December 31, 2008  ·  Lessig

Robert Sand wrote this thesis as an undergraduate at Brown (he is now a law student). Roughly put, it models the effect that the view that “money buys results” has on political participation. The idea he wanted to test is this: that the more you think “money buys results,” the less effective you think your own participation in the political process is, and thus, you participate less. And, by contrast, the less you think “money buys results,” (for example, because of citizen funding of elections), the more effective you think your own participation is, and thus you participate more.

He’s got an enormous range of data for this, and he finds statistically significant results supporting the thesis.

Sand wants to work on this more and eventually publish it. He has included his email address if you’d like to see the data. Obviously, there’s tons more work to be done here to verify and understand the model better. But I wanted to share this here (with his permission) because it is precisely the dynamic at the core of the concern that I am talking about: The expectation of illicit influence drives people to disengage — even if there isn’t any such influence.

If this model stands up, it will be an important contribution to this debate. Whether it does or not, quite a contribution from an undergraduate.

Meanwhile, less than 12 hours to vote on the Citizens’ Funded Elections proposal at change.org. At this moment, we need 6 votes to get into the second round.

  • http://www.desjardins.org/david/ David desJardins

    The more I think that “money buys results”, the more that I participate, by giving more money. Participation in the political process by contributing to candidates whom you think will help to advance your political agenda is not “illicit”. That’s the whole idea, we give money to help candidates who share our views.

  • Jeffersonian

    I wanted to comment on this, but I couldn’t get in. I’ll keep trying. In the meanwhile, here it is.
    How Should We Get Big-Money Influence Out of Congressional Elections? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lawrence-lessig/how-should-we-get-big-mon_b_154864.html

    I have little time & will just jot down a few thoughts:

    As a Jeffersonian, I am relieved to see this movement happening!

    I just recently heard of Jefferson’s 11th amendment. This should be revisited and revived. We would not have the problem of corporate personhood had that idea prevailed.
    http://soundingcircle.com/newslog2.php/__show_article/_a000195-000205.htm

    Regarding the idea of “congressional candidates who raise a threshold number of small-dollar donations would qualify for a chunk of automatic funding – several hundred thousand dollars….” How about providing a minimal tax-based fund that is available to everyone who qualifies as a candidate? Then it could be supplemented by contributions. No candidate would receive funds exclusively; instead all contributions would go into a pool for equal distribution. This would be like a supplementary, voluntary tax. The voluntary aspect would keep a lot of libertarians as well as some non-neo-con Republicans happy. If one were interested in giving a particular candidate more visibility, through their contributions they would simultaneously be giving visibility to other candidates (including 3rd & 4t parties). One advantage to this would be that the cost to contributors would be less likely to skyrocket in order to compete with others for visibility. It would serve the purpose of informing the public without getting out of hand. Are there legal reasons for not restricting candidates to using such a pool of funds? In this case it wouldn’t matter whether big money contributes. They would be contributing to democracy and the intentions of our founders to keep the public informed.

    In order to not alienate people on the right who are moving toward a libertarian front, I would use “Clean elections” as a term. I would like to see us unite in taking back our country; both sides have much to contribute. I would love to see a marriage of Ron Paul & Dennis Kucinich & their followers. (Check out the team- building ideas of Ned Herrmann in the Creative Brain http://www.hbdi.com in order to see how this is really possible and would be synergistically beneficial instead of a move toward concession & mediocrity.)

  • http://unreasonableblogger.blogspot.com/ Unreasonable

    Would this proposed system be just as vulnerable to abuse as the current system? Couldn’t “Special interests” break large donations into many small donations, thereby avoiding any limit on their contributions? There is a valuable reward for finding such vulnerabilities- the ability to make unlimited contributions.

    Arguably special interests should be delighted with the proposed system for this reason, achieving the exact opposite of the intended objective.

    Money cannot be kept out of the system- nature abhors a vacuum and the political world abhors limitations on the ability to buy and sell influence.

  • Rick

    Excellent work. Thanks for posting it. I finally got the chance to read it. Too bad the conclusions could not have been more definitively positive but at least they’re not negative to the public funding proposition, which I fully support.
    Still, my fundamental belief is that term limits are likely to provide representation that’s more responsive to the citizenry in the long run. We need to get away from the “professional politician” mentality, especially in the House. It seems that putting mechanisms in place to manage campaign spending is like trying to control a major oil spill; the slime always finds a way through.

  • http://www.ne-nerede.com Sesli Sohbet Sesli Chat WebCam

    The more I think that “money buys results”, the more that I participate, by giving more money. Participation in the political process by contributing to candidates whom you think will help to advance your political agenda is not “illicit”. That’s the whole idea, we give money to help candidates who share our views.

  • http://www.ne-nerede.com Sesli Sohbet Sesli Chat WebCam

    Thanks for addressing this issue so quickly, Dr. Lessig. I thought something was fishy in that article.

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    hmmmm ‘money buys results’ I think results should come from action and effort but it’s a shame the world works like this, but hey…if you’ve got the money you might as well get some good results with it!haha

  • http://www.canister-vacuum-cleaners.net caniste vacuum cleaners

    results should really come from effort and action, money shouldn’t really restrict this

  • http://beverlyhillsinsurance.org Life

    The almighty dollar. Money will always be able to buy results.. Hard work, perseverance, and a positive attitude can only get you so far in this day and age. If you’ve got a little charisma to go along with the money that’s like having a little insurance policy just in case things are close…which they probably won’t be.

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    powerfully interesting nice post like…

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    I think, which the Court held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. thanks for sharing this awesome.

  • http://www.lancianofurniture.com/ Furniture refinishing

    Excellent work. Thanks for posting it. I finally got the chance to read it. Too bad the conclusions could not have been more definitively positive