October 21, 2012  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

For the first time in as long as we can tell, neither candidate for president is addressing one of the top 10 issues that Americans believe should be a priority for the next president. Indeed, not just one issue, but two.

Since 2000, Gallup has been asking Americans to identify “how important a priority each of the following issues should be for the next President of the United States.” Every year before this one, those issues at the top are exactly the issues the candidates addressed on their websites. (Click here to see the research.) The order maybe different. There may be other issues addressed that are not on that top 10 list. But in every election since 2000, every one of the top 10 gets at least some serious consideration.

Until this year. Of the top 10 issues that Gallup identified, two are not even mentioned on either candidate’s website: number two on the list (with 87% of Americans believing it “extremely or very important”) — “reducing corruption in the federal government,” and number nine (with 76%) — “overcoming political gridlock.”

Ranked more highly than terrorism, the deficit, schools or social security, Americans want “corruption” to end. More than tax reform, or affordable access to college, Americans want “gridlock” to end. Yet neither campaign thinks it necessary to even mention these top priorities.

Why?

Let’s focus on issue number two: “reducing corruption in the federal government.” It’s clear that by “corruption,” Americans don’t mean the crimes of Rod Blagojevich or Jack Abramoff. Those scandals were long ago, and our memory is short. Instead, the only sort of “corruption” that has had the focus of the news media is the endless campaign cash that every candidate for any office is now seen obsessively to seek. Super PACs and Citizens United: these are the triggers to what we mean today by “corruption.” In response to that corruption, Americans are looking for a democracy that doesn’t seem so slimy.

Yet neither Romney nor Obama wants to talk about this corruption, though no doubt for very different reasons. Though Americans hate the system, beltway Republicans (and Romney) apparently love it. Some think it’s the only way for Republicans to remain competitive. So it’s obviously best for them to keep silent about an issue not likely to win them support. And while Obama no doubt hates the system as much as anyone, to raise it now would be to remind us that he promised to “take up that fight” to change the system, but has not yet gotten around to it. Worse, there’s something seemingly hypocritical about attacking SuperPACs while encouraging friends to send support to your own.

So it’s no surprise that the candidates won’t volunteer a plan to address this “corruption.” But why is it that they are not asked anyway? Why isn’t it the core of journalistic ethics to get the candidates to address the issues America wants addressed, especially when it is clear that candidates themselves don’t want that issue addressed?

This is a question not easily answered, because it’s not clear anymore just what a political journalist is. Candidates appear on news programs on their terms, not terms set by the show. They agree to debate only if their lawyers are permitted to set the rules and scope — which was precisely why the League of Women Voters could no longer agree to host debates. In the endless competition for access, politicians set the terms for access. And even if they don’t explicitly put issues off the table, everyone understands the consequences of making a candidate uncomfortable. There’s always a next time, unless, of course, you make things really bad for the candidate this time.

But there is one political journalist who is free of these constraints: the moderator of a presidential debate. Candidates have no choice but to show up to the debates. They have no way to hide from a question directly put. So if there’s one person the system should count on to ask the questions America wants answered but the candidates want avoided, it is the moderator of a presidential debate.

Yet no moderator to date has accepted this responsibility. Candy Crowley moderated the questions of randomly selected undecided voters — as if that would capture anything about the issues most of America wants answered. And Jim Lehrer let the rules get smothered by his need to be kind to important people — with the consequence that he never even got to the part of the debate where “corruption” might have been an issue.

In Robert Caro’s latest Johnson biography, he recounts a famous story about Johnson’s decision to take up the cause of civil rights. Kennedy had just been murdered. The nation was looking for a new leader. But Johnson was being counseled as strongly as his advisers could counsel not to bring up a civil rights bill. As Caro retells it:

[I]n the early hours of the morning… “one of the wise, practical people around the table” told [Johnson] to his face that a president shouldn’t spend his time and power on lost causes, no matter how worthy those causes might be.

“Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?” Lyndon Johnson replied.

The rest, as they say, is history.

It may be too much to wish for a president with Johnson’s strength of character. But is it too much to wish for moderator who is Johnson-like? Too much to wish for a moderator who wonders, what is being a moderator for?

It’s not the job of the moderator to be liked. It’s not the job to seem agreeable. The job is to make sure that America understands what the candidates believe about the issues that America cares about. Moderator laissez faire won’t get us there. A real political journalist just might.

(Original post on HuffPo)

September 11, 2012  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

There are campaigns that attack the enemy directly — think the British, in formation, Redcoats smartly cleaned. And then there are campaigns that attack indirectly — think of a virus, passing on a handshake, entering the body at the next sneeze. Rootstrikers has launched a campaign of the latter sort, intended to infect the system of corruption that our Congress has become.

Here’s some background to make this campaign understandable:

The most chilling passage in Jack Abramoff’s incredible book, Capitol Punishment (2011) comes about a third of the way in. As Abramoff writes:

After a number of meetings with [the chief of staff], possibly including meals or rounds of golf, I would say a few magic words: “When you are done working for the Congressman, you should come work for me at my firm.” With that, assuming the staffer had any interest in leaving Capitol Hill for K Street — and almost 90 percent of them do — I would own him and, consequently, that entire office. No rules had been broken, at least not yet.

