Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler asked his Democratic rivals Tuesday to pledge to keep outside spending out of the race for governor, but his opponents are in no hurry to give him an answer.
Gansler asked Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Del. Heather Mizeur (Dist. 20) of Takoma Park to pledge to keep spending by unions, special interests and other groups out of the race for the Democratic nomination.
The pledge is not merely a gesture. It requires candidates, about whom an outside advertisement runs, to pay half the cost of the ad to the charity of their opponent’s choosing.
Mizeur said Wednesday that her campaign has been so focused on its efforts, including naming her running mate, the Rev. Delman Coates, this week that she has not had time to consider Gansler’s request.
Brown and his staff are giving it consideration, but not too much.
“We are reviewing the pledge, but frankly our campaign is focused on organizing a grass-roots effort to deliver our message to voters about our vision for Maryland’s future,” said campaign manager Justin Schall. “The law in Maryland clearly prohibits our campaign, or any other campaign, from working or coordinating with an independent expenditure committee. We will absolutely abide by the law and run a clean and transparent campaign.”
Gansler’s communications director, Bob Wheelock, said his camp had hoped for a more prompt response.
“We don’t see this as a difficult decision from a financial standpoint or moral standpoint,” Wheelock said. “All it takes is a yes. Not ‘we’re studying it.’ Not an empty promise. Not rhetoric about reform. No ducking. No dodging. Yes or no. Sign it or not.”
Wheelock said Gansler’s motives are altruistic.
“I know Doug truly thinks that the voters should have the say and have as little outside influence and negative ads on them as possible,” he said.
However, among the Democratic field, Gansler has received few endorsements, so it makes sense that he would want to balance the spending scales without the outside money Brown’s laundry list of endorsers could drop in the election, said Todd Eberly, political science professor at St. Mary’s College.
Gansler and Brown have similar campaign caches — at last count each had about $5 million in the bank.
Wheelock said Gansler has received endorsements, but he has chosen not to announce them yet.
In the meantime, Brown’s list of endorsements grows almost weekly and he is a particular favorite of unions.
Eberly noted that organized labor is typically a big spender in Democratic races.
“In a primary situation, one candidate could completely wash over another one, so strategically [for Gansler] it makes sense,” Eberly said of the pledge. “Strategically, it would be crazy for Brown to agree to it.”
Election law limits the amount of collaboration a campaign and a third party group can have, Eberly said.
If Brown agrees, it threatens to deter his endorsers from spending anyway, because any outside money spent on Brown’s behalf would harm the campaign, Eberly said.
But Eberly said the pledge could win favor with good-government voters who want clean campaigns.
Since campaign reform started in the early 2000s, more third-party money has been seeping into races as those with deep pockets seek to influence the outcome of elections, Eberly said.
Studies, he said, also suggest that ads run by outside groups are disproportionately negative.
But while people say they are sick and tired of negative ads, there is at least a slight indication that negative ads may stick with voters more than positive ads, Eberly said.
Limiting outside money can be seen as a step to regain voter confidence and trust. Such a limit proved successful in the 2012 Massachusetts general election for the U.S. Senate between Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren and the GOP incumbent, Scott Brown. Eberly said it has not been tried in a primary.