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Interviews: Ask Lawrence Lessig About His Mayday PAC 308

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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  • by Great Big Bird ( 1751616 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:00PM (#47298317)
    There are other similar efforts, specifically WolfPAC, which aims to reform using a constitutional amendment. Do you feel that these other efforts are complimentary or just duplication of effort?
  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <`moc.stiucricve' `ta' `ive'> on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:00PM (#47298319) Homepage

    So best case scenario is that you lobby away PAC money in the next election cycle. Once you have reached your goal, what do you think is going to prevent lawmakers from finding other loopholes in the laws to do something similar-but-not-equal the cycle after that? As we've seen with FISA/DMCA/... - if they can't do it this year, they'll try and try again until they can get their ways.

    In other words, do you think getting rid of PAC's is going to solve anything about corporate money flowing into government. And once you have outlawed the only avenue currently available (a PAC that is run by the people) that can somewhat level the playing field for citizens, what other avenues will there be to fight this corruption?

  • by TigerPlish ( 174064 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:01PM (#47298331)

    Mr. Lessig,

    Yours is the first effort I've heard about revamping Government that makes any sense whatsoever. A hearty thank you to you and your staff!

    In your estimation, does MaydayPAC have a decades-long plan, to replace as much of Congress as possible, and even reach for the Presidency?

    I'm all for it. Even if it takes 30 years.

  • by fche ( 36607 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:01PM (#47298341)

    Why do you believe statutory reform is necessary, or sufficient to accomplish anything serious? Why do you believe it is a precondition of a constitutional-amendment path?

  • by globaljustin ( 574257 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:05PM (#47298373) Journal

    Mr. Lessig, thanks for taking the time.

    My question is about timing and resource allocation: With all the problems in America right now, why did you feel that campaign finance reform was the one issue of many (civil rights, immigration, American poverty, health care, etc.) that deserves this huge P.R. and money push now?

    • There's a dependency of all the issues you mention and just about all others on basic access. Money warps consideration of all potential legislation.
  • Unions. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by harrkev ( 623093 ) <kfmsd AT harrelsonfamily DOT 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.

    • Why does everybody treat unions different from any other corporation? They are simply a competing interest in the game of capitalism, but they operate in exactly the same way, with exactly the same style hierarchies. To single out the unions is only taking sides. Attempting to destroy one cartel only assists the others.

      • well lets look at it like this. The union is nothing but a bureaucracy in the middle of you and your job. As such they exist for the sole reason of making money on their members, So I have to pay money to Group A for the ability to work for group B, all while group A is taking money from my paycheck to spend on their pet projects that I may or may not agree with.

        remove the mandatory union membership for jobs, and let the people keep more of their own money and donate it to the candidates they like, rathe
      • Why does everybody treat unions different from any other corporation?

        Mostly because they are.

        You can be an electrician, and you can work for any number of companies or corporations, but in many places you must belong to the IBEW to work at any of them.

    • Keep in mind that in many states, union membership is required in order to get the job

      Do you have a citation for that? The only thing I know is that some states allow union-membership to be automatic once you're hired into a particular position at a particular company. That is very, very different from being required to have a union membership to get a particular anywhere in the state.

      Furthermore, the big difference is the scale. It's a lot harder to get a large group of people to agree on a political course of action than it is to get one person to agree with themselves. The entire point of

      • by harrkev ( 623093 )

        There are many "right to work" states where you do not HAVE to join a union. Here are lists of them:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R... [wikipedia.org]
        http://www.nrtw.org/rtws.htm [nrtw.org]

        If they are not "right to work" then you can assume that you are forced to join a union to get a unionized job.

        • Right, quite a few years ago my state wasn't "Right to work" and I was forced into several unions. They take the dues right out of your check, you have no choice at all. After my state went right to work, you could ask to be removed from the union. This had little effect on you personally, but for the first few years there was a lot of derogatory comments thrown at me. I didn't mind, I was getting paid more and the Union never did a damned thing for me.

      • by harrkev ( 623093 )

        By the way: better description here:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U... [wikipedia.org]

        Basically, you can't be forced to do things like attend meetings, vote, etc. But you CAN be forced to pay dues or loose your job.

        • Yep, I'm aware of union shops and right to work states. Just wanted to be sure what you were talking about, because your initial description told a much, much wilder story.

    • Re:Unions. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @01:54PM (#47299245) Journal

      Keep in mind that in many states, union membership is required in order to get the job.

