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'People's Pledge' in Massachusetts Senate race got mixed reviews

January 18, 2013 |  6:00 am

Los Angeles mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti greets the audience at a mayoral candidate debate in September. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Rainey logoLos Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti’s call for a “People’s Pledge” — to limit spending by outside groups in the L.A. mayor’s race — hails from Massachusetts, where a similar pact got mixed reviews from the Boston Globe.

The Boston newspaper editorialized after the recent U.S. Senate showdown between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown that an agreement between the candidates tamped down so-called independent expenditures.

But one of the newspaper's columnists, Jeff Jacoby, said the pact (which required the candidates to counter any outside spending on their behalf by sending half the amount in a donation to charity) limited third-party spending only to a point. And it did nothing to stop eye-gouging waged in the candidates’ own names.

Having candidates slap each other around — rather than relying on others to do it — can be counted as a kind of progress. The Globe post-election editorial said that the Brown-Warren campaign proved that “it’s still possible — and desirable — to run a campaign in which each side takes full responsibility for what’s said in its name.”

The candidates and others had suggested they would be able to maintain a high-minded discourse if others did not intervene. But columnist Jacoby said it didn’t work out that way.

“Brown pronounced Warren unfit to be a senator because she failed the ‘test … of character and honesty and truthfulness,'"  Jacoby wrote.  “Warren’s campaign accused Brown of ‘running a relentlessly negative campaign filled with personal attacks and intentional distortions.’ His staffers mocked her with ‘Cherokee’ war whoops. [Warren had been accused of falsely claiming Native American heritage.] Her commercials painted him as hostile to women.”

The Massachusetts pledge related only to outsiders buying TV, radio and online advertising. It did not address direct mail and, as a result, independent groups dumped a “blizzard” of $6.6 million into fliers and attack mailers. (The Brown and Warren campaigns, combined, spent more than $70 million in the most expensive Senate race in the country.)

In Los Angeles, Garcetti said he would add direct mail advertising to his pledge.

The councilman’s gambit came after the union representing Department of Water and Power employees pledged to launch an independent campaign — along with entertainment industry allies — to help Garcetti’s biggest rival, City Controller Wendy Greuel.

Greuel and her camp rejected the pledge as a “gimmick” and said they preferred to focus on issues of greater concern to voters.


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-- James Rainey

Twitter: LATimesrainey

Times political writer James Rainey will be filing dispatches from the campaign trail during the 2013 Los Angeles elections season. You can follow him on Twitter: @LATimesrainey

Photo: Los Angeles mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti greets the audience at a mayoral candidate debate in September. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times