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Another Senate Campaign Could See SuperPAC Truce (Or Not)

It might seem like the equivalent of trying to bail the ocean with a bucket but we now have another major race, the U.S. Senate race in Montana, in which the idea of a self-imposed truce by the candidates on superPAC money in the race has come up.

Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, sent a letter to Rep. Denny Rehberg, the Republican who seeks to unseat him, requesting a truce on outside money funding negative ads for their campaigns, meaning superPACs.

"Let's reject and work to keep all third-party radio ads about you and me out of Montana. Let's reject efforts by outside groups to undermine Montana's tradition of elections decided by people — not corporations."

Tester, a first-term senator, has proposed a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that allows corporations and unions to make unlimited contributions to superPACs among other groups.

Politico reported the response from Rehberg's campaign manager:

"This is certainly an interesting proposal by Sen. Tester," said Rehberg campaign manager Erik Iverson. "We are going to give it a close look and we will respond in due course."

That response doesn't exactly sound like they intend to be boxed in by the deadline Tester provides in letter where he says the offer is on the table until 5pm Friday, MST.

Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren, have agreed to a similar truce in the Massachusetts race for the U.S. Senate. To enforce their deal, any campaign that benefits from a superPAC's ad must make a charitable contribution of half the ad buy within three days.

But the agreement doesn't place constraints on get-out-the-vote efforts which can be costly and spell the difference between a candidate winning or losing.

A New York Times story on Foster Friess, the billionaire helping to bankroll the Red,White and Blue Fund, a superPAC supporting Rick Santorum's campaign, mentions that the superPAC helped to get voters to their caucus locations in the Denver area.

In a report on the GOP superPAC American Crossroads on Morning Edition by NPR correspondent Peter Overby, Steve Law, the group's CEO, extolled the issues platform the group has issued, which presumably would give Republican candidates a ready-made template for their campaigns.

So the help these superPACs extend to political campaigns goes beyond paying for negative ads, though that's not to diminish their role in that activity.

Meanwhile, there's a study out this week on superPACs by Demos and U.S. PIRG, left-of-center advocacy groups that examine just how much superPACs are a game for the wealthy. An excerpt from the report called "Auctioning Democracy":

"SuperPACs are tools used by wealthy individuals and institutions to dominate the political process. Ninety-three percent of the itemized funds raised by superPACs from individuals came in contributions of at least $10,000, from just twenty-three out of every 10 million people in the U.S. population."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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