U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan is calling on incumbent Mark Begich to sign a pledge to discourage outside groups from running political ads in the race. The pledge would impose a financial penalty on a campaign that benefits from Outside spending. Begich campaign isn’t buying it.
Political ads already dominate the airwaves, many of them from Political Action Committees that can collect so-called “dark money” — unlimited contributions with no public disclosure. So far, some $20 million of Alaska airtime has been reserved. That’s more than $60 per likely voter.
Sullivan’s challenge says if an outside group runs an ad that benefits him or Begich after July 4, that candidate’s campaign would have to make a donation equal to half the amount of the ad buy to charity. Sullivan announced the pledge in a call-in press conference.
“We should be able to agree that Alaskans should choose their representatives free from an unprecedented avalanche of spending on TV and radio from third-party special interest groups.”
He says a similar pledge worked in the 2012 U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts. There, Republican Scott Brown proposed the pledge. Democrat Elizabeth Warren agreed to it and ultimately won. Aquene Freechild of the left-leaning consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, is delighted to see the pledge show up again in Alaska.
“Yes, absolutely wonderful news. We’ve really been looking to encourage candidates to propose and take the pledge and I think this is a great start,” Freechild says.
Candidates and dark money groups aren’t allowed to collaborate, so in theory, groups could ignore the pledge and bankrupt the campaigns that sign it, but Freechild says in Massachusetts groups generally stayed off the air and let the campaigns speak for themselves.
“That is one of the most disturbing features of this election cycle is this effort to completely drown out any effort by the candidates or other members of the public to be heard on the issues that matter to them.”
Sullivan included only radio and TV ads in the pledge. That would leave outside groups free to buy Web ads, send direct mail and continue robocalls. Begich campaign spokesman Max Croes says Sullivan is being disingenuous because, in announcing the challenge, Sullivan also endorsed Citizens United. That’s the Supreme Court case that opened the door to dark money spending in elections as a matter of corporate First Amendment rights.
Croes says Sullivan is just trying to score political points.
“We’re waiting for Sullivan to propose a serious solution to the effect of this spending, and today he said one thing and then he did another.”
Sullivan, though, says his proposal has nothing to do with Citizens United.
“It’s a pledge on how we’re going to conduct this race with a proven strategy that’s worked before. But I strongly support Citizens United and strong protections for everyone’s First Amendment rights.”
The pledge document Sullivan posted online leaves room only for Mark Begich to sign, ignoring Joe Miller and Mead Treadwell, the Republicans Sullivan will have to beat in the August Primary.