Brown, Warren agree to anti-super-PAC pledge, other candidates could follow

Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) and his Democratic rival, Elizabeth Warren, have reached a groundbreaking agreement to deter super-PACs and outside groups from dominating their Senate race with millions of dollars of ads, Brown said Monday.

The agreement marks the first attempt by candidates to wrest control of their races back from groups over whom they have no direct control, and could set a precedent for other races. It also comes almost two years to the day after the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case that unleashed the flood of outside spending.

"This is a great victory for the people of Massachusetts, and a bold statement that puts Super PACs and other third parties on notice that their interference in this race will not be tolerated," Brown said in a statement to The Hill. "This historic agreement means the candidates will be in control of their own campaigns and accountable for what is said."

The pact signed by Warren and Brown on Monday imposes a financial penalty whenever an outside group intrudes on the race. If an outside group places a television or Internet ad supporting a candidate, the candidate would be required to donate 50 percent of the cost of the ad to a charity of the opponent's choosing within three days. Negative attack ads would also trigger the penalty, with the candidate whose rival is attacked being forced to forfeit half the cost.

Also included in the accord are written requests signed by both candidates to broadcast station managers imploring them to voluntarily enforce the pledge.

While outside groups are not legally bound by the agreement, the goal is to create a disincentive strong enough to convince the groups that by wading into the race, they do more harm than damage to their preferred candidate.

But while the pact represented a rare moment of cooperation in a discordant and highly competitive Senate race, efforts by both candidates to seize the moral high ground signaled that the bipartisan sentiment would likely be short-lived.

"My hope is that the extreme liberal groups who planned to pollute the airwaves with their false and misleading ads in support of Professor Warren can now pack their bags and find someplace else to do their dirty work," Brown said.

And before the ink had dried on the agreement, both candidates were jostling over who deserved credit for taking such an unprecedented step.

"I know she's trying to take credit for this as being her thing, but we offered her two proposals, and up until a week and a half ago, she was defending outside group ads," said a source close to Brown's campaign, referring to Warren. "We have been driving this, not her."

The Brown campaign also identified negative online ads that two liberal groups are running to support Warren, questioning whether the Democratic front-runner was already in violation of the agreement she signed hours earlier.

Warren's campaign, meanwhile, pointed out that she had been the first to propose that the candidates develop an "enforceable agreement."

"I appreciate Scott Brown's quick and affirmative response to my proposal this morning," Warren said in an email. "With our joint agreement we have now moved beyond talk to real action to stop advertising from third party groups. But both campaigns will need to remain vigilant to ensure that outside groups do not try to circumvent what is an historic agreement."

The open question that remains is whether outside groups — including those that have already vowed to drop millions in the race — would abide by the agreement. The League of Conservation Voters, which dropped $1.8 million in October on ads targeting Brown, told The Hill on Friday that they would consider abiding by a pact, but would look to see whether groups aligned with Brown were also adhering to it.

American Crossroads, a conservative group formed by Karl Rove that has attacked Warren and other Democratic Senate recruits already this cycle, declined to comment on any strategies going forward, but pointed out that typical union tactics — such as direct mail, phone banks and get-out-the-vote drives — wouldn't fall under the agreement.

"Warren’s latest agreement has loopholes the Teamsters could drive a truck though, the longshoremen could steer a ship through, the machinists could fly a plane through, and government unions could drive forklifts of paperwork through,” said American Crossroads President Steven Law.

Leading up to the agreement was a week and a half of proposals and counter-proposals as the candidates worked to close perceived loopholes and one-up each other, painting their opponent as standing in the way of reaching consensus. A meeting between the two candidates' campaign managers on Friday ended in an impasse.

As late as Monday morning, Brown was calling on Warren to "put aside her political rhetoric" and sign his second version of the agreement. Minutes later, Warren countered, circulating to reporters what she called her strengthened version of the proposal. Warren's changes included new language to prevent outside groups from deeming their ads as "issue ads" to skirt the penalties of the agreement, and binding those who work with the campaigns to the same agreement.

Hours later, Brown appeared on Fox News to announce he had signed the agreement, heralding it as having "real teeth" and bemoaning the super-PAC ads as harmful for the electoral process.

"They're false and misleading, people know better, they're smarter, they want to learn about the candidates," Brown said.

"They don't need these outside groups trying to buy elections and do things inappropriately," he added.

Outside groups have already spent millions on attack ads in the Senate race in Massachusetts, one of the most closely watched races and one where Democrats are most hopeful about picking up a seat as part of their efforts to hold on to control of the Senate.

Their agreement could have implications for other races on the House, Senate and presidential level as candidates work to deter spending from groups that don't have to disclose their donors and can accept unlimited contributions from corporations and individuals. The issue has already become a major point of contention in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, with Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney battling over whether either candidate bears responsibility for super-PACs airing vicious ads on their behalf.

Warren, who helped President Obama create the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, is expected to give the incumbent Brown a tough reelection battle. The Harvard law professor has rabid support in the state and raised almost $10 million in less than six months, establishing herself as the top Senate fundraiser of the cycle to date.

Brown remains popular in Massachusetts and has almost $13 million in the bank to fund his reelection fight.

—This story was posted at 9:39 a.m. and has been updated.