more than $200 million was spent by outside groups in state elections according the Center for Public Integrity, and according to opensecrets.org there was roughly $1 billion dollars in outside spending in federal elections, up from approximately $300 million in the prior presidential election cycle.
How does a People’s Pledge work? In the 2014 Rhode Island Democratic primary candidates Angel Taveras, Gina Raimondo, and Clay Pell signed an agreement that bound them to make a contribution to charity equal to 50% of the value of any outside advertising purchase made on behalf of their candidacy. Unlike in 1996 when the Weld-Kerry agreement broke down in the final days of the election, the 2014 Rhode Island Pledge was an overwhelming success.