WASHINGTON -- Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren spent much of January hashing out a trailblazing agreement to limit the influence of outside money in their Massachusetts Senate campaign, working to shut the floodgates that the Supreme Court had opened up with its 2010 decision in the 5-4 Citizens United case.
For months, Warren had slammed Brown, the incumbent Republican, for benefiting from attack ads backed by a Karl Rove-run super PAC, Crossroads GPS. Brown responded by accusing Warren of hypocrisy: Her campaign was benefiting from ads paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, an outside organization that takes Wall Street money.
In a Jan. 20 letter sent to Warren offering terms for an agreement to keep third-party groups out, Brown laid out the challenge before them. "As candidates running to represent the people of Massachusetts, we ought to be able to make such a pledge in simple and straightforward terms, without any fine print or legalese," he wrote.
The deal was signed three days later, but the lawyers, and the outside help, will never be far behind. The Brown letter, which was sent out to reporters as a Microsoft Word document, was authored by Sean Cairncross, according to the electronic signature that was still visible in the document's properties. Cairncross is the top lawyer for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the document names Cairncross' "organization" as NRSC. He is a GOP campaign finance law expert who has been arguing to loosen restrictions for years. In 2007, as the top lawyer for the Republican National Convention, for instance, he filed a brief to the Supreme Court arguing that "issue" ads should be exempt from campaign finance regulations.
"If either of us breaks The Pledge, I have every confidence that the people of Massachusetts will enforce our agreement at the ballot box," reads the Jan. 20 letter written by Cairncross and signed by Brown.
Accompanying the letter was an amended version of the pledge. That document, too, was created by Sean Cairncross of the NRSC.
"It shouldn't surprise anyone that, as with our Democratic counterparts, the NRSC frequently provides advice and counsel to all of our campaigns," said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the NRSC.
Scott Brown's campaign did not return calls for comment.
Indeed, national Democratic and Republican organizations regularly give advice, counsel and financial support to their candidates -- that's their only purpose, in fact -- but Brown's collaboration with the NRSC on the letter is a more delicate matter for him than it would be for other candidates. Brown, since his election, has been working to craft an image as a common-sense senator who operates independently of national Republicans. Warren's campaign, meanwhile, would rather paint him as Republican who does the bidding of the national party, and therefore is out of step with the more liberal voters in Massachusetts.
However it was agreed upon, both campaigns took a risk by signing the pledge. The Warren race is a top priority for liberal organizations, which were intent on pouring millions into the state to support her. Meanwhile, backing Brown is a high priority for companies that oppose Warren's regulatory push on behalf of consumers. Warren earned few friends on Wall Street by using her newfound political clout to push the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau through Congress.
By signing the agreement, both are forgoing millions in outside help, relying on individual donors, both wealthy and not, whose contributions are capped at $2,500 during the primary, but who can contribute an additional $2,500 during the general election. Donations to campaign organizations such as the DSCC and NRSC are capped at $30,800, while super PACS can accept unlimited amounts of money.