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The Brown-Warren disarmament talks

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Last week, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson mailed $5 million to Newt Gingrich. Or, rather, he mailed the cash to some friends of Newt, who are permitted to raise and spend unlimited amounts of cash on the former House speaker’s behalf, so long as they don’t talk to him about it. That single act, which breathed new life into Gingrich’s flagging campaign, provided the financial muscle behind Gingrich’s blistering attack on Mitt Romney. And it provided the most vivid example yet of the ability of newly-unleashed outside organizations to shape elections. Gingrich is only the latest beneficiary of unlimited post-Citizens United muscle-flexing. Romney earned Gingrich’s wrath when a Romney-aligned super PAC bankrolled an Iowa ad blitz that sank Gingrich’s White House bid. That same super PAC is now defending Romney against Gingrich’s attacks, while going on the offensive against Rick Santorum. Karl Rove, the GOP agitator who doubles as a political columnist, has promised to dump buckets of money into the White House race; the super PAC he founded spent $71 million on Republican efforts during the 2010 midterm elections.

It’s against this backdrop that Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown are holding disarmament talks. The two are negotiating a deal in which each would disavow third-party spending in what’s expected to be the nation’s most expensive Senate race. “I think by sending a joint message to stay out, I’m hopeful they’ll accept that message,” Brown said recently. “This is going to be decided by the people of Massachusetts, not by the tens of millions of outside interest dollars coming into our state.”

Each candidate has reason to be wary of outside attacks. Brown was stung last year by a series of critical ads aired by the League of Women Voters. The League of Conservation Voters piled on in the fall. Warren, meanwhile, has been the target of a pair of ads produced by Rove’s super PAC; those attacks prompted Warren to make her own substantial early ad buy. The more active outside groups are in the race, the more likely it will be that each candidate will spend time responding to somebody else’s message (Warren insisting that she doesn’t want tent city dwellers to sell drugs and stab each other, Brown clarifying that he doesn’t laugh every time a kid gets asthma) rather than driving their own messages.

Glen Johnson says the Brown-Warren talks recall the bid by John Kerry and William Weld to limit ad spending in their 1996 Senate race to $5 million apiece. Johnson notes that the Kerry-Weld pact “promptly fell apart when the campaign neared its decisive stage, the same fate all but certain to face any deal between Brown and Warren. Simply put, the stakes are too high - and First Amendment principles like free speech at risk - for it to be any other way.” And Kerry and Weld both controlled their campaign apparatuses. That isn’t the case anymore

                                                                                                                --PAUL MCMORROW

BEACON HILL

The Boston Globe reports federal charges could be coming at any time in the Probation Department scandal, with more than a dozen individuals expected to face indictment. Back in September, CommonWealth first reported on the federal grand jury probe.

CommonWealth’s Bruce Mohl discusses the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s poor oversight of leases of public property with Radio Boston. Meanwhile, the Herald runs an excerpt of Colman Herman’s piece about the leases on its op-ed page.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The effort to recall Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua encounters another glitch, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

A growth spurt in the number of restaurants and other establishments serving food on the South Shore combined with budget cuts is stretching local health inspectors thin and making officials worry about the ability to ensure food safety.

Fall River is using the fees charged to groups or individuals using school properties to begin small repair and maintenance projects.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

An article in The New Republic argues that the Christian Right is losing influence, at least on two of its most divisive issues: gay rights and abortion.

Time examines the Haley Barbour pardon controversy.

Washington State moves to legalize same-sex marriage.

ELECTION 2012

Boston.com political editor Glen Johnson, whose faceoff with Mitt Romney and his press aide Eric Fehrnstrom went viral in the 2008 election when he was an AP reporter, sits down to discuss the former Massachusetts governor and his presidential chances with Keller@Large.

Lowell Sun columnist Peter Lucas says her campaign finance reports prove Elizabeth Warren is no member of the 99 percent.

Richard Tisei, who is challenging US Rep. John Tierney, says he raised $305,000 during the last three months of 2011, the Salem News reports.

In the “If a tree falls” category, Jon Huntsman drops out of the presidential race and endorses Romney. He also removes his anti-Romney videos from YouTube. Romney’s remaining rivals attempted to derail his frontrunner status during last night’s debate in South Carolina. William Kristol says fewer debaters meant a better debate. Romney is finding success in South Carolina by hugging the coastline, dodging the state’s more socially conservative interior. The Wall Street Journal explains Romney’s Teflon lead by arguing that five candidates have been vying for four separate splinters of the GOP electorate. And speaking of: An Evangelical summit in Texas endorses Rick Santorum, while David Weigel explores Romney’s softness with blue-collar voters. The National Review says Newt Gingrich is playing hardball.

Farah Stockman argues in the Boston Globe that American politicians spend too much time campaigning and not enough time governing.

Businessman Paul Heroux, a Democrat, jumps into the race to replace US Rep. Barney Frank. Sean Bielat, who finished 11 points behind Frank in 2010, will give it another go. Joe Battenfeld casts Joe Kennedy III’s congressional run as a chance to juice Democratic turnout in Sen. Scott Brown’s back yard.

The Berkshire Eagle laments that candidates without much cash will be hard pressed to unseat flush incumbent US Rep. Richard Neal in the 1st Congressional District race.

The Stephen Colbert super PAC urges a vote for … Herman Cain in the South Carolina primary.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The developer of the $1.6 billion remake of downtown Quincy has signed an agreement with The Beal Companies to be co-managing partners of the project.

Paul McMorrow, writing in the Globe, argues against a proposed minor league baseball park project in Malden.

A portion of the roof of an overhang of the Tip O’Neill federal building collapses, NECN reports.

Federal prosecutors step up their inquiry into Standard & Poor’s.

EDUCATION

Mayor Menino is planning major changes for Boston’s Madison Park Technical Vocational High School. He plans to detail the changes at the State of the City address at Faneuil Hall.

A bullying expert says the incidences of hazing in schools are numerous and growing despite the fact it’s a crime in most states.

One Rhode Island school hopes to go paperless during the 2013-2014 school year, according to a story in Governing. Meanwhile, USA Today reports that e-textbooks are slow to catch on.

HEALTH CARE

WBUR’s Martha Bebinger tries to clear up confusion about tiered health plans.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Scientists are worried about dolphin strandings on Cape Cod.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The Globe reports on new details about the relationship between the United States and former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, who escaped from a Plymouth prison in 1985.

A Globe editorial asks: “Why is it so easy to get away with murder in Boston?”

MEDIA

The Globe is testing a redesign of its Your Town product on Boston.com, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports.

Craiglist founder calls for more fact-checking by news organizations.

Wikimedia explains why it is going black for 24 hours to protest US legislation designed to stop online piracy.

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