Abramoff is describing perhaps the core of the corrupting influence that has evolved within our Congress — that too many, including Members and their staff, view Capitol Hill as a “farm league for K St.” No one wants to be a congressman forever (anymore). And with a potential salary increase of 1,452 percent (as calculated by United Republic), it’s easy to see why so many would keep their eyes on the real prize — a job as a lobbyist.

This fact is devastating for the prospects of reform. Any meaningful change of the corruption that is this system will certainly radically reduce the financial benefits of being a lobbyist. Lobbyists will never be eliminated, and neither should they be: they serve an essential role in advising the government about the effect of the government’s actions, or inactions. But the value of lobbying services would fall dramatically if Congress were to adopt a system for funding elections that would remove the lobbyists from the center.

And thus the inherent conflict of interest that any reform would face: The very Congress that would be asked to vote for reform would be filled with people who have an interest against reform. To vote for reform would be to vote against a 1,452 percent pay increase. Who among us could do that?

What reformers thus need is a Congress without that conflict: Members who could not benefit from the bonus of being a lobbyist, and thus who could vote honestly and fairly about any proposals for reform.

Enter the No Lobbying Pledge.

The “No Lobbying Pledge” is a promise by a candidate that if he or she is elected then, for 10 years after serving in Congress, he or she will not profit from providing any “lobbying services.” The pledge doesn’t try to restrict what ex-Members can do. It simply blocks them from earning money from the provision of “lobbying services.” It is a pledge that a candidate openly and formally makes, by signing a document that makes clear his or her commitment, and posting that signed pledge for the world to see.

This pledge is not like the ordinary pledge that candidates are now routinely asked to make. Many good souls — No Labels, in particular — are rightly opposed to pledges that purport to limit the freedom of legislators to make legislative judgments based upon their view at the time of what makes sense. But that is not what the No Lobbying Pledge does. It does not constrain any decision by a legislator while she is a legislator. It is a pledge about what she will do after she has served in Congress. And it is motivated by the concern that — like Abramoff’s chiefs-of-staff — farm league congressman won’t keep their eye on the ball.

Our challenge now is to build a movement to get candidates to take the pledge. Today, we announce the first: Representative Jim Cooper, a Blue Dog Democrat from Tennessee, who has been elected to Congress eleven times, and who coined the phrase, “a farm league for K St.” A committed reformer of Congress, we could imagine no better member to be the first to take the pledge.

Now we just need 800 more. At our site, we have provided the infrastructure for fueling twitter campaigns to get members to sign.

But what’s really needed are citizens to show up to a candidate event and ask the candidate directly: “Will you promise to work just for us, by taking the No Lobbying Pledge?” This is an uncomfortable question to ask, because everyone understands that it is an uncomfortable question for candidates to answer. But if we’re to end this corruption, and restore this Republic, this is the courage of citizens that it will take.

So join us. Go to the site and download the pledge. Launch a twitter campaign to ask candidates in your district to take the pledge by uploading a challenge. Go to a candidate event and ask the question. Indeed, have a friend video you asking the question, and we’ll post it and promote it. Do everything you can do to get both candidates in your district to take a position. And after you do, let us know, and we’ll take it from there.

It is a long road to reform. We will get there, I am convinced. But we must first destroy the resistance to reform that now lives within this Congress. The No Lobbying Pledge is the virus to achieve that destruction.

(Original post on HuffPo)

September 11, 2012  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

There are campaigns that attack the enemy directly — think the British, in formation, Redcoats smartly cleaned. And then there are campaigns that attack indirectly — think of a virus, passing on a handshake, entering the body at the next sneeze. Rootstrikers has launched a campaign of the latter sort, intended to infect the system of corruption that our Congress has become.

Here’s some background to make this campaign understandable:

The most chilling passage in Jack Abramoff’s incredible book, Capitol Punishment (2011) comes about a third of the way in. As Abramoff writes:

After a number of meetings with [the chief of staff], possibly including meals or rounds of golf, I would say a few magic words: “When you are done working for the Congressman, you should come work for me at my firm.” With that, assuming the staffer had any interest in leaving Capitol Hill for K Street — and almost 90 percent of them do — I would own him and, consequently, that entire office. No rules had been broken, at least not yet.

Abramoff is describing perhaps the core of the corrupting influence that has evolved within our Congress — that too many, including Members and their staff, view Capitol Hill as a “farm league for K St.” No one wants to be a congressman forever (anymore). And with a potential salary increase of 1,452 percent (as calculated by United Republic), it’s easy to see why so many would keep their eyes on the real prize — a job as a lobbyist.

This fact is devastating for the prospects of reform. Any meaningful change of the corruption that is this system will certainly radically reduce the financial benefits of being a lobbyist. Lobbyists will never be eliminated, and neither should they be: they serve an essential role in advising the government about the effect of the government’s actions, or inactions. But the value of lobbying services would fall dramatically if Congress were to adopt a system for funding elections that would remove the lobbyists from the center.

And thus the inherent conflict of interest that any reform would face: The very Congress that would be asked to vote for reform would be filled with people who have an interest against reform. To vote for reform would be to vote against a 1,452 percent pay increase. Who among us could do that?

What reformers thus need is a Congress without that conflict: Members who could not benefit from the bonus of being a lobbyist, and thus who could vote honestly and fairly about any proposals for reform.

Enter the No Lobbying Pledge.

