The Massachusetts senatorial candidates are asking for no third-party advertisements in the upcoming race. But are they going too far in trying to silence the electorate?
Maybe Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown are sincere in their stated desires to stop third parties (in other words, citzens) from trying to influence the Massachusetts Senate race with ad buys, or maybe they're engaged in political posturing. In either case, an agreement by candidates to try to silence their respective supporters is less an exercise in good government than it is un-self-conscious elitism. It reflects obvious contempt for the political-speech rights of people and groups the candidates aim to govern. It signals mistrust of voters: candidates who believed what they say about the intelligence and common sense of the voting public would have faith in the public's ability to tune out or tune in and evaluate political ads. Besides, not all ads are false and misleading. Some are informative, or equally informative as claims made by candidates themselves.
Candidates naturally want to monopolize electoral speech; they want to "control the narrative."
Keep in mind that the third-party groups targeted by the proposed Brown/Warren agreement would presumably not be limited to well-endowed, independent-in-name-only groups, effectively acting on behalf of the candidates, created and run by close allies. Presumably, advocacy groups will also be asked to stifle themselves during the campaign: If the agreement is to have any appreciable effect, pro-choice organizations will be pressured to abstain from running ads attacking Brown's record on choice. Pro-business groups will be expected not to criticize Warren's economic policies.
How would the Brown/Warren demands be enforced? The expenditures of disobedient advocates and activists would, in effect, be charged to the candidates, according to a Brown proposal. He and Warren would agree to contribute to charity half the cost of offending ads run on their behalf.
Of course, Brown and Warren are entitled to fine themselves for the speech of others if they wish, and their agreement would not (and could not) impose any legal restrictions on the rights of independent groups. But it seems fair to assume that they would impose legally binding rules on outside groups if they could: campaign-finance reform has always aimed, in part, at restricting third-party speech and "influence" on elections. (Imagine that -- citizens trying to influence elections.)