Scot Lehigh’s “Covert Commitments”: What Do Pols Owe, Why Can’t We Know?

Scot Lehigh has a very important piece in today’s Boston Globe, What are Markey, Lynch promising to interest groups?: The Democratic Senate candidates are making promises, but won’t make them public. Lehigh argues that the Democratic candidates are making “covert commitments” in order to secure the backing of interest groups including unions (mostly) and refusing to make public the “questionnaires” these groups require of candidates.

Neither Lynch nor Markey will release the candidate questionnaires they have filled out for organizations like the state AFL-CIO and neither will most of the organizations themselves. Secret promises?

On the Republican side, Dan Winslow has agreed to release any campaign questionnaire he fills out, Gabriel Gomez says he has a no questionnaire policy, and Michael Sullivan is non-committal. Score one for the Republicans.

Last fall Charlie Baker came to speak to my class in Massachusetts Politics and at coffee with a few students later he was asked why such a moderate politician would be a Republican in this state. He drew some good distinctions but the one that impressed my students and stuck with me was this: ‘because if you go into office in this state as a Republican you don’t owe anybody.’

From Lehigh’s article, here are organizations he asked to release their candidate questionnaires who answered “No”:

Massachusetts AFL-CIO

Boston Teachers Union

Massachusetts Teachers Union

Clean Water Action

Massachusetts Coalition of Police

Massachusetts Nurses Association

Two organizations that did let Lehigh see their candidate questionnaires:




About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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3 Responses to Scot Lehigh’s “Covert Commitments”: What Do Pols Owe, Why Can’t We Know?

  1. Nancy Frank says:

    There’s a BIG DIFFERENCE between a candidate answering questions about their policy positions, and signing a pledge to commit to a certain policy.

    Scot Lehigh conflates the two and then holds the two dem candidates accountable for making secret commitments. He doesn’t know that they have, as a matter of fact. While he’s has a point on principle, he’s misrepresented the content of questionnaires and assumed they represent commitments.

    Step back an take a wider view. Do candidates get funding and accept it knowing they’ve made an implicit commitment to return the favor. Why isn’t this covert commitment a concern?

    Equating the questionnaires with a Norquiststyle pledge

    • Kent Jones says:

      So why don’t the candidates make the questionnaires public? What do they have to hide, if what you say is true?

  2. Maurice T. Cunningham says:

    But Nancy, how can we be sure a candidate hasn’t made a promise if we don’t see the questionnaire? Wouldn’t it be a problem if a candidate said I back policy X, then votes against it? I can’t criticize Lehigh for his view on making secret commitments if they won’t show him that they have, or haven’t. The candidates or organizations can end speculation by releasing the documents.

    As to do candidates take contributions expecting to return the favor I raise this over and over as recently as yesterday in Which Party Serves We, the People? and in Lynch Goes After the Party Central Committee.

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