The “No Lobbying Pledge” is a promise by a candidate that if he or she is elected then, for 10 years after serving in Congress, he or she will not profit from providing any “lobbying services.” The pledge doesn’t try to restrict what ex-Members can do. It simply blocks them from earning money from the provision of “lobbying services.” It is a pledge that a candidate openly and formally makes, by signing a document that makes clear his or her commitment, and posting that signed pledge for the world to see.

This pledge is not like the ordinary pledge that candidates are now routinely asked to make. Many good souls — No Labels, in particular — are rightly opposed to pledges that purport to limit the freedom of legislators to make legislative judgments based upon their view at the time of what makes sense. But that is not what the No Lobbying Pledge does. It does not constrain any decision by a legislator while she is a legislator. It is a pledge about what she will do after she has served in Congress. And it is motivated by the concern that — like Abramoff’s chiefs-of-staff — farm league congressman won’t keep their eye on the ball.

Our challenge now is to build a movement to get candidates to take the pledge. Today, we announce the first: Representative Jim Cooper, a Blue Dog Democrat from Tennessee, who has been elected to Congress eleven times, and who coined the phrase, “a farm league for K St.” A committed reformer of Congress, we could imagine no better member to be the first to take the pledge.

Now we just need 800 more. At our site, we have provided the infrastructure for fueling twitter campaigns to get members to sign.

But what’s really needed are citizens to show up to a candidate event and ask the candidate directly: “Will you promise to work just for us, by taking the No Lobbying Pledge?” This is an uncomfortable question to ask, because everyone understands that it is an uncomfortable question for candidates to answer. But if we’re to end this corruption, and restore this Republic, this is the courage of citizens that it will take.

So join us. Go to the site and download the pledge. Launch a twitter campaign to ask candidates in your district to take the pledge by uploading a challenge. Go to a candidate event and ask the question. Indeed, have a friend video you asking the question, and we’ll post it and promote it. Do everything you can do to get both candidates in your district to take a position. And after you do, let us know, and we’ll take it from there.

It is a long road to reform. We will get there, I am convinced. But we must first destroy the resistance to reform that now lives within this Congress. The No Lobbying Pledge is the virus to achieve that destruction.

(Original post on HuffPo)

September 11, 2012  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

There are campaigns that attack the enemy directly — think the British, in formation, Redcoats smartly cleaned. And then there are campaigns that attack indirectly — think of a virus, passing on a handshake, entering the body at the next sneeze. Rootstrikers has launched a campaign of the latter sort, intended to infect the system of corruption that our Congress has become.

Here’s some background to make this campaign understandable:

The most chilling passage in Jack Abramoff’s incredible book, Capitol Punishment (2011) comes about a third of the way in. As Abramoff writes:

After a number of meetings with [the chief of staff], possibly including meals or rounds of golf, I would say a few magic words: “When you are done working for the Congressman, you should come work for me at my firm.” With that, assuming the staffer had any interest in leaving Capitol Hill for K Street — and almost 90 percent of them do — I would own him and, consequently, that entire office. No rules had been broken, at least not yet.

Abramoff is describing perhaps the core of the corrupting influence that has evolved within our Congress — that too many, including Members and their staff, view Capitol Hill as a “farm league for K St.” No one wants to be a congressman forever (anymore). And with a potential salary increase of 1,452 percent (as calculated by United Republic), it’s easy to see why so many would keep their eyes on the real prize — a job as a lobbyist.

This fact is devastating for the prospects of reform. Any meaningful change of the corruption that is this system will certainly radically reduce the financial benefits of being a lobbyist. Lobbyists will never be eliminated, and neither should they be: they serve an essential role in advising the government about the effect of the government’s actions, or inactions. But the value of lobbying services would fall dramatically if Congress were to adopt a system for funding elections that would remove the lobbyists from the center.

And thus the inherent conflict of interest that any reform would face: The very Congress that would be asked to vote for reform would be filled with people who have an interest against reform. To vote for reform would be to vote against a 1,452 percent pay increase. Who among us could do that?

What reformers thus need is a Congress without that conflict: Members who could not benefit from the bonus of being a lobbyist, and thus who could vote honestly and fairly about any proposals for reform.

Enter the No Lobbying Pledge.

The “No Lobbying Pledge” is a promise by a candidate that if he or she is elected then, for 10 years after serving in Congress, he or she will not profit from providing any “lobbying services.” The pledge doesn’t try to restrict what ex-Members can do. It simply blocks them from earning money from the provision of “lobbying services.” It is a pledge that a candidate openly and formally makes, by signing a document that makes clear his or her commitment, and posting that signed pledge for the world to see.

This pledge is not like the ordinary pledge that candidates are now routinely asked to make. Many good souls — No Labels, in particular — are rightly opposed to pledges that purport to limit the freedom of legislators to make legislative judgments based upon their view at the time of what makes sense. But that is not what the No Lobbying Pledge does. It does not constrain any decision by a legislator while she is a legislator. It is a pledge about what she will do after she has served in Congress. And it is motivated by the concern that — like Abramoff’s chiefs-of-staff — farm league congressman won’t keep their eye on the ball.

Our challenge now is to build a movement to get candidates to take the pledge. Today, we announce the first: Representative Jim Cooper, a Blue Dog Democrat from Tennessee, who has been elected to Congress eleven times, and who coined the phrase, “a farm league for K St.” A committed reformer of Congress, we could imagine no better member to be the first to take the pledge.

Now we just need 800 more. At our site, we have provided the infrastructure for fueling twitter campaigns to get members to sign.

