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Gansler Calls For Democratic Opponents to Reject ‘Dark Money’

ganslerDouglas Gansler is calling on his fellow Democratic rivals for Maryland governor to sign a pledge to reject independent expenditures in the 2014 campaign.

“It is easy to talk about reform, the test is – are you willing to do something to keep outside money out of Maryland,” Gansler said in an emailed statement from his campaign. “The candidates pledge is a chance to do just that.  It is a chance not to talk, but to act.”

The pledge to which Gansler refers is similar to one signed by Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown in the 2012 Massachusetts Senate race.

In that race, Common Cause Massachusetts reported that independent expenditures amounted to just 10 percent of the money spent on the U.S. Senate campaign.

That same group, however, reported that the pledge “turned out to be a fleeting if significant precedent” as the candidates in the 2013 special election to replace then-Sen. John Kerry opted not to forgo independent expenditures.

In the 2013 Massachusetts race, those expenditures totaled nearly $7.1 million or about 34 percent of all money spent on the race. The national average for independent expenditures was 32 percent of money raised for campaigns, according to the group’s report.

Under the terms of the pledge favored by Gansler, prohibits “third party non-candidate entities or organizations from spending money on radio, cable, online advertising, and direct mail that names any of the candidates for governor.”

This is not the first time Gansler has raised concerns about independent expenditures. In 2011, Gansler’s Maryland Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on Campaign Finance released a 122-page report that made recommendations to reform the state’s campaign finance laws. One of those recommendations included stricter reporting requirements for independent expenditures.

The campaigns of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Del. Heather Mizeur did not have immediate comments on Gansler’s challenge.

Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director for Common Cause Maryland, praised Gansler’s call to forgo independent expenditures.

“This has been incredibly successful in other places where it’s been done,” said Bevan-Dangel. “Every time these pledges are signed the money spent goes down and opportunities to talk about issues goes up.”

Common Cause does not endorse political candidates.

Bevan-Dangel said her organization, which favors campaign finance reforms, is concerned about the effect of what she called “dark money” on Maryland elections.

“Independent expenditures are going to be a growing issue in Maryland politics,” Bevan-Dangel said. “We saw a lot of that in 2012 with the ballot initiatives and I think we’ll see an uptick in this dark money as a result of the Supreme Court decision. 2014 will be the first statewide election since Citizens United. This will be a really telling year.

“A lot of groups are starting to realize that the state legislature is where the action is,” Bevan-Dangel said. “They’re not shut down and they’re still passing bills.”