On Sunday, which is not typically a busy day for legal threats from campaigns, Scott Brown's team in New Hampshire issued an ultimatum to professor Larry Lessig. The professor's Mayday super PAC, the so-far-successful effort to make campaign finance reform a winning issue in 2014 races, was sending a mailer in the Granite State that referred to Brown as a "lobbyist." Brown, who was defeated for re-election in 2012's Massachusetts Senate race, had never registered as a lobbyist. Indeed, former senators are forbidden from doing so for a few years after they leave the upper house. Brown had merely joined the lobbying firm Nixon Peabody to work on (the firm's words) "business and governmental affairs as they relate to the financial services industry."
The Brown campaign letter was written in high dudgeon, or an approximation thereof, accusing Lessig of "add[ing] to the coarseness of our politics" and maybe violating Harvard's code of conduct.
Lessig responded by ethering Brown and reiterating the good things about Mayday-endorsed Republican candidate Jim Rubens.
Yes, according to the Senate, Scott Brown isn’t a “lobbyist.” But I submit to anyone else in the world, a former Senator joining a “law and lobbying firm” to help with Wall St’s “business and governmental affairs” is to make him a lobbyist. Because to anyone else in the world, when you sell your influence to affect “business and governmental affairs,” you are a lobbyist.
By contrast, Jim Rubens has promised not to be a “lobbyist” after he leaves government (if indeed he is elected). I take it, by that, Mr. Rubens means he would not accept a position like Scott Brown did either.
I went to Rubens' campaign for a response, and to my surprise the candidate—in the final hours of a primary bid—called me back right away.
Slate: So, what did you make of the Brown campaign's response to Mayday's ads?
Rubens: I’ve had a radio ad on the air for a few weeks in which I say: I’m not a career politician. I’ve term-limited myself, to two terms, and I’m not going to become a lobbyist after I leave office. And what I'm saying with that is this: The typical rate of pay for a former senator joining a firm that works to influence Washington is around $2 million. Whether you call that role a lobbyist or a public affairs specialist or a strategist or an adviser, it's doing the same thing. If your business is using the relationships built during your time in the U.S. Senate to advance the interests of somebody, I don’t care what you call it: It’s corrupt.
But I’ve made a point of saying not every candidate is corrupt. All I'm saying is what I won't do.
Slate: It does seem like Brown's campaign takes this personally and wants Mayday to stop promoting you. What's been the impact of these Mayday ads on your campaign?
Rubens: The argument made for Brown ever since he began his celebrity tour of New Hampshire was that he would be the only candidate with the money to challenge Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. So, Republicans: Bite your lip, hold your stomach, vote for him. Mayday and other PACs—the Republican Liberty Caucus has endorsed us, too—they've changed the perception of the race so that myself and Brown can both be seen as potentially winning in November. That change in perception has led people to examine the two candidates, and I’m doing exceedingly well. [ed. -- A Public Policy Polling survey this month showed Rubens rising from single digits to 22 percent support, though Brown still led the primary. There have been no polls since April testing a possible Shaheen-Rubens race.]
Slate: I notice that the ads from Mayday present you as the conservative alternative to Brown, but Mayday—as promised, really—has endorsed some progressive Democrats in other states. You definitely would identify yourself as a conservative?
Rubens: I'm a constitutional conservative, and I'd say that the reason the tax code is infested with special interest carve-outs, the reason goverment was prohibited from negotiating pharmaceutical prices, the reason we have an Export-Import Bank, is that our politics has been corrupted by money. If you’re a conservative, there are abundant reasons to get behind reforms to the corrupt system we have right now.
Slate: Looking back, could Brown have avoided all of this had he agreed to the "people's pledge" against super PACs like he did in 2012? Why didn't he?
Rubens: I would call that situational principles.