PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Seth Magaziner on Wednesday suggested he and his rivals should adopt a “People’s Pledge” to keep outside money out of their primary race, but so far none of his opponents have backed the idea.
The idea of a People’s Pledge originated in the 2012 Massachusetts U.S. Senate contest between Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Under such a deal, candidates tell outside groups not to spend money on their behalf, and agree to reduce their own campaign spending if the groups do so anyway.
The three Democrats who ran for governor in 2014 — Gina Raimondo, Angel Taveras and Clay Pell — signed their own People’s Pledge for that year’s primary. John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, called it “a success” and said it should get “serious consideration” from the 2022 candidates.
“The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision prohibits states from regulating independent expenditures in our elections,” he said. “As a result, candidates can be drowned out by the unlimited spending of special interests. A People’s Pledge, which is a voluntary agreement among candidates, is the only way to put limits on outside spending.”
Magaziner is currently the money leader in the Democratic primary, with almost $1.6 million in his campaign account. But a newly announced candidate, former CVS Health executive Helena Foulkes, is expected to challenge him for financial dominance.
“Unlimited dark money and misinformation are threatening our democracy and as candidates, we have the power to do something about it,” Magaziner, who is currently serving as the state’s general treasurer, said in a statement. “I am asking all of my opponents to sign a People’s Pledge to stand against Citizens United and unlimited outside spending not just with words, but with actions.”
The response to Magaziner from Democratic Gov. Dan McKee’s spokesperson was brief: “No comment.” (Unlike the other candidates, McKee has not yet formally entered the race.)
But Kolby Lee, a spokesperson for former Secretary of State Matt Brown, ridiculed the People’s Pledge idea as “an empty, ineffective, and unenforceable gimmick that will do nothing meaningful to get money out of our politics.”
“Here’s what we propose: no dark money, no corporate PAC money, no corporate lobbyist money, and no fossil fuel money,” Lee said in an email, adding, “It’s pretty brazen for Magaziner to talk about the corrupting influence of money in politics when he takes tens of thousands of dollars in corporate PAC and corporate lobbyist money.”
Magaziner spokesperson Patricia Socarras responded: “If Matt Brown is serious about running a clean race, he should accept our invitation to come to the table to negotiate a People’s Pledge agreement. We are more than willing to consider his ideas for what should be included and the ideas of our other opponents if they come to the table in good faith to negotiate.”
A spokesperson for Foulkes said she “is evaluating this letter.”
Second-time candidate Luis Daniel Muñoz suggested that candidates should limit the number of donations they accept.
“If my fellow candidates are interested in rejecting dark money, let’s start by limiting our personal contributions to $100,000, refunding any contributions above that limit, and participating in the state matching funds program,” Muñoz said. “Dark money and personal trust funds should no longer be used to hold R.I. back. Progress is coming, and it will be powered by the people powered campaign.”
Locally, the last major effort to secure a People’s Pledge for a Democratic primary was in Massachusetts in 2019, when U.S. Senate hopeful Joe Kennedy III challenged incumbent Ed Markey to sign one. Their campaigns’ negotiations failed to lead to an agreement.
Update (Nov. 18): Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea responded to Magaziner in a letter sent Thursday, saying she agreed that money in politics is a problem but saying it is also a problem when wealthy candidates self-fund their campaigns to get an advantage — a clear shot at the $700,000 Magaziner loaned his campaign account back when he first ran for treasurer in 2014.
Gorbea said she is open to negotiations over a People’s Pledge, but one of her conditions would be that all self-funding candidates must disclose and pay back any outstanding personal loans to their campaigns by Jan. 1.
During a taping of Newsmakers on Thursday, Magaziner said he had the money to make the loan due to his family’s wealth. He also indicated he is open to a ban on gubernatorial candidates self-funding during the current primary.
In response to Gorbea’s letter, a spokesperson for Magaziner said, “We are glad our call for a People’s Pledge is gaining momentum with Secretary Gorbea agreeing to join negotiations to keep dark money out of the race. We hope our other opponents will agree to join us in discussions as well.”
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Threads, Twitter and Facebook.