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Posts Tagged ‘Campaign Finance Reform’
November 3rd, 2015 at 3:41 am
Larry Lessig is Out
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Larry Lessig, the Harvard Law professor who launched a quixotic, long-shot, single-issue, “so-crazy-it-just-might-work” campaign for president on Labor Day after raising $1 million (give or take*) online from his supporters, has decided to drop out of the race.

That’s too bad. With Lessig exiting the contest, that leaves the Democrats with only three candidates to prattle on about the evils of money in politics.

Lessig explains in a short video to his supporters that he needed to break into the Democratic presidential primary debates if he had any hope of running something resembling a credible campaign. He has some further thoughts on his blog: “There’s a reality that the will to reform can’t bend — like mortgage payments.”

“It is now clear that the party won’t let me be a candidate,” he says in the video. “And I can’t ask people to support a campaign that I know can’t even get before the members of the Democratic Party — or to ask my team or my family to make a sacrifice even greater than what I’ve already made,” he adds.

Lessig also displays some of the belated self-awareness that had come to characterize his campaign. “I may be known in tiny corners of the tubes of the Internets, but I am not well known to the American public generally,” Lessig said.

When he first got into the race, he promised to resign the presidency just as soon as Congress passed his campaign finance reform bill. (Cough.) At some point, he realized that was a “totally stupid” idea and jettisoned it. But campaign finance remained the driving purpose, the anima, the lodestar of Lessig’s campaign.

At the heart of Lessig’s pitch is the belief that the vast majority of Americans want to eliminate or vastly curtail “big money in politics.” In the TED talk that marked Lessig’s “coming out” as a campaign-finance crusader, he cited a poll in which 96 percent of Americans said it’s “important to reduce the influence of money in politics.”

A more recent New York Times/CBS News Poll of American adults (the least trustworthy of demographics for polling purposes) found 46 percent of respondents think the campaign finance rules need “a complete overhaul.” Another 39 percent said “fundamental changes” are in order.

And yet the supposed demand never quite pans out. Lessig barely cracked 1 percent in the polls. Democrats Lincoln Chaffee and Jim Webb, who dropped out of the race last week, didn’t do much better. But because the Democratic National Committee changed the way it evaluates a candidate’s polling to determine participation in the televised debates, Lessig had no chance of getting any meaningful national exposure.

Of Clinton, Sanders, and O’Malley’s campaign finance reform proposals, Lessig said: “Until we end the corruption that has crippled Congress, none of their promises are even credible.” If so, then his promises were even less credible. The others at least have a constituency.

Just last week, the Times reported how Lessig’s campaign “endures in relative obscurity”:

Despite raising more money than Mr. Chafee, Mr. Webb and several Republicans, Mr. Lessig’s candidacy is not considered serious by many analysts or party leaders, who see him as an activist and gadfly. He did not dispel that notion when he introduced himself as a “referendum” candidate who would step down as president once he managed to overhaul the campaign finance system.

After spending years defending Internet freedom, he came to see corruption in politics as a monster that must be defeated, and he did not let go of the cause. Last year, Mr. Lessig started a “super PAC to end all super PACs,” and in September, he set his sights on the White House.

Back at Harvard, where he is on leave, Mr. Lessig’s cause has been met with a mix of bemusement, encouragement and concern.

“Larry’s a terrific guy, but I don’t think that because you have a very important project, that therefore you should be in charge of all the millions of things the president is in charge of, including foreign policy,” said Charles Fried, a conservative Harvard Law School professor who gave Mr. Lessig $100 anyway.

According to OpenSecrets, Professor Lessig raised the most money (around $93,000) from the Boston area. “Donors from a Cambridge zip code were the most generous.”

Perhaps he’ll have better luck next year with his Mayday PAC.

*For what it’s worth, Lessig took umbrage and responded to the Washington Free Beacon‘s reporting.

August 13th, 2015 at 1:32 am
Larry Lessig . . . for President?!
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Campaign finance reform crusader and aspiring censor Lawrence Lessig is threatening to form an exploratory campaign to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Because apparently Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton aren’t serious or strident enough.

Yes, he is serious.

I want to run. But I want to run to be a different kind of president. “Different” not in the traditional political puffery sense of that term. “Different,” quite literally. I want to run to build a mandate for the fundamental change that our democracy desperately needs. Once that is passed, I would resign, and the elected Vice President would become President.

This is the Presidency as referendum. Our constitution, unlike some states, doesn’t give us a referendum power directly. This hack adds one in. Almost never would it be necessary — in a well-functioning democracy. But when a democracy has lost the capacity to act as a democracy, a referendum president is a peaceful means to force a change that Congress is otherwise not going to make. When the system has become the problem, we need an intervention from the outside.

We are at one of those moments now. In no plausible sense do we have a representative democracy in America today. That fact shows itself in a thousand ways — from #BlackLivesMatter to billion dollar SuperPACs, and none more profound than the deep sense that most Americans have that their government is not theirs. “The system,” as Elizabeth Warren puts it, “is rigged.” And the fundamental challenge for our democracy today is to find a way to fix that rigged system.

The problems here are manifest. Would it be pedantic to point out that the United States was founded as a republic, not a democracy, and that the difference matters? Or to mention that the Constitution was written to limit government as well as democratic impulses? Or to bring up the small fact that direct democracy is a disaster?

