Berkley called on her Republican rival, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, to agree to make hefty charitable donations if outside groups launch television or radio ads on behalf of either campaign. Under the agreement, each candidate would donate 60 percent of the cost of the ad buy to a charity of the other candidate’s choice if that ad supports their candidacy or attacks their opponent through narration, text or images.
“As candidates, I believe we owe it to the people of Nevada to speak for ourselves,” Berkley told reporters after filing her campaign paperwork with the state Wednesday. Heller filed his paperwork last week.
Berkley acknowledged that the unusual pact cannot be enforced, but said she hoped the penalty would encourage third party groups not to meddle in the race to avoid racking up fines for their preferred candidate. Under federal law, political action committees and outside groups that pay for the ads cannot coordinate with the candidates or their campaigns.
Heller’s campaign quickly dismissed the proposal, calling it “yet another sideshow in the Shelley Berkley campaign circus.”
“If the congresswoman is willing to send her out-of-state money back, we are willing to discuss her pact,” said Mike Slanker, Heller’s campaign consultant.
Radio or TV ads purchased by unions, health care organizations and other groups including the League of Women Voters, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and state and national Democratic and Republican parties, among others, would be subject to the pact. The agreement does not address Web ads, phone banks, direct mail or get-out-the-vote drives, all of which can also be used to influence campaigns.
The proposal is aimed at limiting independent political groups that can spend millions of dollars on attack ads to influence elections. Such ads became more prominent after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case, which eased restrictions on the use of corporate money in political campaigns and paved the way for millions of dollars in spending by super PACs.
“We shouldn’t have to rely on third parties to do the dirty work,” Berkley said.
Berkley said her attacks on outside ad buys were not a slight against Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who won re-election against Republican Sharron Angle in 2010 with the help of third-party dollars. Of the $14 million that third-party groups and political action committees spent in that election, $7.3 million came from Democratic-leaning organizations.
“What I am saying is that maybe Dean and I can do this differently,” Berkley said.
Berkley said the pact is necessary to ensure that voters, not deep pockets, decide the election.
In Massachusetts, Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren, agreed to a similar ad ban agreement in January. In that race, Brown initiated the pact and Warren consented six days later.
Heller, who was elected to the House three times before he was appointed to the Senate last year, is expected to face Berkley in November in an evenly matched contest. She has represented Las Vegas in the House since 1998. Both had roughly $3.7 million cash on hand after the final fundraising quarter of 2011.
The race could decide whether Democrats retain control of the Senate.
Both candidates face primary contests.
At least two Democrats are challenging Berkley in the primary, including former U.S. House candidate Nancy Price. Price lost to Heller in 2010.
Heller will face at least three Republican rivals, including Ed Hamilton, a frequent candidate.
The ad proposal comes amid complaints that Berkley does not fully embrace free speech. Berkley urged Clear Channel Communications last week to pull Rush Limbaugh’s show off the air after the conservative talk radio host made insulting comments about a Georgetown University law student.