But what’s really needed are citizens to show up to a candidate event and ask the candidate directly: “Will you promise to work just for us, by taking the No Lobbying Pledge?” This is an uncomfortable question to ask, because everyone understands that it is an uncomfortable question for candidates to answer. But if we’re to end this corruption, and restore this Republic, this is the courage of citizens that it will take.

So join us. Go to the site and download the pledge. Launch a twitter campaign to ask candidates in your district to take the pledge by uploading a challenge. Go to a candidate event and ask the question. Indeed, have a friend video you asking the question, and we’ll post it and promote it. Do everything you can do to get both candidates in your district to take a position. And after you do, let us know, and we’ll take it from there.

It is a long road to reform. We will get there, I am convinced. But we must first destroy the resistance to reform that now lives within this Congress. The No Lobbying Pledge is the virus to achieve that destruction.

(Original post on HuffPo)

September 11, 2012  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

There are campaigns that attack the enemy directly — think the British, in formation, Redcoats smartly cleaned. And then there are campaigns that attack indirectly — think of a virus, passing on a handshake, entering the body at the next sneeze. Rootstrikers has launched a campaign of the latter sort, intended to infect the system of corruption that our Congress has become.

Here’s some background to make this campaign understandable:

The most chilling passage in Jack Abramoff’s incredible book, Capitol Punishment (2011) comes about a third of the way in. As Abramoff writes:

After a number of meetings with [the chief of staff], possibly including meals or rounds of golf, I would say a few magic words: “When you are done working for the Congressman, you should come work for me at my firm.” With that, assuming the staffer had any interest in leaving Capitol Hill for K Street — and almost 90 percent of them do — I would own him and, consequently, that entire office. No rules had been broken, at least not yet.

Abramoff is describing perhaps the core of the corrupting influence that has evolved within our Congress — that too many, including Members and their staff, view Capitol Hill as a “farm league for K St.” No one wants to be a congressman forever (anymore). And with a potential salary increase of 1,452 percent (as calculated by United Republic), it’s easy to see why so many would keep their eyes on the real prize — a job as a lobbyist.

This fact is devastating for the prospects of reform. Any meaningful change of the corruption that is this system will certainly radically reduce the financial benefits of being a lobbyist. Lobbyists will never be eliminated, and neither should they be: they serve an essential role in advising the government about the effect of the government’s actions, or inactions. But the value of lobbying services would fall dramatically if Congress were to adopt a system for funding elections that would remove the lobbyists from the center.

And thus the inherent conflict of interest that any reform would face: The very Congress that would be asked to vote for reform would be filled with people who have an interest against reform. To vote for reform would be to vote against a 1,452 percent pay increase. Who among us could do that?

What reformers thus need is a Congress without that conflict: Members who could not benefit from the bonus of being a lobbyist, and thus who could vote honestly and fairly about any proposals for reform.

Enter the No Lobbying Pledge.

The “No Lobbying Pledge” is a promise by a candidate that if he or she is elected then, for 10 years after serving in Congress, he or she will not profit from providing any “lobbying services.” The pledge doesn’t try to restrict what ex-Members can do. It simply blocks them from earning money from the provision of “lobbying services.” It is a pledge that a candidate openly and formally makes, by signing a document that makes clear his or her commitment, and posting that signed pledge for the world to see.

This pledge is not like the ordinary pledge that candidates are now routinely asked to make. Many good souls — No Labels, in particular — are rightly opposed to pledges that purport to limit the freedom of legislators to make legislative judgments based upon their view at the time of what makes sense. But that is not what the No Lobbying Pledge does. It does not constrain any decision by a legislator while she is a legislator. It is a pledge about what she will do after she has served in Congress. And it is motivated by the concern that — like Abramoff’s chiefs-of-staff — farm league congressman won’t keep their eye on the ball.

Our challenge now is to build a movement to get candidates to take the pledge. Today, we announce the first: Representative Jim Cooper, a Blue Dog Democrat from Tennessee, who has been elected to Congress eleven times, and who coined the phrase, “a farm league for K St.” A committed reformer of Congress, we could imagine no better member to be the first to take the pledge.

Now we just need 800 more. At our site, we have provided the infrastructure for fueling twitter campaigns to get members to sign.

But what’s really needed are citizens to show up to a candidate event and ask the candidate directly: “Will you promise to work just for us, by taking the No Lobbying Pledge?” This is an uncomfortable question to ask, because everyone understands that it is an uncomfortable question for candidates to answer. But if we’re to end this corruption, and restore this Republic, this is the courage of citizens that it will take.

So join us. Go to the site and download the pledge. Launch a twitter campaign to ask candidates in your district to take the pledge by uploading a challenge. Go to a candidate event and ask the question. Indeed, have a friend video you asking the question, and we’ll post it and promote it. Do everything you can do to get both candidates in your district to take a position. And after you do, let us know, and we’ll take it from there.

It is a long road to reform. We will get there, I am convinced. But we must first destroy the resistance to reform that now lives within this Congress. The No Lobbying Pledge is the virus to achieve that destruction.

(Original post on HuffPo)

December 20, 2011  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

There’s a certain terror to the life of a Member of Congress that, with all their pomp and pretense, it’s easy to miss. This terror is new. No one yet knows precisely how to tame it. And it may ultimately prove to be the single most important motivator to real campaign finance reform.

