Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Markey’s refusal to sign pledge against dark money in politics reveals inconsistency

U.S. Senate candidates Joe Kennedy III and Shannon Liss-Riordan signed onto the People’s Pledge Monday, an agreement banning advertisements from third-party groups and requiring any candidate that pays for TV, radio, digital or mail ads to also donate half of that spending to charity.

The goal of the pact is to lessen the value of money in political success by decreasing incentives for candidates to spend copious amounts on advertising and instead spread their messages in other ways like town halls.

The biggest catch in all of this is not who signed onto the agreement, but rather who didn’t. Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey declined to join the pact and instead released his own milder pact hours after Kennedy and Liss-Riordan’s support for the People’s Pledge.

Markey’s plan would allow some outside funding from groups that disclose their donors and argued in a statement “progressive organizations have the right to make their voices heard in this critical election.”

Interestingly, Markey was a huge supporter of a plan in 2013 that is strikingly similar to the People’s Pledge and would have eliminated outside spending that benefits candidates before Markey had gained considerable support as an incumbent.

But since winning office and garnering massive support throughout the state, the main objective of Markey’s current modifications, it seems, is to maintain his own large donors while still throwing a bone to constituents against big money in politics.

It is understandable why Markey would be hesitant to give up his large supporters. Environment Massachusetts, an organization aimed at raising awareness of environmental issues, has pledged $5 million to Markey’s campaign — more than the senator’s campaign has overall.

And as Kennedy told journalists at the signing Monday, allowing subjective judgement of who can and cannot support candidates through funding their advertisements “is a loophole big enough to drive a truck through.”

The People’s Pledge is meant to level the playing field in the race and not discount candidates that don’t have as many large, wealthy organizations behind them. This allows voters to make decisions based on the political motives and goals of candidates rather than choose a candidate because they’ve seen their face on TV more often.

There is no instance in which an organization should have more effect on politics than the people. Individuals within organizations are free to and encouraged to make themselves heard, including through political donations. 

But no larger profit-making entity should be able to contribute vast amounts of money that will likely result in political favors that may have little or nothing to do with what constituents desire.

This may not have been a harmful political move for Markey had he not already expressed his interest in such a pledge years earlier. Had he simply declined now without any precedent, it may make a difference in some voters’ minds, but would not have the same ring of hypocrisy that his choice does today.

Until now, Markey had been surprisingly progressive for his age and tenure in the political world. He has become the beloved senior senator from Massachusetts and was mostly assumed to be able to continue his career until Kennedy stepped into the race earlier this year.

But straying from the politics of Elizabeth Warren, known for relying on small donations throughout her presidential campaign, especially when his opponents haven’t, could certainly hurt Markey’s advantage in the race. This action does not unravel his entire lovable and level-headed persona, but it’s the type of move that could put a dent in any politician’s reputation — and Markey is no exception.

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