So, back on May 1, Larry Lessig made a bit of a splash with the launch of the Mayday PAC, billed as the “Super PAC built to destroy Super PACs.” Lessig is being extremely careful to talk about the visions of the PAC in the most abstract terms, saying only that their goal is to “change the way elections are funded” because, as he says, “90% of Americans agree that our government is broke.” (By that I assume he means that it’s “broken” as opposed to “out of money.” Because, at $17 trillion in debt, it’s way, way past being “out of money.”) The PAC, supposedly, is going to target 5 races in the 2014 elections and donate money to the candidate who is willing to say that they are going to put the issue of how elections are funded as their #1 priority. Their goal is to elect a majority to Congress that will pass the laws necessary to… well, that’s where it gets fuzzy.
Lessig and his team don’t like the current situation where members of Congress spend the bulk of their non-legislative time sucking up to large – read that: corporate – donors rather than paying that attention to the people, their constituents. As far as that goes, I’m in agreement. It’s what Lessig and the rest of his PAC think is the corrective fix for that that has me more worried about him than about anything Congress is doing. Giving a video interview to the techie site SlashDot, Lessig answered some questions about the PAC. I think some of those answers are quite telling. This exchange was near the beginning of the interview. (“Tim” is the SlashDot interviewer, “Larry” is Lessig himself.):
Tim: Okay. So another critical and this one is a slightly different type of critical questions that a lot of our readers have, and I think this is also widespread, is they object to the idea of regulating the money that can be given to a political campaign, and they say that that is equivalent to speech; one reader asks, and I am going to say that this is somewhat facetiously, that aren’t you in that way, also calling for a prohibition of documentaries of the political bench, or books written by politicians who are in favor of a particular candidate? Distinguish the way money per se as a campaign contribution in that form is different from other forms of material support, and why it is that it is okay to limit contributions to a certain dollar amount for a person or group as opposed to other ways that people influence political campaigns themselves.
Larry: Great question. So the Mayday PAC is aiming at changing the way elections are funded. And the proposals that we pointed to don’t necessarily do anything directly about limiting people’s capacity to spend their money to speak.
Tim: But then we already have such restrictions anyhow with campaign contribution limits.
Larry: Right. But we are not focused on restrictions—we are focused on increasing the range of people who participate in the funding of elections. So there are two basic models that we’ve got: One is the voucher program—you can see it at reform.to—a voucher proposal, where every voter is given a voucher that they use to fund small dollar elections. The other is matching grant where you give a small contribution—it’s matched up to 9:1—that’s John Sarbanes’ proposal. Those two proposals don’t restrict anybody’s ability to contribute anything. Or don’t restrict people’s ability to spend their money speaking at all. All this is doing is making it, so candidates don’t spend all of their time literally 30% to 70% of their time, focused on the tiniest fraction of the 1%. So there are lots of people out there who are talking about much more radical changes—limiting the ability of people to contribute at all, stopping corporations from their ability to speak. We are not talking about that as the first steps of reform. We say, let’s change the way elections are funded. That is the first step. And that is the step that Mayday PAC will push into Congress.
Emphasis in that last answer is mine. So, Lessig recognizes that there are “lots of people out there” saying that citizens should be “limited” in contributing to campaigns at all and that corporations should be prohibited from speaking out on this. Does this bother him? No, not at all. It’s just that those actions wouldn’t be his “first step.” Which means, fellow Americans, that Mr. Lessig thinks you should be banned from contributing. I know all about what he said in the first part of that answer, but you’ll note he’s not suggesting those are the preferred directions. His implication as regards those last two – that citizen contributions should be limited and corporations shouldn’t be allowed to at all – is clear. He approves of those, but he knows he won’t get there on day 1.
Lessig won’t say who his PAC is targeting for the 2014 race. Maybe he doesn’t know. Or, maybe, his choice of language in dealing with the question might give you a clue:
Larry: Yeah. We have to first figure what the resources are before we pick. We can’t pick in advance. Because you don’t announce troop movements before the troops are ready to move. Like if we said, these are the five races and we want that to be engaged, then those five races will find a million reasons a million ways to attack what we are trying to do. So I get that that creates a little bit of anxiety and uncertainty. This is the only thing I can offer in response to that anxiety and uncertainty: We are in this for a long-term objective. We don’t care about winning. Five races won’t make it so that we get the legislation we want—it is not going to change anything really in Congress. Except break the four-minute mile barrier. Break the idea that this is impossible. So we want to do this in a way that it builds a movement that, in 2016, will be back with us so that we can win many many more races. So if we screw it up this year, if we pick the wrong kind of candidates, if we pick candidates that are only Liberal Democrats, or we kick out a bunch of Democrats in the name of crazy nonresponsive Republicans, we won’t be able to rally these people back with us when we get to 2016.
Yeah, because Republicans are so generically crazy and nonresponsive. You never see Democrats like that. So, sure, I’d really trust that I’m going to donate money to a PAC organized by this man and really trust that he’s going to give any Republican that actually espouses Republican values any real consideration.
Fat chance. Lessig and his team are barking up the right tree; we do need reform in a number of the areas of campaign finance. But, in my view, the reforms have been made more necessary by the ham-handed previous attempts that have been so obviously little more than incumbent-protection rackets (I’m looking at you, McCain!) than by any other activity. The problem here is that Lessig and the rest of his PAC are largely left-wing, so-called “progressives” looking to exploit a legitimate concern regarding our government to cover their goal of cutting people out of the process entirely beyond what little amount these leftists chose to allow. They don’t value freedom of speech except where they get to speak their minds. And I don’t approve of that stance, I don’t care how bipartisan they claim their group may be.