The terror runs something like this: An incumbent goes into an election, fairly confident about her prospects. Money in the bank, polling in the low sixties, an opponent with little chance to close the gap. Then 30 days out, a super-PAC drops half a million dollars in the district, funding attack ads, and ads that support the challenger. Very quickly, an easy reelection is thrown into doubt.

Incumbents are beginning to recognize this pattern. The most terrifying bit — in the short term, at least — is how they are reacting. They can’t hope to hold in reserve enough money to respond to such an attack — funders don’t contribute to million dollar surpluses; they send their money to candidates on the edge. Nor can they turn to their largest contributors after the attack begins — by definition, those contributors have maxed out. There’s nothing more they can do.

So the incumbent has but one obvious insurance policy: super-PACs on her own side. To secure the protection the incumbent needs, the incumbent cozies up to the large but independent funders on his or her side, so that if a bomb gets dropped, there’s a ready supply of bombs to support the incumbent.

And how do you cozy up to a super-PAC, to guarantee they’ll defend you — “independently,” of course — if terror raises its ugly head? By behaving in the way that super-PAC demands. “We’d love to be able to help you, Senator, but our charter requires that we only support candidates who get 80% or better on our score card.” Incumbents thus work hard for good (super-PAC) grades. And like superpowers in a cold war, allegiance is secured with a simple understanding of defense.

This dynamic was first explained to me by former Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN). Bayh was on a panel about campaign finance reform; he was responding to a skeptic’s claim that there was no real evidence that money mattered to a Senator’s decisions. I left that panel convinced that there was little an incumbent could do to maintain her independence.

Then I met Congressman John Sarbanes.

Sarbanes is a three-term Democrat from Maryland. He is the son of the former Senator, who began his career in the same district. Over a glass of water at a local restaurant, Sarbanes explained to me his idea for super-PAC insurance — an idea that required no compromise of principle, and indeed, one that would only strengthen the incumbent’s support.

The key is small dollar contributors. If Sarbanes had an army of small dollar supporters, then he’d have someone to turn to if he were attacked. Someone who has given $50 in the past is likely to be able to give $50 again, especially in an emergency, especially to protect “her congressman” against an “outsider’s attack.”

But it’s not easy to gather small dollar contributors. Indeed, for congressional races, it almost never makes sense. A single large contributor is worth 100 $50 contributors. Most incumbents thus find it easier to raise from the top down. It takes real discipline to raise from the bottom up.

So Sarbanes has done something that possibly no one else in the history of politics has ever done: He has formally and voluntarily tied himself to a funding structure that forces him to raise small dollar contributions. Sarbanes has established two “challenge funds,” both now fully funded. The first fund (worth $500,000) can be drawn upon only when Sarbanes recruits 1,000 small contributors. The second (with $250,000) can be drawn upon only when those contributors have given at least $50,000. Until he hits the 1,000 contributor, and $50,0000 in contributions mark, he can’t touch the $750,000 in the funds. But once he does, his campaign will be fully funded — with super-PAC insurance bundled in for free.

Not many in Congress are likely to follow Sarbanes’ lead. His ingenious idea takes real work. But if envy for his independence among Members grows, there is an obviously easier way to get the same protection: proposals like the Fair Elections Now Act, that would amplify the value of small contributions, or as I’ve proposed, a simple tax rebate in the form of a democracy voucher of $50 per voter, that would flood the field with small dollar contributions. Or even better, a constitutional amendment that limited the ability of super-PACs to drop bombs in the first place. Or even better still, a mix of both small dollar funding legislation and a limit on super-PAC power. Any of these reforms would give Members for free what Sarbanes is working overtime to earn: the independence necessary to be free to lead.

And thus may this innovation turn out to be a story with hope. For the current system is not stable. Until the rise of super-PACs, the system favored the incumbents. Now the incumbents work for the super-PACs. It is a demeaning and demoralizing life for people who like to think highly of themselves and the institution they serve. At some point they will get that they can fix this. Soon after that point, they just might.

Meanwhile, you could support this movement for a Congress “Free to Lead” (as Buddy Roemer puts it) by joining Sarbanes’ army. Or at least by thanking him for his idea.

(Original post on HuffPo)

December 20, 2011  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

There’s a certain terror to the life of a Member of Congress that, with all their pomp and pretense, it’s easy to miss. This terror is new. No one yet knows precisely how to tame it. And it may ultimately prove to be the single most important motivator to real campaign finance reform.

The terror runs something like this: An incumbent goes into an election, fairly confident about her prospects. Money in the bank, polling in the low sixties, an opponent with little chance to close the gap. Then 30 days out, a super-PAC drops half a million dollars in the district, funding attack ads, and ads that support the challenger. Very quickly, an easy reelection is thrown into doubt.

Incumbents are beginning to recognize this pattern. The most terrifying bit — in the short term, at least — is how they are reacting. They can’t hope to hold in reserve enough money to respond to such an attack — funders don’t contribute to million dollar surpluses; they send their money to candidates on the edge. Nor can they turn to their largest contributors after the attack begins — by definition, those contributors have maxed out. There’s nothing more they can do.

So the incumbent has but one obvious insurance policy: super-PACs on her own side. To secure the protection the incumbent needs, the incumbent cozies up to the large but independent funders on his or her side, so that if a bomb gets dropped, there’s a ready supply of bombs to support the incumbent.

