Warren, Brown to hold summit on banning outside group spending

The incumbent and leading challenger in the nation's most closely-watched Senate race have agreed to a meeting between their campaign managers to see what can be done to keep outside groups from airing millions of dollars in ads attacking both candidates.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) sent Democrat Elizabeth Warren a letter on Friday challenging her to join him in denouncing outside groups, who have already spent millions on attack ads in the race. Rather than ignore the challenge, Warren called Brown on his cell phone — and sent him a letter proposing a meeting between the two campaigns to reach an "enforceable agreement" to rein in the outside groups.

Now the Brown campaign says it will dispatch its campaign manager to meet with his counterpart in Warren's campaign.

The result — if both candidates make good on the meeting — could be the first attempt at a brokered arrangement between two candidates dealing with outside groups since the game was changed in 2010 by the Citizens United ruling. The dispute also has the two rivals in a marquee Senate race entering largely unchartered territory as they look for ways to restrain outside groups without violating prohibitions on coordinating with them.

The squabble dates back to early December, when Brown's campaign started blasting Warren for alleged hypocrisy, claiming she took issue with ads that targeted her but defended those that attacked her opponent. Brown has said he would like all outside negative ads to be taken down, while Warren has said she doesn't like them, but that outside groups accurately depicting a candidate's record should be allowed in a Democracy.

Liberal and conservative have already spent millions of dollars on the Senate race, easily outpacing what the candidates themselves have put on the air. Crossroads GPS, a conservative group founded by Karl Rove, has spent heavily to tie Warren to violent elements of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Meanwhile, the League of Conservation Voters spent $1.8 million on Massachusetts television to link Brown with big oil and environmental exploitation.

In the letter Brown sent to Warren on Friday, he asked her to personally join his call for outside groups to stay out of the race.

"I believe candidates have a responsibility to speak out against these groups regardless of whether those groups are seeking to help them or harm them," Brown wrote. "It has been disappointing that you have repeatedly refused to join my call for an end to this spending."

Two hours later, Warren sent Brown a letter of her own — and followed up with a phone call. A campaign aide said Warren left a voicemail for Brown on his cellphone, but was unable to reach him directly.

"If you are serious about stopping the political games and getting to the hard work of keeping out third party ads and independent groups, I’m ready. My campaign manager is prepared to meet with your representative to begin immediately to craft an enforceable agreement," Warren wrote.

A Brown aide told The Hill late Friday that the senator's campaign manager, Jim Barnett, had agreet to meet with Mindy Myers, who is running Warren's campaign. A Warren aide said they hadn't yet heard back from the Brown campaign, but would work out the details in the near future.

"We’re pleased that Professor Warren appears to have finally had a change of heart about the negative influence of outside special interests, and will be further encouraged when and if she actually joins Sen. Brown’s call for outside groups on both sides to cease their interference in Massachusetts," Barnett said in a statement. A Brown spokesman did not immediately respond to a message left asking whether the senator would agree to a sit-down between the two campaigns. Crossroads too declined to respond when asked whether it would heed Brown's call to stop airing attack ads on his behalf.

Even if Warren and Brown reached a consensus to keep outside groups out of their race, it's unclear how either could enforce it. Super PACs are responsible only to themselves, and candidates would violate election law if they directly asked them to take any action.

But in 1996 in Massachusetts, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and then-Gov. Bill Weld (R-Mass.) negotiated a spending cap for the race. The two met at Kerry's home and agreed to a $6.9 million maximum, though both candidates later accused each other of exceeding it.

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