Less Money Actually Good for Candidates?

Doug Gansler, Attorney General of Maryland and candidate for governor, called upon fellow democrat contenders for the 2014 governor's race to sign his version of the "People's Pledge." The original pledge was created in 2012 when Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senate candidates in Massachusetts, agreed not to allow outside spending in the race. Gansler has called upon declared primary candidates Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Del. Heather R. Mizeur to sign the pact to limit outside spending in the upcoming primary race. While the pact is technically unenforceable, like the pledge in Massachusetts, candidates who sign agree to donate 50 percent of the amount of any outside ad spending to the charity of the other candidate's choice.

This weekend the Washington Post's Editorial Board called Gansler's plan "A worthy campaign pledge for Maryland" and suggested that Brown and Mizeur "should endorse" it. They are endorsing the plan because the pledge will help keep the race focused on the candidates and issues and help to "remove a deluge of mostly negative messaging uncontrolled by the candidates from the public domain."

After the Massachusetts Senate race, Common Cause analyzed the effects of the "People's Pledge" by comparing the spending from all sources in Massachusetts to spending in three other Senate races in Virginia, Ohio and Wisconsin. They found that while the Massachusetts candidates outspent outside groups in Massachusetts by around 10-1, outside groups overwhelmingly outspent the candidates in the three other states. In the Virginia race between George Allen and Timothy Kaine, outside groups accounted for 62 percent of all spending. The "People's Pledge" was able to keep outside spending down and keep negative "mud slinging" ads out of the Massachusetts Senate race.

Pacts like the "People's Pledge" are becoming more common because outside spending doesn't always help the candidate's win elections and voters get fed up with the bombardment of attack ads by the end of the election cycle. Outside spending, while very high, had little impact in the 2012 elections, analysis found. With the spending of over 1 billion dollars by super PACs and nonprofits which were used to broadcast countless attack ads, the republican groups which dominated in this field failed to achieve their goals of unseating President Obama and gaining a republican senate. This raises the question of does outside spending really help the candidate that much or are they are better off not having it in the race at all.

While Gansler is likely motivated partly by the fact that Brown has been able to rack up many endorsements which could cause him to be the target of many outside ads, Brown and Mizuer are also fair game. The pledge probably won't be a major handicap for the candidates in the general election being that the republicans won't be able to mount a serious challenge according to the Washington Post Editorial Board. The capping of outside spending also would grant the winner a degree of independence from interest groups.