And how do you cozy up to a super-PAC, to guarantee they’ll defend you — “independently,” of course — if terror raises its ugly head? By behaving in the way that super-PAC demands. “We’d love to be able to help you, Senator, but our charter requires that we only support candidates who get 80% or better on our score card.” Incumbents thus work hard for good (super-PAC) grades. And like superpowers in a cold war, allegiance is secured with a simple understanding of defense.

This dynamic was first explained to me by former Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN). Bayh was on a panel about campaign finance reform; he was responding to a skeptic’s claim that there was no real evidence that money mattered to a Senator’s decisions. I left that panel convinced that there was little an incumbent could do to maintain her independence.

Then I met Congressman John Sarbanes.

Sarbanes is a three-term Democrat from Maryland. He is the son of the former Senator, who began his career in the same district. Over a glass of water at a local restaurant, Sarbanes explained to me his idea for super-PAC insurance — an idea that required no compromise of principle, and indeed, one that would only strengthen the incumbent’s support.

The key is small dollar contributors. If Sarbanes had an army of small dollar supporters, then he’d have someone to turn to if he were attacked. Someone who has given $50 in the past is likely to be able to give $50 again, especially in an emergency, especially to protect “her congressman” against an “outsider’s attack.”

But it’s not easy to gather small dollar contributors. Indeed, for congressional races, it almost never makes sense. A single large contributor is worth 100 $50 contributors. Most incumbents thus find it easier to raise from the top down. It takes real discipline to raise from the bottom up.

So Sarbanes has done something that possibly no one else in the history of politics has ever done: He has formally and voluntarily tied himself to a funding structure that forces him to raise small dollar contributions. Sarbanes has established two “challenge funds,” both now fully funded. The first fund (worth $500,000) can be drawn upon only when Sarbanes recruits 1,000 small contributors. The second (with $250,000) can be drawn upon only when those contributors have given at least $50,000. Until he hits the 1,000 contributor, and $50,0000 in contributions mark, he can’t touch the $750,000 in the funds. But once he does, his campaign will be fully funded — with super-PAC insurance bundled in for free.

Not many in Congress are likely to follow Sarbanes’ lead. His ingenious idea takes real work. But if envy for his independence among Members grows, there is an obviously easier way to get the same protection: proposals like the Fair Elections Now Act, that would amplify the value of small contributions, or as I’ve proposed, a simple tax rebate in the form of a democracy voucher of $50 per voter, that would flood the field with small dollar contributions. Or even better, a constitutional amendment that limited the ability of super-PACs to drop bombs in the first place. Or even better still, a mix of both small dollar funding legislation and a limit on super-PAC power. Any of these reforms would give Members for free what Sarbanes is working overtime to earn: the independence necessary to be free to lead.

And thus may this innovation turn out to be a story with hope. For the current system is not stable. Until the rise of super-PACs, the system favored the incumbents. Now the incumbents work for the super-PACs. It is a demeaning and demoralizing life for people who like to think highly of themselves and the institution they serve. At some point they will get that they can fix this. Soon after that point, they just might.

Meanwhile, you could support this movement for a Congress “Free to Lead” (as Buddy Roemer puts it) by joining Sarbanes’ army. Or at least by thanking him for his idea.

(Original post on HuffPo)

October 27, 2011  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

[Dave Zirin has replied to my response. This issue about strategy is critical and important. Let me try one more time.]

Still missing the point. Let me try, Mr. @EdgeofSports, one last time. This time with a sports metaphor:

Imagine you’re a player with the Chicago Bears. You’re on the field, about to begin a game with the Green Bay Packers. Just before kick-off, someone races onto the field screaming: “Guys, please, can’t we all just get along? Enough of this fighting. Let’s just shake hands and go get a beer.”

I am not that guy, Dave. That’s not my argument (now stated again and again and again). Instead, I’m the guy saying something like: “Hey, Bears and Packers: Can we have a conversation about whether a tackler should be allowed to use his helmet when making a tackle?” Or translated for the non-sports-readers (which, before my friend Mark Snyderman gave me these examples, I, too, would have been), I’m the guy saying: we need to have a conversation about the rules of the game, because they are not working for any of us.

Or once again: Imagine you’re the pitcher for the Boston Red Sox (as most of the kids (boys and girls) where I come from do, at least once a day). You’re on the pitching mound, about to throw against the Yankees’ star batter. You look up, and some guy is flying a plane pulling a banner that says: “Look, I know some of us are Sox fans, and others of us are Yankees fans, but we’re all baseball fans. Let’s just stop all this fighting, link arms, and learn to work together.”

I am not that idiot either, Dave. Instead, and again, I am your teammate (no doubt, I’d be in the dugout and you’d be pitching, but still), asking whether it might make sense to sit down with the Yankees (and others in our league) and rethink the instant replay rule. Baseball, I believe, should be governed by honest umpires, not HD cameras.

In both cases, I’m the guy saying we should think about the rules. I’m not trying to say we should dampen the competitive passion of our own team. Or deny the justice in our own cause. Or to betray our own objectives. But competition happens on a field; that field is governed by rules; those rules only get changed if everyone (or at least the 99%) on the field agrees. So I think we need to find a way to talk to the 99% — Liberals, Conservatives, Moderates, Libertarians — about whether and how those rules should be changed.

