State Senate candidates Supervisor Scott Wiener, left, and Supervisor Jane Kim. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

State Senate candidates Supervisor Scott Wiener, left, and Supervisor Jane Kim. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

People’s Pledge should be campaign staple

Earlier this month, supervisors Jane Kim and Scott Wiener made news by failing to agree to take the People’s Pledge in their tight District 11 state Senate race. That’s too bad, because the pledge is the best way to keep super-rich donors and special interests from unduly influencing the outcome of elections.

So what is the People’s Pledge? It originated during the 2012 U.S. Senate campaign in Massachusetts between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and then-Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican who authored the pledge. It was designed to limit the influence of outside ads on that campaign. To enforce the pledge, Warren and Brown agreed that if an outside ad ran on television, radio, print or online, the candidate benefiting from the ad would donate from his or her own campaign account one-half of the cost of the ad to a charity of the opposing candidate’s choice.

The pledge worked. After Warren and Brown negotiated and signed the pledge, it reduced outside spending by 93 percent compared with other hotly contested 2012 U.S. Senate races. In short, it’s an effective way to curb super PACs and dark money groups from unduly influencing elections.

But even if Kim and Wiener can’t agree on a pledge to limit outside ads in their campaign, the People’s Pledge should become a staple of campaigns in San Francisco and elsewhere in the years to come. Voters and the media should press candidates — ideally, soon after they announce for office — on whether they will take the pledge.

The problem the People’s Pledge squarely addresses is that rich donors and special interests can contribute unlimited amounts of money to super PACs and dark money groups. These outside groups can then spend unlimited amounts of money to unduly influence elections through ads, so long as the ads are not “coordinated” with a candidate’s campaign.

In recent years, outside groups have increasingly made attempts to game elections, often by running negative ads against candidates. Unlimited outside ad spending has led to calls to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and other controversial Supreme Court campaign finance decisions.

These decisions are having an increasingly corrosive effect on local, state and federal elections by tilting them in favor of the moneyed interests.

Still, it may be years before Citizens United is overturned — if it ever is. In the meantime, we can demand that candidates for all offices — legislative, executive and judicial — do something to prove that they truly support campaign finance reform. They can take the People’s Pledge.

Voters are fed up with outside spending on campaigns by super PACs and dark money groups. In fact, outside ads are too often responsible for a large number of negative ads, including the flood of negative mailers that we have seen in recent campaigns in San Francisco. These ads often distort a candidate’s character and record. They can also obscure the real issues in campaigns. That’s undemocratic.

But by taking the People’s Pledge, candidates can strike a blow for campaign finance reform the way that Warren and Brown did in 2012 in their U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts. They can prove to the people that they will be independent voices for all of us — whether it’s on a school board, a state court, at City Hall, in Sacramento or Washington, D.C. — and not shills for the moneyed interests. By taking the pledge, candidates can prove to the voters that they stand for clean campaigns based on direct contributions to their campaigns, which are subject to reasonable limits and clear disclosure laws.

Many candidates are idealistic when they first decide to run for office. Most candidates don’t decide to run to represent rich donors and the special interests. But if they want to prove to the people that they support campaign finance reform, there is something they can do. They can say no to the special interests by saying yes to the People’s Pledge.

Bob Ryan resides in San Francisco and was a state senate legislative staffer in Sacramento for several years during the 1970s.
Board of SupervisorsBob RyanElizabeth WarrenJane KimPeople’s PledgeSan Franciscoscott brownScott Wiener

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Folks wave from the side of a Muni cable car as it heads down Powell Street after cable car service returns from a 16-month COVID absence on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
San Francisco’s cable cars return after 16-month absence

San Francisco’s cable cars are back, and they’re free for passengers to… Continue reading

Tiffany Carter, owner of Boug Cali West Coast Creole Shack in San Francisco’s La Cocina Marketplace, was dismayed by gentrification she found when she returned to her hometown to start a business. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SF Black Wallstreet: Helping residents build wealth, reclaim spaces they’ve had to leave

Tiffany Carter moved back to her hometown of San Francisco five years… Continue reading

Christina Najjar, 30, a TikTok star known online as Tinx, is one of the social media influencers tapped by the White House to help promote COVID-19 vaccines among young people. (Alyson Aliano/The New York Times)
How an ‘influencer army’ is fighting vaccine lies

By Taylor Lorenz New York Times Ellie Zeiler, 17, a TikTok creator… Continue reading

A great white shark swims off Isla Guadalupe, Mexico. The term “shark attack” is slowly disappearing, at least as a phrase used by researchers and officials who have been rethinking how to describe the moments when sharks and humans meet. (Benjamin Lowy/The New York Times)
Don’t call them ‘shark attacks,’ scientists say

By Alan Yuhas New York Times On the beaches of Northern California,… Continue reading

Vickie Gaddy, a nurse at the intensive care unit, with a 44-year-old patient who later died, at Providence St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, July 27, 2021. Doctors at the hospital say more younger people with COVID-19 are being sent to the ICU. (Isadora Kosofsky/The New York Times)
New COVID surge at a California ICU: ‘When will this ever end?’

By Isadora Kosofsky and Shawn Hubler New York Times Two months ago… Continue reading

Most Read