Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren Rebel Against Super-PACs

Sen. Scott Brown and his challenger Elizabeth Warren come together to protest Citizens United.

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Of all the populist backlashes of the past few years, the revolt by rivals Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren is the most impressive.

Brown, the Massachusetts Republican up for re-election this year, and Warren, the Harvard professor and leading Democratic candidate to take on Brown this fall, are mounting their own small but symbolically important protest. Call it "Occupy Citizens United."

[Read the U.S. News debate: Are Super PACs Harming U.S. Politics?]

At Brown's suggestion, the two political foes have agreed to a joint strategy to discourage outside groups from running ads for and against the two candidates. The plan is meant to thwart the potentially destructive impact of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allowed corporations, labor unions, and other outside groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns. Such "Super-PACs" have already had an enormous impact in the Republican presidential primary, running ads of questionable veracity that are not sanctioned—not officially, anyway—by the candidates themselves.

Candidates can't stand the idea of facing attacks mounted by largely unregulated outside groups. But they also often don't like the ad campaigns run ostensibly on their behalf, since such activity takes control of the campaign away from the candidate himself or herself.

[Check out political cartoons about Super-PACs.]

Brown and Warren, who are expected to wage a heated and competitive battle for a seat that could determine control of the U.S. Senate next year, honorably joined together in an effort to discourage such ads. Under the deal, each candidate would pay a penalty of half the amount of money an outside group paid to run TV or Internet ads against the other candidate. The cash would go to a charity chosen by the attacked candidate. The two contenders also asked broadcast outlets to support the pledge. Groups could still use cash for things like direct mail and get-out-the-vote efforts.

It's unlikely that the effort will put Super-PACs and big-money interests out of business. But it's a valiant, and unusually bipartisan, step in the right direction.

  • Read more about Super-PACs and the 2012 race.
  • See the GOP's top Senate targets for 2012.
  • Ken Walsh's Washington: Super PACs Defining the 2012 Presidential Race