Now as crazy as it is to race onto a football field and urge a kumbayah moment, or to buzz Fenway Park to urge inter-team love, it is just as crazy to label as disloyal a team member who is arguing that we need to sit down to talk about the rules of the game. It may be disloyal to argue that you shouldn’t fight hard against the other team. It is likely stupid, as a coach, to start a game with a lecture about how decent and hard working the other side is. But it is neither stupid nor disloyal to push for a respectful conversation with the other side when you believe the rules of the game are not working — for you and for the other side.

And that is my belief. I believe this system is corrupt. I believe that corruption hurts both the (populist) Left and the (populist) Right. And because I believe it hurts both of us populists, I believe there is a reason to try to engage with people I otherwise disagree with to see whether we can, first, agree about this corruption, and second, take steps to reform it. I believe that 99% of us — Liberal and Conservative, Leftist and Libertarians, Moderates, Tea Party supporters, Coffee Party Activists, much of the ACLU — could actually agree about the corruption that is this system, and agree to work together to change it.

It won’t be easy to get that agreement. It isn’t obvious how to even facilitate the conversation. But a good first step in that project would be to resolve not to call (again, baselessly, but put that aside) the other side “racists.” Instead, that conversation begins by acknowledging our differences, and accepting our different loyalties, yet working with respect to engage people we disagree with about the possibility that there might be something more fundamental — like changing the rules of the game — that differences notwithstanding, we might agree upon.

I get that respect is not your style. I doubt our politics are much different, but I do lean more to Gandhi (“What makes you think I hate the British?“) than to Malcolm X. But you rally hate not only of your opponents, but also of your allies, with prose that reek of condescension (“put down the high school citizenship textbook”), attack with falseness (“Please don’t tell me to love the Tea Party” — where have I ever told anyone to support, let alone, love the Tea Party?) and repeatedly demand that I just go home (“please get out of the way”; “don’t be surprised if theres no US. Just ‘you.’”). I get that makes things simpler — the Tea Party is racist, and I’m ignorant — but in my experience, I’ve not actually seen that style do much to convince anyone of anything.

At the very least, you’ve not shown me how hate gets you to 67 Senators, or 75% of the States. Dr. King didn’t need to change the Constitution. We do. And nothing in what I’ve said suggests anyone should “wait” to fight for anything of substance: please, coach, rally the team to fight for all the things you and I believe in. What I’ve said, again and again and again, is that as well as fighting for what we believe, we need to identify what we all believe, and use that common belief to end the corruption that blocks us, and them, from getting what we, all of us, want.

(Original post on HuffPo)

October 27, 2011  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

[Dave Zirin has replied to my response. This issue about strategy is critical and important. Let me try one more time.]

Still missing the point. Let me try, Mr. @EdgeofSports, one last time. This time with a sports metaphor:

Imagine you’re a player with the Chicago Bears. You’re on the field, about to begin a game with the Green Bay Packers. Just before kick-off, someone races onto the field screaming: “Guys, please, can’t we all just get along? Enough of this fighting. Let’s just shake hands and go get a beer.”

I am not that guy, Dave. That’s not my argument (now stated again and again and again). Instead, I’m the guy saying something like: “Hey, Bears and Packers: Can we have a conversation about whether a tackler should be allowed to use his helmet when making a tackle?” Or translated for the non-sports-readers (which, before my friend Mark Snyderman gave me these examples, I, too, would have been), I’m the guy saying: we need to have a conversation about the rules of the game, because they are not working for any of us.

Or once again: Imagine you’re the pitcher for the Boston Red Sox (as most of the kids (boys and girls) where I come from do, at least once a day). You’re on the pitching mound, about to throw against the Yankees’ star batter. You look up, and some guy is flying a plane pulling a banner that says: “Look, I know some of us are Sox fans, and others of us are Yankees fans, but we’re all baseball fans. Let’s just stop all this fighting, link arms, and learn to work together.”

I am not that idiot either, Dave. Instead, and again, I am your teammate (no doubt, I’d be in the dugout and you’d be pitching, but still), asking whether it might make sense to sit down with the Yankees (and others in our league) and rethink the instant replay rule. Baseball, I believe, should be governed by honest umpires, not HD cameras.

In both cases, I’m the guy saying we should think about the rules. I’m not trying to say we should dampen the competitive passion of our own team. Or deny the justice in our own cause. Or to betray our own objectives. But competition happens on a field; that field is governed by rules; those rules only get changed if everyone (or at least the 99%) on the field agrees. So I think we need to find a way to talk to the 99% — Liberals, Conservatives, Moderates, Libertarians — about whether and how those rules should be changed.

Now as crazy as it is to race onto a football field and urge a kumbayah moment, or to buzz Fenway Park to urge inter-team love, it is just as crazy to label as disloyal a team member who is arguing that we need to sit down to talk about the rules of the game. It may be disloyal to argue that you shouldn’t fight hard against the other team. It is likely stupid, as a coach, to start a game with a lecture about how decent and hard working the other side is. But it is neither stupid nor disloyal to push for a respectful conversation with the other side when you believe the rules of the game are not working — for you and for the other side.

And that is my belief. I believe this system is corrupt. I believe that corruption hurts both the (populist) Left and the (populist) Right. And because I believe it hurts both of us populists, I believe there is a reason to try to engage with people I otherwise disagree with to see whether we can, first, agree about this corruption, and second, take steps to reform it. I believe that 99% of us — Liberal and Conservative, Leftist and Libertarians, Moderates, Tea Party supporters, Coffee Party Activists, much of the ACLU — could actually agree about the corruption that is this system, and agree to work together to change it.

