Top Democratic candidates negotiating 'people's pledge'

Decision 2014

The three major candidates for the Democratic nomination have been negotiating with Common Cause, a government watchdog group, to try to curb outside spending in the Rhode Island governor's race.

The so-called people's pledge is modeled after an agreement reached in the 2012 U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown.

The candidates would agree to pay into charity, the same amount any outside groups spend in the race.

"The Supreme Court in Citizens United said there can be no limits on this type of money in our elections -- outside money in our elections. So the only thing left, because government can't do it, is to have the campaigns try to limit it themselves," executive director John Marion said.

The negotiations have been ongoing for weeks and judging from the public statements, the three campaigns are in favor of an agreement.

"This Democratic primary should just be between the candidates running, and we are very optimistic about reaching an agreement," said Eric Hyers, a spokesman for Gina Raimondo.

"We hope our opponents will sign a pledge that stays true to Senator Warren's work," said spokesman Danny Kedem for Angel Taveras.

And the Pell campaign agrees.

"We also want a People's Pledge that is practical and enforceable. We're hopeful we can come to an agreement," said Devin Driscoll, a spokesman for Clay Pell.

The catch is how to word such an agreement. The Warren-Brown agreement applied only to spending on ads, which media outlets have to report and which made the agreement enforceable.

"I think it's very difficult, as I said. It's totally dependent on the honor system. It's dependent on how one can figure out what the value of something is. And it's dependent upon those others groups actually reporting what they're spending," said Dr. Kay Israel, a communications professor at Rhode Island College.

And that is the problem for the campaigns to find common ground.

While some might like to prohibit outside spending on everything from yard signs to get-out-the-vote efforts, it's not always possible to pinpoint how much has been spent on operations other than media ads.

The three campaigns will be meeting Wednesday to see if they can agree to a plan to keep spending to money they've raised themselves. If they agree and stick to a pledge, it will be only the second time such a contract has worked in the country.