Warren, Brown seek the impossible in the ad game

Senate candidates Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown are adopting a statesman-like posture in calling for the elimination of campaign ads paid for by outside groups. Each candidate, in doing so, can boast of support for a better, less distorted political process, one from which we would all benefit. But their recent exchange of letters and a voice mail message seems more like game playing….on both sides.

Brown wrote to Warren, urging that she denounce such outside ads.  (There have been two anti-Brown ads by the League of Conservation Voters blasting him for his environmental stands.) Warren was the target of an ad run by a Carl Rove-backed group, picturing her as a radical professor claiming to have been the founding mother of the Occupy Movement and, at the same time, supporting bank bailouts. Warren agreed to Brown’s call to denounce outside ads and called for an “enforceable agreement,” according to the Boston Globe.

And that’s the point. The Supreme Court’s January 2010 decision in the Citizens United case banned limits on independent spending on behalf of candidates by individuals, corporations and unions. The First Amendment, the Court said in its expansive ruling, bars such constraints on political speech. This has opened the floodgates to spending “independent of the candidates.” So how can any agreement be enforceable? Remember the Weld-Kerry race and the voluntary spending limits which each accused the other of violating? Both did. There’s no price to be paid for denouncing such ads, and candidates who do so may be viewed more favorably than those who do not. In fact, we probably feel good that our Senate candidates are taking the right position.

Enforceable how and by whom? Other than a reversal of the Court’s decision, how can anyone stop independent groups from using the airwaves on behalf of one candidate or the other. Both the candidates should be honest about the futility of trying to do so.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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