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Interviews: Ask Lawrence Lessig About His Mayday PAC 308

Posted by samzenpus
from the go-ahead-and-ask dept.
samzenpus (5) writes "Lawrence Lessig's list of achievements and areas of influence is not small. He's co-founder of the Creative Commons, but it is his Mayday PAC however that has garnered the most attention recently. The crowdfunded "Super PAC to end all Super PACs" was launched in May with the goal of raising money to elect candidates who would pass campaign finance reform. It raised over $1 million in the first 13 days and has the support of some influential people. With the help of matching contributions, Mayday hopes to raise $12 million by the end of June. Lessig has agreed to answer any questions about the PAC that you might have. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post."
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Interviews: Ask Lawrence Lessig About His Mayday PAC

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  • Unions. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by harrkev (623093) <kfmsd.harrelsonfamily@org> on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:06PM (#47298383) Homepage

    I was just wondering if you were also concerned about money from unions? To me, a millionaire donating is own money is somehow less problematic than unions taking money from their members to donate. Keep in mind that in many states, union membership is required in order to get the job. Therefore, many union members may find their money being used to support candidates that they do not support.

  • by sideslash (1865434) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:06PM (#47298389)
    Your goal is to level the playing field so that some individuals do not have more influence than others on elections. Have you considered the idea of censoring political blogs? Some bloggers have widely disproportionate influence, and by throttling their readership (perhaps by a government controlled internet filter occasionally injecting 404's), together we could take the "celebrity blogger" influence out of politics and level the playing field.

    ...or would you recognize that as a gross abuse of free speech, much like your plan to make political donations illegal? Seriously, why don't you stop trying to undermine the 1st Amendment?
  • by Jay Maynard (54798) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:21PM (#47298517) Homepage

    Why does the prospect of government regulation of political speech not terrify you to your core? Any "campaign reform" proposal must necessarily result in government deciding which speech is political and which is not, which is permissible and which is not. How do you prevent government from suppressing only political speech that it disapproves of?

  • by sideslash (1865434) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:43PM (#47298681)

    That's easy. A blog is speech. Money isn't.

    You're certainly entitled to your opinion. Whatever term you use, it's clear that you want to let the government take away our "freedom to spend our own money to get the word out about something". That means less freedom. Maybe you're happy with that, because governments never, ever abuse their position when given leeway to curtail personal freedoms?

    Blogs (and the internet, for the most part still) are fairly democratic institutions.

    I think you define "democratic" differently than I do.

    Using cash to drown out the majority of voices is tyranny. A more egregious twisting of the intent of the 1st amendment I cannot imagine.

    Using the government to outlaw political movies, political blogs (that cost money to operate), newspapers, etc. is exactly contrary to the intent of the 1st Amendment. I would say that you are a very confused individual. Or perhaps merely naive, if you expect that only roses and happiness will result from such a loss of freedom as you advocate.

  • Re:Irony (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Archangel Michael (180766) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:48PM (#47298707) Journal

    This would be taken seriously if Cantor hadn't just lost after outspending the other guy 5,000,000 to 200,000. Liberals think Money is the problem, always the problem, rather than the people. The problem is the people who are too stupid and fall for the same hate filled rhetoric. This is especially true in (D) districts where people vote primarily on (D) after the name, and then "name recognition" after that, and rarely (if ever) on actual issues.

    The fix is to research and vote with your conscience. Which is why I haven't voted (D) or (R) in years.

  • by macraig (621737) <> on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:53PM (#47298763)

    Mr. Lessig:

    Have you read Crispin Sartwell's article in the latest June issue of The Atlantic []? Mr. Sartwell seems to make arguments that imply that efforts such as that of RootStrikers and the Mayday PAC are merely nibbling at the edges of the true problem and not addressing it directly. If the hierarchies of wealth concentration and governance are inextricably linked through a Principle of Hierarchical Coincidence, then will you unlink them merely by legislating campaign finance reforms? For that matter, would even a round of revolutionary head-chopping do the job when so many other heads have been groomed and eagerly await the same chance at dominance?

