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Hassan: Warren and Shaheen’s Dark Money Pledge Didn’t Go Far Enough

Balks at pledge based off of 2012 and 2014 races

Maggie Hassan
Maggie Hassan / AP
• February 12, 2016 11:50 am

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New Hampshire Senate hopeful Maggie Hassan continues to shun a pledge aimed at cracking down on dark money that two of her biggest allies endorsed in the past, while touting a proposal to severely curb campaign spending.

Freshman Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte signed the People’s Pledge on Wednesday, agreeing to donate half of the value of third party attack ads to a charity of Hassan’s choosing. Ayotte invited Hassan, a two-term governor, to join her in the pledge on Thursday.

"We owe it to the people of New Hampshire to have an honest discussion of our respective records and stand behind the ads run on our behalf. But excessive spending by third party special interest groups threatens to drown out New Hampshire voices in our race and undermine the meaningful debate that our citizens expect and deserve," Ayotte said in the letter. "Campaigns don’t have to be driven by third party groups—we can change the status quo and take a stand to say this race should be about New Hampshire."

Hassan’s campaign, which did not return Washington Free Beacon requests for comment, countered with a new pledge that would cap campaign spending at $15 million. The campaigns would have to donate 50 percent of all spending in excess of $15 million to charity.

"Granite Staters know that it’s not just the outside spending, but the amount of spending on campaigns overall that should be reined in," Hassan said in a letter sent to Ayotte on Friday.

Ayotte said that Hassan's proposal was a poison pill designed to "kill" any meaningful effort to combat dark political money.

"No one should be fooled by Governor Hassan's proposal which has nothing to do with the real issue, which is undisclosed third party special interest spending," Ayotte said in a release. "This move is politician speak for ‘I do not want to sign the People’s Pledge.' Governor Hassan's decision to totally change the intent of the People’s Pledge is an attempt to kill it."

The spending caps would depart from the People’s Pledge signed by two of Hassan’s most prominent supporters, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., NH). Warren beat Republican Scott Brown in 2012 after agreeing to the pledge, a race in which the campaigns spent about $80 million. Warren, a firebrand Democratic populist and frequent critic of political donations, outspent Brown by about 20 percent, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Brown refused to sign the People’s Pledge in his failed 2014 run against Shaheen. She hit Brown for that decision in an attack ad aired statewide, saying that the People’s Pledge was just as valid in the midterms as it was in 2012.

"It was the right thing to do in Massachusetts, and it’s the right thing to do here. New Hampshire deserves a clean election, too," the ad said.

Hassan’s campaign said in a release that its proposal goes further than the previous pledges, while remaining true to the spirit of campaign finance reform.

"The strengthened New Hampshire People’s Pledge also restores the preamble of the 2012 pledge from which the language of Senator Ayotte’s proposal was drawn," the campaign said in a release. "The preamble clarifies the purpose of the pledge—including the intent to exclude dark money ‘issue advertisements’—while adding a new commitment to ensuring that money does not control politics in New Hampshire."

Ayotte campaign manager Jon Kohan said in a statement that Hassan should accept the pledge in its current form, which would apply to attack ads that mention candidates by name, while allowing issue groups to advocate their positions without penalizing any campaign.

"After spending the day attacking Kelly for proposing the People’s Pledge, last night Governor Hassan indicated that she does not intend to accept the pledge in its current form, which Kelly has already signed," Kohan said in a statement. "Hassan’s negative rhetoric and unwillingness to commit to the same terms shows she isn’t serious about the People’s Pledge."

The pledge will only go into effect if both parties agree to it.

Update 12:07 p.m.: This post has been updated to reflect comment from a Sen. Ayotte release.