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Massachusetts outside money pledge unraveling?

Senate candidate Lynch targeted by NARAL

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Hopes that the race to fill Secretary of State John Kerry's vacated U.S. Senate seat would be not be subject to the type of spending unleashed by the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision continued to fade Friday.

NARAL Pro-Choice America became the latest outside group to spend money in the Massachusetts' special primary — despite the candidates' pledge to curb such organizations from spending money on broadcast, online and direct mail advertisements.

Federal Election Commission records show NARAL spent nearly $8,000 on "copy, art and production"  and "list rental" expenses but the filings don't indicate whether the funds fueled activities included in the pledge. A NARAL representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

Update, March 15, 2013, 11:49pm: NARAL spokeswoman Samantha Gordon said in an email that "we strongly support efforts to keep outside ads from flooding the airwaves in Massachusetts, and we are not running any ads in this primary campaign. But we believe it is fundamental to democracy to create pathways for citizens to participate actively in the political decisions that will affect their lives." Gordon continued: "Choice will be huge in this race, and we’re proud to use grassroots efforts to encourage our members and supporters to communicate with their friends and neighbors about the importance of the issue in this race."

Nevertheless, an aide to the spending's target — Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass. — is not pleased. Lynch is running against Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., in a Senate primary prompted by Kerry's resignation.

"It does seem a bit disingenuous," Lynch spokesman Conor Yunits said. "We certainly hope that the Markey campaign and their supporters will abide by the pledge, yes, especially given the scope of the outside influences lining up to support him."

Through Friday, the League of Conservation Voters and climate change advocacy group 350.org Action Fund have together with NARAL made almost $352,000 in independent expenditures aimed at helping Markey or attacking Lynch, according to FEC records though none of the expenditures appear to have funded pledge-prohibited activities.

League of Conservation Voters spokesman Jeff Gohringer tells the Center for Public Integrity that his organization is "going to respect the pledge," and that "there's absolutely a distinction" between overt advertisements and grassroots-level politicking.

As for Markey, spokesman Andrew Zucker says the congressman "is fully committed to the People’s Pledge and to passing a constitutional amendment that would clean up our elections by repealing the court’s misguided Citizens United ruling."

The pledge signed by Markey and Lynch is modeled after one struck by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., during their general election campaign last year.

If outside groups spend money on ads that violate the pledge, the candidates have agreed to dip into their own campaign coffers and donate an amount equal to half the cost of those ads to charity.

The special election primary is April 30, with the general election scheduled for June 25.