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.
“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.]