(Incidentally, your writer understands that attacks on the initiative, referendum, and recall most often come from progressive quarters nowadays. It wasn’t always so.)

Lessig likes to cite polls suggesting “96 percent of Americans say it’s ‘important to reduce the influence of money in politics.’” More recently, he’s become fond of citing a MoveOn/YouGov poll that purports to show that 82 percent of Americans of all political stripes agree “the system is rigged.” Many conservatives and libertarians would agree with the latter proposition.

So what? As always, the question must be: what’s the remedy?

Lessig’s answer is the Citizen Equality Act of 2017, which includes such novelties as “a meaningfully equal freedom to vote,” ranked-choice voting; and taxpayer-funded (or, to use his parlance, “citizen-funded”) elections.

Do read the proposal. All three ideas are worth deeper exploration—and sound refutation. In lieu, we have James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal, who made sport of Lessig’s quixotic campaign in Wednesday’s Best of the Web Today:

Lessig would ask Congress (1) to abolish freedom of speech in favor of “equality of speech,” whatever that means, (2) to prohibit state legislatures from engaging in “political gerrymandering,” and (3) who knows what else. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that (1) and (2) have glaring constitutional problems. Maybe he should consult with some law professors.

Oh wait, he is a law professor. At Harvard no less.

Lessig last month stepped down as chairman and of MayDay, the SuperPAC he founded to promote “reform” candidates in the 2014 congressional elections. The effort raised $10 million and had virtually no impact. Only one of the candidates MayDay supported won and that was Rep. Walter Jones, the Republican from North Carolina whose reelection was a mortal lock.

This cycle, he’s been urging the two leading Democratic candidates to go bigger on campaign finance reform. In July, Lessig wrote a memo to Sanders urging on the senator to take advantage of his growing popularity by making “citizen equality” the “first issue — the one change that makes all other changes believable.”

. . “…[A]fter the surge of support for you, the single strongest attack is going to be the ‘reality argument,’” Lessig wrote. “You’re talking about a string of reforms that simply cannot happen in the Washington of today. The ‘system is rigged.’ If that rigging is good for anything, it is good for blocking basically everything you’re talking about.”

Looks like Lessig didn’t get the response he was hoping for.

Now Lessig has launched a “kickstarter-like” campaign (Kickstarter itself doesn’t allow political fundraising) to raise $1 million for his new effort by Labor Day. If he makes it, Lessig vows to give “this run every ounce of my energy.” If he falls short, he’ll give the money back.

He’s raised about $166,000 so far, so who knows? Maybe he can waste another $10 million in service of an ignoble cause.

August 25th, 2011 at 6:44 pm
Will the Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up?
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If the real purpose of presidential debates was to clarify the views of the candidates, then the next GOP forum would be Mitt Romney debating himself. From a report by Justin Sink in The Hill:

Former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney seems to be shifting his stance on climate change as he grapples with insurgent newcomer Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who has raced to the top of GOP polls.

“Do I think the world’s getting hotter? Yeah, I don’t know that, but I think that it is,” Romney said in New Hampshire on Wednesday, according to Reuters. “I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans.”

But at an earlier event in June in New Hampshire the former Massachusetts governor seemed more convinced by the possibility of global warming.

“It’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors,” Romney said in June. “I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that.”

We can now add climate change to gun control, health care, abortion, campaign finance reform, social security reform, gay rights, immigration, stem cell research, and the capital gains tax as issues on which Governor Romney has “evolved” over the years (or, in this case, months).

On the upside, we finally have an answer to the persistent question of what Mitt Romney believes: everything.

November 3rd, 2010 at 8:16 pm
Note to the Hand-Wringers: Money Doesn’t Buy Elections
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Politico usefully rebukes the conventional wisdom about money in politics with a look at this year’s self-financing candidates:

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, only one of the eight candidates running for Congress who contributed more than $3.5 million to their own campaigns stood amid the confetti and balloons on Election Night.  
Johnson’s victory, however, could well be attributed to the fact that he ran a hybrid fundraising operation. He put in $8 million but still raised another $4 million, which helped to generate volunteers for his campaign and created a path for supporters to feel invested in it.

Jennifer Steen, an expert on self-financers at Arizona State University, said, “The common thread among losing self-funders is inexperience, and they all started their campaign with serious deficiencies and some naïveté about their deficiencies. Others might call that arrogance or hubris.”

The one winner in the group is Republican businessman Ron Johnson, who beat Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), one of the Senate’s most ardent champions of campaign finance reforms that would limit the role of big money in federal races.

In Connecticut, Republican Senate nominee Linda McMahon spent $47 million of her own money. In Florida, Jeff Greene dropped $24 billion attempting to get the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate. In California, Carly Fiorina invested $5.5 million out of her own accounts for a shot at the upper chamber, though that number paled in comparison to the $143 million ponied up by the GOP gubernatorial nominee, Meg Whitman. What do they all have in common? They all lost.

For the professional fretters who rent their garments in support of McCain-Feingold and gnashed their teeth over the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, there’s a valuable lesson here: money buys you the means to make your case, not the right to have that case accepted by the voters. Big money in political races can be just as much a drawback as an advantage. And if you don’t believe that, just ask the organized labor establishment, whose investment in this year’s races turned out to be a toxic asset.