- Associated Press - Monday, April 28, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The three leading Democratic candidates for Rhode Island governor have reached a voluntary agreement aimed at reducing outside spending in the race, the campaigns said Monday.

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, Treasurer Gina Raimondo and political newcomer Clay Pell signed a “people’s pledge” that calls for any candidate who benefits from an outside group’s advertising to make a donation to charity in the amount of the ad buy. If two candidates benefit, each will donate half the cost.

The pledge covers advertising from so-called super PACs, which have proliferated since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 lifted restrictions on independent spending by corporations and labor unions in the Citizens United case. While super PACs can’t contribute to - or coordinate activities with - campaigns, they may raise and spend unlimited amounts.

John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, who facilitated negotiations on the pledge, called its signing a watershed moment in state politics that will help limit negative, and sometimes undisclosed, outside spending.

Similar pledges have been used elsewhere, including the 2012 U.S. Senate campaign in Massachusetts between Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Scott Brown.

Outside spending is only discouraged under the pledge, as there is no way to ban it.

The pledge’s practical effects on the Rhode Island governor’s race remain to be seen. Raimondo has a big edge in fundraising, with $2.5 million reported on hand at the end of last year compared with $1 million for Taveras and $1.1 million for Pell. Raimondo raised $1.1 million in the first quarter of this year, while Taveras raised $500,000, according to their campaigns. Pell hasn’t released a figure.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a Democrat, is not running for re-election.

Taveras, who first proposed the pledge, lauded its signing, calling it a “highly effective tool for curbing outside spending from shadowy third-party group.”

Pell, who has vowed not to accept contributions from PACs or state lobbyists, also praised it. “From the very beginning of this campaign, I’ve made clear my commitment to transparency and my dedication to changing the politics-as-usual culture in Rhode Island,” he said.

Raimondo said she’s disappointed the pledge didn’t go further.

“This is an important first step to ensuring that our elections aren’t hijacked by outside spending,” she said in a fundraising email sent just after the pledge’s signing was announced. “But the truth is I’m disappointed my opponents didn’t sign the stronger pledge I offered - one that would have allowed outside groups and powerful special interests to spend a grand total of $0.”

A “referee,” who has yet to be named, will moderate any disputes.

The Republican candidates - Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and businessman Ken Block - were invited by Common Cause to the first round of talks on the pledge, but Marion said he got no response from their campaigns.

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