October 19, 2008  ·  Lessig

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Just over 6 months ago, I agreed with Joe Trippi to help start a movement for fundamental reform in Congress. We understood that this was a long term project. But as we felt then — and as the events of the last 6 months only confirmed — we face, as Al Gore has put it, “a democracy crisis.” And until we fix this, we won’t fix any of the critical problems that face our society.

Many of you urged me to do this. And so I’m asking now for a favor in return. We’ve started. We’ve made important progress. But we need you now to help us make an important mark before this election comes to an end.

Our first project has been to get Members of Congress as well as candidates for Congress to take a stand on our issues of reform. We don’t demand that they agree with any particular reform (yet). We simply call upon them to have the courage at least to say where they stand.

The five people you see pictured above are the first five Members of Congress to take a stand: Barney Frank (D-MA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Jim Cooper (D-TN), Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), and John Tierney (D-MA). Four Democrats, and one Republican have signed a pledge to support planks in our platform for reform. These 5 are joined now by more than 150 challengers who have taken a stand.

That’s a start. But it’s not good enough. And so I’m asking again: please help us get Members and candidates to take a stand. You can join our “pester” campaign by clicking here, and we’ll make it extremely easy for you to write, or call, or email members or candidates who have not yet taken a stand.

This should be a simple thing in a democracy: Tell us, candidate, what you believe. It should be a hard thing to hide from. Yet in the politics of today, the simple thing is to hide. Help us make the simple hard.

Meanwhile, here’s a link to the latest version of the Change Congress talk.

October 18, 2008  ·  Lessig

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TransparentDemocracy.org has gone beta. This very cool sites helps you sift through election recommendations as well as corporate ballot measures. The gist is this: you pick your recommenders, and you can see how they rank candidates or ballot measures. The site will eventually be a platform for any set of recommenders, so its aim is to become as general as possible. But especially for us California voters (with pages and pages of incomprehensible ballot measures) this will be an enormous help. In the extended entry below, I include an email from the creator of the site, Kim Cranston, explaining a bit more.

Hi Larry,

I’m writing to let you know that we have launched the public beta version of TransparentDemocracy, and to thank you for all you’ve done to support our efforts – I deeply appreciate it.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the site and want to encourage you to forward this email to anyone who you think might find TransparentDemocracy of interest, especially for educating voters about statewide contests this November or shareholders in corporate proxy contests in 2009.

The Ballot Measure Voter Turnout project is the first application of a platform built to increase trust, communication, accountability, and responsiveness in our democratic institutions that are having a difficult time addressing the major challenges we face (a second application – the Corporate Shareholder Proxy Ballot Guide – is discussed below).

Millions of first time and other voters who will vote for our next president this November 4 will not vote on ballot measures and in other important contests if they are unsure about how to vote (in the general election in California in 2004, over 1 Million – nearly 10% – fewer votes were cast for ballot measures than in the presidential contest). This election, there are 153 ballot measures on 35 statewide ballots, with voters deciding measures concerning the economy, the environment, alternative energy, constitutional and civil rights, reproductive rights, prison reform, and other important issues.

TransparentDemocracy’s Ballot Measure Voter Turnout Project will increase informed voting and turnout on ballot measures and other contests by letting voters who are unsure about how to vote see how people and organizations they trust recommend they vote.

To best understand how TransparentDemocracy works:
1. Go to: http://www.transparentdemocracy.org
2. Find the California Ballot.
3. Scroll down to a Ballot Measure, e.g., Proposition 8.
4. Check the boxes next to the people or organizations you trust (or want to see the recommendations of) in the “Select Your Sources” tool to the left of the ballot.
5. For one of the Propositions, e.g., Proposition 8, select “Show all # Sources For This Contest” (just below “Contest Details”).
6. Scroll over one of the listed Sources to see if it published a statement supporting its position.
7. Explore “Contest Details”.
8. Mark and print your ballot.

This is a beta release, a work in progress – like all of our democratic institutions – so you’ll probably find a few bugs (please use the alert system to let us know what you find).

Here is a bit more information about TransparentDemocracy:

Our “sample” ballot-centric, open “Source” system allows any organization or individual to publish their recommendations and supporting information, which voters can then (1) filter a variety of ways and rate, and (2) use to make their own recommendations to share with friends. Sources can also display their recommendations on their own websites or anywhere on the web.

We are currently “reporting” the positions of some sources on ballot measures in order to “seed” the Source system; we have already done this for California and several other states, and are quickly doing this with the remaining states with ballot measures.

The second application of the platform – the Corporate Shareholder Proxy Ballot Guide – will cover all proxies with contested shareholder resolutions in 2009 (we’ve already published 40 proxy ballots that include 98 shareholder proposals from the 2008 proxy season, which we’ve relabeled as “preliminary” proxy ballots for 2009 as many of them will be voted on again next year).

To get a sense of how the Proxy Guide works:
1. Find the proxy for Exxon Mobil.
2. Scroll down to one of the Shareholder Proposals, e.g., “Proposal 17 Climate Change and Technology Report”.
3. For the selected Proposal, e.g., “Proposal 17”, Select “Show all 2 Sources This Contest”.
4. Scroll over one of the listed Sources.

The Corporate Shareholder Proxy Ballot Guide will provide significant value by:
1. Allowing proponents of shareholder resolutions to publish anything they wish for shareholder consideration.
2. Allowing organizations and individuals who are not the proponents of a shareholder resolution to (a) publish their recommendations (and supporting information) in TransparentDemocracy and (b) display their recommendation on their own website.
3. Making it much easier for shareholders to find recommendations from organizations and individuals they trust so they can better voter their values.

Please let me know of any ideas you have about this, and please forward this email to anyone who you think might provide support to TransparentDemocracy or use it to educate voters about statewide contests this November or shareholders in corporate proxy contests in 2009.

Thank you again for all of your support.