Berkley: Stop the third-party spending!

Rep. Shelly Berkley today called on her opponent for U.S. Senate, Dean Heller, to agree to renounce all outside spending in their high-profile contest.

Heller’s campaign consultant, Mike Slanker, swiftly rejected the overture, however.

Berkley’s “Free Nevada Pact” is similar to an agreement proposed by Republican Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and agreed to by his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren.

Essentially, it works like this: Both candidates agree to renounce all third-party ads (including those from super-PACs, 527 groups, political parties, labor unions and business groups). If a third-party group does air an ad on behalf of one of the candidates, his or her opponent agrees to pay 60 percent of the cost of that ad to charity. (Thus, third-party spending actually hurts a candidate.)

Berkley said the pact was a response to the increase in politically corrosive outside dollars. In the 2010 Senate race between Harry Reid and Sharron Angle, third-party spending reached more than $14 million on both sides.

“These so-called super-PACs, funded by third-parties like self-interested millionaires and billionaires and profit-hungry corporations are overpowering the voices of Nevada voters and damaging the democratic process,” Berkley said. “What I’m saying is, join with me, Dean. Let the voters of the state of Nevada make this decision without outside influence of millions and millions of dollars pouring into this state with negative ads where there’s no accountability and no way to track the money.”

Berkley cleverly heaped praise on Heller’s record of election reform as a way to show he was amenable to transparency in the past. “Throughout my opponent’s career, Dean Heller has been a leader on transparency and accountability in the elections process,” Berkley said. “As secretary of state, he spoke eloquently about the importance of disclosure of candidates and groups, about restoring public confidence in the political process and about the legal and moral obligations for fair and honest campaigns.”

In background materials, Berkley’s campaign unearthed Heller quotes in support of campaign finance disclosure. (One of the arguments against super-PAC and independent expenditure groups is that the source of their funding is occluded.) In 2000, for example, Heller (then secretary of state) said flatly in an infamous anonymous flier case that “voters have a right to know who is financing campaign material. Anonymous political literature that seeks only to damage an individual’s character threatens the integrity of the electoral process.”

But neither the praise of Heller’s past stances nor the appeal to good government were successful. Less than two hours after Berkley’s news conference proposing the pact, Heller campaign consultant Mike Slanker released this statement:

“Yet another sideshow in the Shelley Berkley Campaign Circus. ‘Free Nevada?’ Three quarters of her contributions come from outside Nevada. If the Congresswoman is willing to send her out-of-state money back, we are willing to discuss her pact.”

(That’s a no, by the way.)

But Slanker well knows that campaign contributions made to candidates are limited and subject to full disclosure, as opposed to super-PAC money. In fact, Slanker himself once complained about outside group spending. In 2006, working on Heller’s Republican primary race for Congress, Slanker denounced outside spending by the group Club for Growth on behalf of Sharron Angle.

“The Club for Growth bought the race in Michigan, and they are spending $1 million to try to buy it for Angle here,” Slanker said then. “It is a sad commentary on representative government when people can be elected who are bought and paid for by people outside their district.”

Indeed, although every congressional campaign accepts money from people who don’t live in the district.

Berkley’s campaign was understated in its response, a sign that she’s very serious about trying to get Heller to agree to sign the pact. Jessica Mackler, Berkley’s campaign manager said this:

“Limited, fully transparent donations to a campaign are completely different from the secretive third party organizations that are running attack ads funded by unlimited corporate, undisclosed and billionaire’s donations. We again ask Senator Heller to sit down to discuss the pact in good faith.”

I’m guessing this is going nowhere, for two main reasons. First, Heller spent much of last week being led by Berkley. (He was forced to denounce comments by radio host Rush Limbaugh after Berkley focused on the issue, and she taunted him for not signing a pledge to excise Limbaugh from the airwaves.) In any campaign, it is never a good day when you are being led by your opposition.

Second, the sheer amount of money now available to candidates—as well as the high-profile of Nevada’s Senate race, which guarantees outside groups’ interest—make signing the pledge a bad tactical idea. Who would want to turn down millions in campaign advertising that you don’t have to raise or pay for yourself? It’s not a tough decision, especially when the argument in favor of it amounts to “good government.”

UPDATE: Here’s my report that aired on Wednesday on 8NewsNow:

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8 Responses to “Berkley: Stop the third-party spending!”

