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.
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 2014 election. Executive Director John Marion has worked with the campaigns of the three leading Democratic candidates to negotiate a Pledge that will improve the quality of the election in our state.
Research from Common Cause Massachusetts has shown that a People’s Pledge can reduce the amount of negative advertising and undisclosed money in our elections. Rhode Island deserves to hear from the candidates, not the special interests.
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 Brown-Warren case the two candidates signed an agreement that bound them to make a contribution to a 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 2012 Brown-Warren pact was an overwhelming success.