      I've never understood this about the USA, it seems to completely miss the point of unions. Here, there are often two or three unions that are competing for members, so you get the benefits of collective bargaining and the benefits of competition. Collective bargaining via a monopoly that has no incentive to represent your interests is much the same position you're in with no union at all...

  • 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 spe
    • So, just because the Warren Burger led supreme court went 5-3 (Justice Stevens did not take part) in Buckley vs Valeo in favor of this line of reasoning does not make it correct. It simply means that our Supreme court believed that it knew better than the majority of Congress, who felt strongly enough about limiting campaign money to override Gerald Fords veto.

  • by ADRA ( 37398 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:09PM (#47298413)

    As there are many shapes and forms to democratic process, can you reference an active government that have 'gotten it right' at least in terms of dealing with campaign / direct contributions that you find working well (or at least as close to what you're proposing to introduce)?

  • Mayday PAC (Score:5, Interesting)

    by werepants ( 1912634 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:09PM (#47298415)
    What kind of accountability exists with the Mayday PAC to ensure that representatives elected due to this funding actually follow through on promises of campaign finance reform?
  • Why not Wolf PAC? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by werepants ( 1912634 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:12PM (#47298445)
    Why do you believe that forming a PAC to elect reform-minded candidates is more promising than Wolf PAC's method, of bypassing the typical political process and trying to call an Article V Convention for the purpose of limiting the influence that money has over our political process?
  • Hello, Mr. Lessig. I'm not entirely sure what the end-game fundraising goal for the PAC is, but I know that many of the people running for Congress are backed by the ultra-rich. In my state, Connecticut, we had a single Senate candidate (Linda McMahon, CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment) spend something like $97 million of her own money on two races in 2011 and 2012. That averages to over $45 million per race for a single candidate, though I'm not sure how representative Linda McMahon is of the average ca

    • She was beaten by a guy who outright lied about serving in Vietnam during the war on several occasions. So all her money/influence and she could not beat a guy who was caught blatantly lying.
  • by werepants ( 1912634 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:15PM (#47298467)
    How would you respond to critics that believe that as soon as the Mayday PAC raises a substantial amount of money, all the other PAC's, along with the commercial media (who are the main beneficients of political spending) will jointly work together against the Mayday PAC and overwhelm it with superior resources?
  • by ddt ( 14627 ) <ddt@davetaylor.name> on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:19PM (#47298503) Homepage
    I want to applaud you for making an impressive effort to fight this problem, but at the same time, you're combating the purchase of elections by purchasing elections. This seems morally dubious. I understand the goal is to have one last round of evil and then patch up the laws that allow these things, but what's to prevent lawmakers from undoing these changes later?
  • 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 instituting rules that apply to how speech is created, and completely disassociated from the content of that speech.

      Some examples:
      1) You can't run ads that mention political candidates or parties 2 weeks before an election.
      2) You can't contribute more than x money to the campaign of a single person/party for a specific election.

      Does it leave concern-troll ads open? Sure does. It's not meant to be remove all influence of money on political speech. It just attempts to curtail the impact that a single large

  • by cmarkn ( 31706 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:28PM (#47298565)

    The two major parties have done everything in their power to make sure that minority candidates have virtually insurmountable obstacles to their getting onto a ballot in the first place, and even then these candidates are rarely given serious coverage by the media. If you were to actually succeed in taking the money out of political campaigning, then how do you keep the news media from completely controlling who gets elected by their control of who is able to get their message out?

    Don't suggest that a "Fairness Doctrine" will provide equal coverage to all candidates, because there would certainly be a test for "viability" of candidates before they get any taxpayer-provided funding, and only major-party candidates would ever pass that test.

  • What kind of a solutions are you seeking from politicians that your SuperPAC will support: A law similar to McCan-Feingold or something more resilient like a constitutional amendment?
  • by CapedOpossum ( 953156 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:29PM (#47298577)
    If you seek to address the influence of money on our political process via a constitutional amendment, is your SuperPAC up for the task of influencing not just federal legislators but state legislators and governors as well?
  • Term Limits (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JWW ( 79176 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:31PM (#47298591)

    Mr. Lessig,

    Have you considered the potential side effect that if you are successful in removing "money from politics"? You will likely end up enormously empowering the position of incumbency, establishing a ruling class that once elected, no one will have the capabilities to truly mount a successful campaign against.

    Incumbents have huge benefits and a large number of tools to communicate to the voters (who are of course their constituents, so they can even justify it).

