A super PAC to end all super PACs… Contribute to Mayday PAC today, and help get people into Congress who pledge to keep the money out

Having spent much of his life attempting to change America’s “creativity choking” copyright system only to be rebuffed at every turn by entrenched special interests, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig turned his attention a few years ago toward what he saw as being the root cause – the one thing which was keeping positive legislative change from happening – the influence of money in politics. Saying, “Until we change the way elections are funded, I don’t see much hope,” Lessig started Rootstrikers, an organization dedicated to ending the widespread corruption made possible by the system we live under today, which allows wealthy individuals to essentially buy elections, and thereby high-level access to appreciative legislators. And, through Rootstrikers, Lessig and likeminded activists have fought to raise awareness, drawing attention, for instance, to the 26 individuals who, through their super PACs, dominate American politics today. On May 1, though, Lessig took things to a whole new level, announcing the launch of “a super PAC big enough to end all super PACs.” According to Lessig, this new PAC, called Mayday PAC, will seek to help put five people dedicated to getting the money out of politics into Congress in 2014. “And, over the course of the next two elections,” says Lessig, “(we’ll) use (this) super PAC to win enough seats to pass fundamental reform.” Here he is explaining how he envisions this happening.

Mayday PAC Launch from lessig on Vimeo.

“We want to spend big money, to end the influence of big money… Embrace the irony.” -Lawrence Lessig

I know that money is tight these days, but, if you could join me in pledging a few dollars today, I’d appreciate it. I know it’s a long shot, but, at this point, what do we really have to lose? With the gap continuing to widen between rich and poor in this country, if we don’t try to beat them at their own game now, we may never have another chance. The thought of being able to outspend the oligarchs in another ten years, and roll back the destructive force unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United, may be unfathomable.

I just checked, and, as of right now, after just four days, Lessig’s MayDay PAC is already almost 40% of the way toward it’s first $1 million goal. (I should add that these pledges will not be collected unless the $1 million goal is met by the end of May.)

For those of you who didn’t watch the above video, here’s a quote from Lessig, who introduced the concept of a people’s super PAC a few days ago, while appearing on Moyers and Company.

…I think you’ve got to identify two changes, and then ask how we bring them about. First, we’ve got to have a president who leads on the issue. And then we’ve got to have enough votes in Congress.

Those two changes could happen if there were the right resources behind them. And this is a little ironic, but we need to embrace the irony: We need a super PAC to end all super PACs. We need to think about how to raise an incredibly large “money bomb,” as Matt Miller described it, that would be influential enough to give people a reason to hope that there’s actually a chance of success.

When you start thinking about the numbers, it’s not so hard to imagine. Michael Bloomberg recently announced that he was giving $50 million to fight the NRA on gun control. Tom Steyer says he’s going to spend $50 million to fight the carbon industries in order to get climate change legislation. If you got 20 billionaires to each put $50 million dollars into a super PAC that was focused on changing the way elections were funded, there’s no doubt we would win. One billion dollars would certainly have enough influence in this political system to rally Americans to vote and to demand the thing that we already want. Ninety percent of us want a change in the system.

How do you begin to pull people together to support this level of commitment? We’ve begun to talk about doing it in stages. So on May 1 — or you could say May Day, or you could say mayday, as in, “Mayday, mayday, mayday, our republic is sinking” — we want to launch an experiment to see whether we can kick start, from the bottom up, a significant amount of money. I believe we’re going to set the target at a million dollars, and if we get that within 30 days, then it will be matched from the top down — by a big donor.

Then we’ll turn around and kick start another bottom-up $5 million dollar commitment, and if we reach that number, then we’ll get that matched from the top down at $5 million. That’ll put together a super PAC for 2014 of about $12 million dollars, which we will spend experimentally in different districts — at least five — to see what messaging and strategies could work. And we’ll begin to shift votes on this issue in the process.

Then, after this election, we’ll be in a position with real data and real experience to turn around to people and say, “If we could put together $700–900 million from the bottom up and then significant contributions from the top down, we could win a Congress in 2016 that would be powerful enough to bring about this kind of fundamental reform.”

People say that’s not realistic, that we ought to be thinking about 2020 or 2024. But my view is that if we don’t challenge this reality right now, the super PAC system for electing representatives will become the new normal. It’ll be accepted that 10,000 families in the United States fund our elections, and we’ll just kind of resign ourselves to the kind of democracy where there is no true democracy…

Lessig is absolutely right. Try as we might, nothing will change with regard to global warming, or anything else, unless we first find a way to keep the money of America’s corporate elite from influencing Congress. And, as of right now, Mayday PAC is the best shot we’ve got of seeing that happen.

