Ayotte, Hassan Tussle Over Signing 'People's Pledge' in US Senate Race

Feb 12, 2016

Credit NHPR Staff

Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte is calling on Democratic challenger, Governor Maggie Hassan, to sign a pledge that aims to limit third party spending in the race for US Senate.

The so-called People’s Pledge proposes the candidates agree to pay fines in the form of charitable donations when third party ads are aired in their favor.

That same pledge was used in the 2012 Massachusetts Senate race.


Ayotte signed the pledge this week, and speaking to NHPR’s Morning Edition, she urged Hassan to do the same.

"This is about how we want to conduct ourselves in the race and we already have a precedent for it," she said. "Gov. Hassan, since she's gotten in this race, has railed against third party special interest groups and spending. This is an opportunity to do something about it." 

There’s already been an estimated $2.4 million in third party spending in the race, most of it benefiting Ayotte. 

Hassan’s campaign says they’re reviewing the pledge.

"Last night, the Governor called Senator Ayotte and said our campaign is reviewing the proposal and we have some ideas for how we might make it stronger -- and that our campaign will be following up with Senator Ayotte's today," said campaign spokesman Aaron Jacobs.

Hassan's campaign has also criticized Ayotte for her refusal to help overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

"Governor Maggie Hassan has fought long and hard for campaign finance reform, opposes the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that helped unleash Super-PACs, and believes overturning Citizens United is essential to our democracy," campaign manager Marc Golberg said Thursday.

“Meanwhile, Senator Ayotte has supported the Koch Brothers' agenda nearly 90% of the time in her first four years in the Senate, called for more dark money groups like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, and voted against overturning Citizens United."

Senator Ayotte joined NHPR’s Morning Edition to talk about her proposal.

Senator, there’s already been an estimated $2.4 million in third-party spending on ads in this race, most of it benefiting your campaign. Why wait until now to bring this up?

Well, first of all, we’ve just seen a presidential primary where we witnessed tens of millions of dollars in third-party spending here in New Hampshire. Certainly, it was a lot of spending. It was excessive. In one case, there was an ad that used my likeness without my permission by one group to attack their opponent.

This is an opportunity, with attention no longer focused on the primary, to really look forward in this race. This is really the beginning of the race in the sense that the focus is going to be on this race. This is a perfect opportunity for us with the primary in our background that we say we’re going to take responsibility for our ads. We keep the third-party special interest groups out, and we know there’s a precedent for it because it was used in the 2012 Massachusetts race, so it’s worked.

You benefited from nearly $6 million in outside third party spending during your first run for Senate in 2010.

Have your views on this issue changed at all between then and now?

My views on changing the First Amendment; I don’t want to change the First Amendment. Proposals that are out there that would try to change the First Amendment; I trust James Madison more than I trust Harry Reid or anyone else in Washington. This is about how we want to conduct ourselves in this race. And so in terms of the issue as a whole, if there are ways to address it without changing the First Amendment or rewriting our Constitution, which I worry could infringe on people’s rights in ways that we can’t even anticipate.

This is about how we want to conduct ourselves in the race and we already have a precedent for it. Gov. Hassan, since she’s gotten in this race, has railed against third-party special interest groups and spending so this is an opportunity to do something about it.

You endorsed Republican Scott Brown in the Senate race here in 2014, and when Senator Shaheen challenged him to take this same pledge, he refused, saying it was too late because millions had already been spent on third-party ads.

Was Scott Brown wrong to refuse the pledge then and couldn’t Gov. Hassan make the same argument now?

I think that every candidate has to decide on their own race what they want to do. There’s been money spent against me for years, going back several years, millions of dollars. So to say that somehow that means we shouldn’t do it in this race; every race has to be conducted between the two candidates that are running it.

Hassan’s campaign says she’s reviewing the pledge, but in response, her campaign cited your opposition to overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

Why not seek to overturn that decision?

Well, the proposals that have been out there involve rewriting the First Amendment to the Constitution, and in my humble opinion, it hasn’t been changed in over 200 years. Again, that’s why I don’t support that. That’s been one of the proposals that have been out there. If there are ways to address this without rewriting the Constitution that are even-handed, I’m very open to that.

Gov. Hassan did call me last night and left me a message. She has said that she wants to change the pledge. I think the pledge is one that we know has worked, so I’m not sure why she just won’t sign the pledge as it is. It seems we already know from what happened in the ’12 race it did have the effect of dramatically reducing spending and it’s one that we know is even handed and works effectively. So I’m hoping she’ll change her mind on that.