  • by sideslash (1865434) on Monday June 23, 2014 @01:07PM (#47298889)
    The solution to "bad speech" is "more speech", not censorship. Corporations come and go, but governments' use of power and restriction of liberties tends to only grow and be abused in creative new ways.
  • Citizens United (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JWW (79176) on Monday June 23, 2014 @01:14PM (#47298937)

    Mr. Lessig,

    Since it seems that your PAC espouses the belief that Citizens United is a horrible supreme court ruling, and noting that the key product of the Citizens United LLC was a Documentary, and also noting that almost all documentaries are backed by or produced by corporations of one form or another; aren't you explicitly calling for the total prohibition of political documentaries in our political system? Also, is the publishing by major corporations (this includes all publishing companies) of books that are about politicians or from politicians required to be banned to take money out of politics?

  • Re:Irony (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rudy_wayne (414635) on Monday June 23, 2014 @01:32PM (#47299081)

    This would be taken seriously if Cantor hadn't just lost after outspending the other guy 5,000,000 to 200,000.

    . The Eric Cantor case was an exception, not the rule. In most cases, the politician who greatly outspends his opponent usually wins

    But the bigger issue that Lessig doesn't seem to understand is that he's not the only person trying to buy politicians. No matter how much money he raises, there are people out there spending a whole lot more money, a LOT more money, to buy politicians who oppose the political agenda supported by Lessig, the EFF and others.

  • by sideslash (1865434) on Monday June 23, 2014 @01:41PM (#47299137)
    Perhaps you're oversimplifying this. It's not that "money equals speech"; the problem is that suppressing certain kinds of donations means preventing people from "getting the word out" about something important to them, and thus prevents them from joining in unison with their peers in an act of aggregate, unison political speech. Or something.
  • by stenvar (2789879) on Monday June 23, 2014 @01:54PM (#47299241)

    There's a plausible argument that people shouldn't lose their free speech rights just because they get together in order to exercise them, or formalize their arrangement by forming a corporation.

    There's also a plausible argument to be made that if you can't spend your money on, say, traveling places to speak or buying poster boards for signs, you can't actually speak. In fact, if you can't spend any money related to political speech, your speech is largely limited to speaking to yourself at home.

    It's almost intuitive.

  • by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Monday June 23, 2014 @02:01PM (#47299295)

    the problem is that suppressing certain kinds of donations means preventing people from "getting the word out" about something important to them

    Outright disallowing donations is one thing. It's another to place limits on how much they can give. 196 people shouldn't be allowed to donate 80% of the money that goes to super PACs, that is simply buying political influence by those who can afford it. If the donation limit was capped at $1000 per person, for example, then that would change things. Mayday PAC is a good example - the word is out, and it doesn't require people to donate a million dollars each. People can still get the word out, but the power should be with groups of like-minded people rather than very wealthy individuals. Sheldon Adelson said it best:

    "I'm against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections," he shrugs. "But as long as it's doable I'm going to do it."

    The $11 million he gave to Gingritch is 0.044% of his $25 billion worth. That's the same as a person worth a million dollars donating $440. It doesn't matter to him, but it drowns out everyone else who can't afford to give $11 million. It also drowns out people like those who support Mayday, who combined can only muster a little over $2 million (so far, anyway).

  • by pla (258480) on Monday June 23, 2014 @02:16PM (#47299385) Journal
    Why not?

    For the same reason a ham sandwich isn't a duck?

    "Money" describes tokens of value used in trade for goods and services. "Speech" describes, in its most abstract form, the communication of ideas. The two have entirely different purposes, different modalities, different styles of accountancy/accountability (as appropriate).

    Now, if you want to debate whether or not companies can use as much money as they have to directly share their own opinions with the public, such as Chik-Fil-A coming out as anti-gay, we can talk. But Walmart anonymously pumping billions into anti-union candidates or Tyson buying their way into anti-agricultural-whistleblower laws, come about as far from "speech" as that ham sandwich does from a duck.

Wernher von Braun settled for a V-2 when he coulda had a V-8.