It won’t be easy to get that agreement. It isn’t obvious how to even facilitate the conversation. But a good first step in that project would be to resolve not to call (again, baselessly, but put that aside) the other side “racists.” Instead, that conversation begins by acknowledging our differences, and accepting our different loyalties, yet working with respect to engage people we disagree with about the possibility that there might be something more fundamental — like changing the rules of the game — that differences notwithstanding, we might agree upon.

I get that respect is not your style. I doubt our politics are much different, but I do lean more to Gandhi (“What makes you think I hate the British?“) than to Malcolm X. But you rally hate not only of your opponents, but also of your allies, with prose that reek of condescension (“put down the high school citizenship textbook”), attack with falseness (“Please don’t tell me to love the Tea Party” — where have I ever told anyone to support, let alone, love the Tea Party?) and repeatedly demand that I just go home (“please get out of the way”; “don’t be surprised if theres no US. Just ‘you.’”). I get that makes things simpler — the Tea Party is racist, and I’m ignorant — but in my experience, I’ve not actually seen that style do much to convince anyone of anything.

At the very least, you’ve not shown me how hate gets you to 67 Senators, or 75% of the States. Dr. King didn’t need to change the Constitution. We do. And nothing in what I’ve said suggests anyone should “wait” to fight for anything of substance: please, coach, rally the team to fight for all the things you and I believe in. What I’ve said, again and again and again, is that as well as fighting for what we believe, we need to identify what we all believe, and use that common belief to end the corruption that blocks us, and them, from getting what we, all of us, want.

(Original post on HuffPo)

October 26, 2011  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

Sometime-HuffPost blogger, and Nation contributor Dave Zirin has written a brilliant barn-raising response to my last HuffPost piece. Please read all of it, but here’s the bit I want call out. Zirin states: “But by going to Occupy sites and arguing for a Tea Party alliance, Professor Lessig, to put it mildly, isn’t helping.”

Helping what, exactly, Dave?

Helping the Left rally the Left? Agreed. That isn’t my aim. The #Occupy movements are doing that quite well on their own. As a Liberal, I celebrate that rally.

Helping the Left lead a movement for real reform? You tell me how your path does that better.

Here’s the fact about America: It takes an insanely large majority to make any fundamental change. You want Citizens United reversed, it is going to take 75% of states to do it. You want public funding of public elections? It’s going to take 67 Senators to get it. You want to end the corruption that makes it impossible to get any of the things liberals push? It’s going to take a broad based movement that cuts across factions, whether right (as in correct) or Right (as in not Left).

So you tell me how calling people you disagree with “racists” (which you predicated of the Tea Party because of the behavior of some of its members, even though an ABC analysis has concluded that views on race “are not significant predictors of support for the Tea Party movement”) is going to get us to 38 states? Or 67 Senators? Or 80% of the public’s support, which any fundamental change is going to require? Explain how chest-thumping self-righteousness about how hateful “they” are “is helping” that?

Maybe you don’t think such fundamental reform is needed, Dave. Maybe you think the political system is just fine. That the poor do perfectly well in a system where the rich fund political campaigns. That the middle class can hold its own in a world where corporations are free to spend endlessly to push the most ridiculous bullshit as “public” policy.

But if you think that, you’re from Mars. I’m from Earth. And here on Earth, here in America, our political system is f*cked, and your self-righteous indignation “is not helping” us to get it fixed.

It’s great to rally the 99%. It is a relief to have such a clear and powerful slogan. But explain this, because I’m a lawyer, and not so great with numbers: Gallup’s latest poll finds 41% of Americans who call themselves “conservative.” 36% call themselves “moderate.” Liberals account for 21%. In a different poll, Gallup finds 30% of Americans who “support” the Tea Party.

So who exactly are we not allowed to work with, Dave? 30% of America? 41% of America? All but 21% of America? And when you exclude 30%, or 41%, or 79% of Americans, how exactly are you left with 99%?

Talk about wanting to have it “both ways”! How can you claim to speak for 99% but refuse to talk to 30%? (And just to be clear: the 30% of Americans who support the Tea Party are not the 1% “superrich.” I checked. With a calculator.)

And finally as to one of the commentators on Dave’s essay who finds me “poisonous,” and said I said: “OWS needs to drop the ‘We are the 99%’ slogan because it might hurt the feelings of the rich.” What I said was not that the movement should give up the slogan 99% because it offended. I said it should instead talk about the 99.95%. That’s the percentage of Americans who did not max out in giving in the last Congressional election. That is the percentage that becomes invisible in the money-feeding-fest that is DC.

So if you really want to rally the 99%, you might begin by identifying those things that 99% might actually agree about. That the 30% of Americans who call themselves “supporters” of the Tea Party are racists is not a statement likely to garner the support of at least that 30%. (And again, as ABC found, it’s not even true).

On the other hand, 99% of America should be perfectly willing to agree that a system in which the top 1% — or better, .05% — have more power to direct public policy than do the 99% or 99.95% is wrong. And must be changed. Before this nation can again call itself a democracy (for those on the Left) or a Republic (for those on the Right). This “Republic,” by which the Framers meant a “representative democracy,” by which they intended a body “dependent upon the People ALONE,” is not.

That, too, must change. Meaning, in addition to all the things we Liberals want, we must change that as well. And my view is that if we changed that corruption first, we might actually find it a bit easier to get those other things too.

(Original post on HuffPo)