  1. Steve says:

    During the Brown Campaign the Supreme court ruling had not as yet been decided if memory serves. So during that campaign it truly had an effect of keeping it inside the state.

    I don’t know, but I think this would not be the case under that ruling today. How would either campaign stop the airing of commercials from independent parties interested in supporting candidates of their choice?
    Prior to that ruling I think campaigns had some power and influence on outside interests as they could claim some ethics troubles, isn’t that part of what the court removed?
    I just don’t see it being workable and possibly hurts one or both campaigns as neither has input or control of that money.
    If I am correct in this it really says something about Shelly Berkeley and her campaign and its not good.

    On the other hand it speaks well of the chess game from Hellers campaign and I can’t say I am upset about that.

  2. Steve says:

    Missed that part. Hopped right over Liz Warren.

    I still don’t know how a deal like that is workable, neither campaign controls the pac money and by the ruling cannot get involved with it. Also the pac cannot get involved with the campaign so if a deal is brokered then could not both candidates be suspected of breaking a FERC law?

  3. Steve says:

    Did some reading on this agreement. Its spreading.

    Brown cut a check to an Autism charity just a couple days ago. Two liberal super pacs pulled commercials supporting Warren right away after the agreement was made. So it seems to be working, right?

    Brown is making big noise about this being his proposal, not Warrens’. Now come some of the first conspiracy theories and wouldn’t you know it? From Huff. Suspicion Romneys’ super pac made the add on Google and it cost Brown about 340 which he raised to a grand. Makes Brown look wonderful right? Makes Huff suspect foul play in reverse. Its tiny money.

    I think Heller made the correct move here, in politics ideas like this work only for a short while. Could have been just as easy to get an unknown super pac to buy airtime supporting Warren, costing a bunch more and I bet there are campaigns across the country thinking this very thing.

  4. nice try, rochelle …both you and warren i boston, ma are going down in the general election (so start looking for a private sector job, please).

  5. Steve says:

    Eddie, beer blogging is a bad move for a registered candidate.

  6. ColinFromLasVegas says:

    Enjoyed the article.

    This looks like a smart move by Rep. Berkley. Because she knows Sen. Heller, appointed to this Senate Seat, not elected, appointed, don’t have a message at all, so he would have no alternative but to say no to the proposition.

    Because in the Tea/Republican Party world nowadays, that’s all they got. BUY the election. I mean, c’mon, Steve, we’re talking about a Nevada government official who has the distinction of voting not once, BUT TWICE, for the stupid Ryan Plan that would bankrupt the elderly by giving them an inferior health plan to replace Medicare. Not only that, but look at his overall voting record. He is not helping Nevada, he’s hindering it.

    I applaud Rep. Berkley for going after him. And going after him hard, relentless and often.

    I still say the Nevada Tea/Republican Party blew their chance at this Senate Seat after Ensign quit. He ran with his tail between his legs, getting out while the getting was good, knowing he was going to get kicked out and/or prosecuted for corruption. Ensign is a sleaze bucket and, as far as I’m concerned, the Nevada Tea/Republican Party had their chance at this, and they blew it. Enough is enough. Doesn’t sound fair, but they MUST pay for this Ensign debacle. And I intend to cast my vote to make sure they understand that.

    Rep. Berkley’s got my vote. Her time in Congress has been exemplary, her votes have been timely and rational and she clearly has the best interests of Nevada in mind.

    I’m sick and tired of this Tea/Republican Party extreme and radical agenda. I have no alternative to vote all them bums out of power.

    It’s getting old looking at how Tea/Republicans vote all the time and then justify why they voted that way to do…nothing.

    We need forward momentum to fix not only Nevada, but America too.

    Heller ain’t it. I just hope people see this sham of a divided government is crap.

    Serious buyer’s remorse time.

  7. Steve says:

    The tax increase was due to sunset. The legislature cannot extend the same bill, they must enact new legislation creating the same tax over the new period. So it takes 2/3 vote to pass it. If you look at the microsecond of time the old law expired and the new one took its place then there is a decrease to the original and an immediate increase to the new (albeit same) rate. This is splitting hairs to an extreme. Your best argument would be “a difference that makes no difference is no difference.” (Recognize that?)

    This is irritating to watch and I refuse to “twit”

  8. Andrew says:

    “millions and millions of dollars pouring into this state” sounds good to me. I will gladly sit through the annoyance of an ugly election for there to be an influx of cash and business into the state.