It’s also worth noting that this first $400,000, which has been raised since Lessig first announced Mayday PAC on May 1, has been pledged without a single dollar of advertising having been spent. As Lessig just recently told the people of Reddit, “We did no promotion of the Mayday PAC. A website, a blog entry, a tweet — and people flocked to the issue because it is important to them, and they’re frustrated that politicians ignore it.” So, it’s up to us not only to pledge, but to help get the word out. If this is going to be successful, people need to know that there’s a resistance movement afoot, and that they can join.

So, if you can’t pledge $5, at least tell your friends on Facebook, OK?

[note: Lessig isn’t the only one to create a PAC in hopes of changing the way we fund elections in America. There’s also Wolf PAC, which is seeking to pass a 28th Amendment to the Constitution which would end corporate personhood and publicly finance all elections in our country. If you’d like to contribute to their initiative, you can do so here.]

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  1. EOS
    Posted May 4, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    It’s not logical. If enough regular people pool their resources to contribute to a super pac, they can influence government to effect change, so that in the future, no one will be able to. This would allow the insiders to run roughshod over everyones concerns in the future, unconcerned about both the wealthy and the masses. Why would anyone contribute to eliminate the only avenue for the average person to join with other like-minnded persons to effect necessary change?

  2. anonymous
    Posted May 4, 2014 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    No one is suggesting that American citizens not have a say in politics, EOS. This is about the disproportionate influence of billionaires, regardless of what side of the aisle they’re on. This is an area where Republicans and Democrats alike should be able to work together.

  3. Liz DMG
    Posted May 4, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    What if we focus on removing the right to give anonymously? How does the Koch brothers’ right to give their mountains of money trump my right to know who’s buying my politicians?

  4. Meta
    Posted May 4, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    From Lessig’s Reddit Q & A about the Mayday political action committee.

    charbar: Professor Lessig, thank you so much for doing this AMA, I am a huge fan! I was very impressed at how effective the Internet community was in the SOPA debates, but I’ve been so disappointed that there has never been a similar outcry for issues that are even more important, like net neutrality. Do you think that effort is replicable? And if so, what would rally the troops to do it again?

    Larry Lessig: I hope more people run, but the key is to create the pressure to change the way campaigns are funded. That’s the essential change. Without that, the people who win are the people with the friends with the biggest checkbooks.

    Nolubrication: Mr. Lessig, you’ve stated that your goal is to influence 5 congressional races in 2014. Which incumbent seats, if any, do you plan to defend with Mayday PAC? And which seats do you plan to contest and with what challengers? Thanks for all you that you do. My $100 was part of the first $1k this morning.

    Larry Lessig: We’ve scoped a bunch of perfect contests, but are enjoying the pressure this creates for people to commit to reform at http://reform.to, so we’re not announcing which until we get closer to the target. The rule is: consistent with the contributions (mix between Dems/GOPS) and best able to help us determine what will win in 2016

    mmccafferty67: Mr. Lessig…great work…how do you get your message and mission more mainstream? I’ve forward to 100 contacts in my “circle of influence” but fear that as the days pass, so will the momentum.

    Larry Lessig: Our strategy was to start pure grassroots — no ads, no build up, no pre-set contributors. And now the challenge is to get people to carry the story forward. If we meet our goal early, that will earn us media. And earned media will light this on fire.

    toonaphish: Can you give me a 2 sentence pitch I can use to convince my friends and family that they need to care about this issue? It seems easy if I know that someone is politically active and I can use “their issue” as an example, but what about those that keep their politics to themselves?

    Larry Lessig: The bit that always gets me is the America this way of funding campaigns creates. The business model of fundraising is teaching us to hate our neighbors. The more we hate, the more we give. The more we give, the more they have. We need a system of funding campaigns that doesn’t depend upon destroying the nation to win.

  5. EOS
    Posted May 4, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Liz DMG,

    I’m with you on that. Disclosure of funding sources would frequently be more enlightening about what you can expect a politician to do than their own campaign material does.

  6. John Galt
    Posted May 4, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    If people want to have a say in American politics, nothing is stopping them. All they need to do is start a huge corporation.

  7. jcp2
    Posted May 4, 2014 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    They don’t need too. People are corporations, my friend.

  8. Meta
    Posted May 5, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Vermont is taking action.

    The Vermont Legislature became the first to pass a resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention to change the country’s campaign finance laws.

    The effort is focused around overturning Citizen’s United, a 2010 decision that equated money with free speech, allowing for an influx of money into political campaigns.

    A more recent decision, known as the McCutcheon decision, struck down overall limits of campaign contributions.

    There are only two ways to overturn a Supreme Court decision: Congress needs to pass a constitutional amendment, or a coalition of at least 34 states need to form a convention.

    “The fact is that because of the Citizen’s United decision, because of McCutcheon, and other Supreme Court decisions, there’s really no other way to resolve this problem,” said State Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden), who sponsored the resolution.

    Lyons says she wants it to be more clear that states have the right to their own campaign finance laws. Vermont recently passed a campaign finance law that was seven years in the making.

    Vermont was the first state to pass such a resolution, so 33 others need to join in.

    Read more:

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