    My great fear is that campaign finance reform will do nothing to stem the tide of permanent, lifetime, politicians dominating our system. Even in the worst election for incumbents in a half century (2010) over 80% of incumbents won.

    Will you support and make your backed candidates support a constitutional amendment to create and enforce term limits on members of Congress?

    If Mayday can't support term limits, then I can't support it. In fact I may feel compelled to fight against it. I don't even really want money out of politics if it leads to lifetime memberships in Congress for the lucky ones that achieve office once, and then never lose again until they die.

    • Agreed. taking money out of politics is important, but ensuring term limits would make the money less important. I am with you, I will not be able to support anyone who does not try and get term limits imposed
    • We imposed term limits to prevent an imperial presidency.

      We did nothing to limit an imperial congress.

  • I'd love to hear your opinion on the debate over Money as a form of Speech. Should expenditure of money be protected as a form of expression or restricted as a form of coercion (just like some forms of speech are)? How are speech and money similar and how are they fundamentally distinct?

  • You seek to elect candidates focused on a single issue, however our Congress hears and votes on multiple issues during an election cycle. While campaign finance reform is your goal, wouldn't your contributors / potential contributors be more concerned about other issues that affect our country as well? Campaign finance reform may be important, but rarely would it trump individual moral / political beliefs.
  • They are going about this the wrong way... There are TWO things we should do to fix this...

    1. FULL DISCLOSURE - Namely, make ALL political organizations, candidates and campaigns disclose the source of EVERY penny they receive. If the organization does advocacy for any political issue or candidate, it requires FULL disclosure. Disclosures need to be in a common format and available to the public and should identify by name and address every individual, company, etc who donated to the organization. Als

  • by cmarkn ( 31706 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:39PM (#47298657)
    How will your plan reduce the overwhelming advantages enjoyed by incumbents so that challengers have a fair chance of winning more than 10% of the time?
  • by Capt James McCarthy ( 860294 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:46PM (#47298697) Journal

    When your goal is 12,000,000 and have the support of Mr. Wozniak and he believes in your PAC, why not just get the money from him?
    (I mean, if I have billions and a topic I support, and 12 million wouldn't make me lose sleep. Just saying.)

    Heck, he could start a PR firm that will handle all the ads and such for the PAC and be paid by the PAC. Or you can take a loan from the PAC to pay your bills. Isn't that the way PACs are run currently?

  • These are supposed to be technical people, but their email list subscription system doesn't work... It's happy to send me an email, but denies that my email address is in the system. Very disappointing. Makes me wonder how well they're going to be spending the SuperPAC money if their own systems work no better than anyone else's.
  • by macraig ( 621737 ) <mark@a@craig.gmail@com> 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 [theatlantic.com]? 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?

  • Given that the Supreme Court has already weighed in twice on the constitutionality of campaign finance reform (money = speech, etc.), is traditional legislation even enough - at this point isn't an actual amendment necessary, to overcome existing rulings?
    • This is why I asked about his opinion on the Money vs. Speech question. If he honestly believes money isn't speech then it's now a constitutional issue, since the Supreme Court has essentially decided Money == Speech. If he believes money is speech then legislating a restriction on money won't (now) pass constitutional muster. In either case legislation appears to be a losing proposition (long term at least).

  • I love this idea Dr. Lesseg, was one of the first to donate in May.

    I was wondering how difficult it is to get media access to shows? It seems like one or two interviews on Colbert, Daily Show, John Oliver, etc. would propel the campaign to the finish line but it hasn't happened yet. I'm assuming you have tried, and/or would be more than willing to appear if they called?

  • by Rob the Bold ( 788862 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @01:12PM (#47298925)

    Concerning the goals and strategy of the Mayday PAC, what unintended results are you most concerned about, and how do you intend to avert them? E.g., further legitimizing the "buying" of elections, or contributing to the escalation of political spending.

  • 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?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why do in-kind contributions from media corporations get a pass on contribution limits in your proposal?

  • by stenvar ( 2789879 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @01:18PM (#47298973)

    MayDay.US promises to "reduce the influence of money". That's a good sound bite, but the reason other people don't like your proposals is not that they like "the influence of money", but that they don't see any way of reducing that that doesn't do more harm than good. So, please be specific: what outcome do you actually envision and desire, and how are the details going to work? You propose "public funding" or "vouchers", but you are vague on who gets to make the decisions about (1) who violates your rules, (2) who the money can go to, and (3) who will still be allowed to use their own resources for political purposes.

    (1) If you impose restrictions on political speech, someone needs to be in charge of determining which political speech is in violation of the restrictions you envision. For example, does generally opposing a political ideology count as political speech that I can't spend money on? Is this determined by the courts? The executive branch? Why wouldn't that power be abused by incumbents?

    (2) Who can I give the vouchers that pay for political speech to? Just candidates? Not-for-profits? For-profits? Would it be a felony to sell these vouchers for money?

    (3) You work for a rich and powerful organization, and many media organizations are rich and powerful too. Will universities and news corporations be subject to the same restrictions on political speech? Will you be prohibited from speaking on political issues? Will the editors of the NYT be prohibited from commenting on candidates? If not, why should they be exempted? Why should the $32+ billion company you work for have rights to engage in political speech that other companies do not?

  • by stenvar ( 2789879 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @01:27PM (#47299027)

    There are many campaign finance systems around the world, and a lot of experience with them in other countries. Can you provide clear and concrete evidence that the kind of mechanisms you envision work better in practice in other countries?

    What, in fact, are your objective criteria for "better democracy"?

    Note that it is insufficient to cite factors that you prefer for ideological reasons. For example, particular forms of campaign finance may correlate with lower levels of income inequality, but if that's your argument, you are really arguing that we should change the campaign finance system to achieve your political objectives, not in order to achieve a better democracy (low levels of income inequality are not by themselves an indication of a functioning democracy, since low income inequality exists even in many non-democratic nations).

  • staying true (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lyapunov ( 241045 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @01:36PM (#47299105)

    Mr. Lessig, while I respect your efforts on many levels, I'm curious what strategies you will use to prevent those that you will help will with your Mayday PAC to not go off the reservation should they win.

  • This seems like a simpler version of Wolf-Pac.com who aims to pass get a Constitutional Amendment. The problem i see with Mayday is that although it is aiming to elect officials to pass campaign finance reform the problem is those same politicians once in will be spending most of their day (as all other politicans currently do) looking for the next source of campaign funding -- and last i checked the highest funder gets the most attention and sway by these politicians. Mayday is limited in how much influe
  • You're a lawyer, and the restrictions on speech you propose will certainly lots of opportunity for lawyers to exercise power and get additional work. You personally are almost certainly part of the 1%, and if you insinuate that businessmen try to influence politics for their monetary gain, why shouldn't we assume the same about you? Furthermore, while you propose restrictions on the political speech of other people, you don't seem to be proposing restrictions on the political speech of newspaper corporation

  • I've followed your work on behalf of free culture for years sir, and let me just say "Thank you".

    The importance of your current campaign cannot be overstated; no country can be truly "free" it is in fact owned by a few tyrants. Corruption was bad before Citizens United and it's almost uncontroversial to say it's the worst in our history. Aside from donating money, how can individuals help? I'm sure you know this crowd has no shortage of technical skills and I'd be happy to volunteer myself.

  • by Beeftopia ( 1846720 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @02:51PM (#47299601)

    So - I really like the idea of the PAC. I want to contribute. BUT, I don't want to undermine my other causes.

    Question: Will this PAC be promoting both liberal and conservative politicians who advocate this one very important issue? The mayday.us website says 5 races will be targeted. What races and why those particular races?

    Politician A is "wrong" on every issue but campaign finance reform.
    Politician B is "right" on every issue but wrong on campaign finance reform.

    How can someone like me - who believes the current campaign finance system is a rot at the heart of our democracy, but also has to balance this issue with other important issues - how can my concerns be assuaged?

  • by jwarnick ( 637847 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @07:05PM (#47319735)

    INTRO: Money and lobbyists in politics is the symptom, not the solution.
    Federal Constitution specifies a census to count people to expand the number of seats in House of Representatives. This was capped in 1913, which allowed lobbyists and money to increase influence. We should have ~80,000 or less people per representative, so each person could conceivably have a group lunch with their rep. Now there are over 1 million people per representative, so only those with money (lobbyists) get access.

    QUESTION: Instead of focusing on the symptom of money in politics, why not focus on returning to representative government by allowing the House to grow with population?

    424 seats in small state of New Hampshire https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
    Federal House seats capped in 1913 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
    435 Representatives Can Not Faithfully Represent 300 Million Americans http://www.thirty-thousand.org... [thirty-thousand.org]

    Before smart-guys-and-gals say "30,000 people won't fit", consider meeting in a stadium once a year with tele-conferences the remainder of the sessions. Real representation, and the follow-on impotency of money and lobbyists, is worth the additional cost of paying 30,000 representatives.

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.