At 9:30pm ET, 4 July, this happened, and then all of NH started celebrating — with FIREWORKS no less. (I love this state.) #MaydayPAC
One of the most striking (and frustrating) features about debating the issue of corruption with some on the Right, even the libertarian Right, is the feeling that you’re talking to someone from another century. (As the 1990s are.) Specifically, older sorts, who cut their teeth on the fight against McCain-Feingold and the like, can’t seem to get beyond the arguments they made then against the reform legislation being considered then. Everything is about how awful it is that we reformers want to restrict peoples’ speech. How terrible it is that we want to tax people to subsidize speech they don’t agree with. And how terrifying it is to have the government decide how much either side gets to spend to wage his or her campaigns. Again and again, this parade of horribles gets trotted out to attack whatever reform proposal is being advanced. As if reformers, like these critics from the right, are also stuck in the 1990s.
All this is frustrating because these critics don’t seem to recognize that the proposals they are attacking have in fact been crafted to be responsive to their own criticisms from the 1990s. The critics aren’t so much sore winners, as sour winners, not even recognizing that their argument had force enough to force (at least some) reformers to rethink the architecture of reform.
This rethinking began with the incredible book by Ackerman and Ayres, Voting with Dollars. Rick Hasen, too, had done powerful work outlining an alternative to the 1990s “restrict speech” model of reform. Groups like Public Campaign have been pushing a non-“restrict speech” solution for years. In short, there was an industry that tried to meet the conservatives’ criticism, by crafting a different form of reform that was in fact responsive to their criticism. Not necessarily because these new reformers agreed with the criticism of the right. But because finding the common ground necessary to build a reform movement is much more important than finding a magic bullet to pierce an opponent’s argument.
I thought of my own proposal in Republic, Lost, in exactly this way. As I read the critics, the strongest attacks on “campaign finance reform” from the 1990s were (1) that it restricted speech, (2) that it forced people to subsidize political speech they don’t agree with, and (3) that it put the government in the position of deciding how much money each side had to fight their campaigns. Presidential public funding (remember, the funding device that benefited Ronald Reagan more than any other American (giving him a chance to run effectively in 1976, and by the end, funding his 3 national campaigns) did the last two — the taxes of liberals were used to support conservatives, and vis-a-versa, and the total amount each side got to spend was determined by government officials. Those flaws didn’t stop the Supreme Court from upholding presidential public funding in the dreaded Buckley v. Valeo. But they did encourage others to think about reforms that might not fall afoul against even those.
The Grant and Franklin Project was my effort at a conservative-compliant reform. Under this system, all voters would receive a tax rebate of $50 to cover a “democracy voucher.” (I should have called it a “republic voucher,” but ok). Voters could then give that voucher to any candidate who agreed to fund his or her campaign with vouchers or small contributions (up to $100) only. So Grant, $50; Franklin, $100.
Notice (please!) how the voucher program responds directly to all three conservative complaints.
- First, it doesn’t restrict speech. It expands speech. $50 for every voter is $7B, more than 2x the total raised and spent in the last congressional election.
- Second, it does not involve anyone “subsidizing” anyone’s speech. Every voter “contributes” at least $50 to the federal treasury; rebating every voter $50 is thus giving him/her back his/her own money. When someone spends his or her voucher, no one is “subsidizing” that speech.
- Third, the government isn’t deciding how much each side gets to run his or her campaign. That’s determined by how many people give their voucher to a candidate. Unlike federal presidential funding, which, after qualification, gave each side the same, the amount of voucher funding each side gets is determined by citizens, not bureaucrats.
Harper nonetheless rejects this program too. This, too, he says, violates the constitution. It does so, Harper tells us, because
if your preferred candidate is none of the above, your money will be used to fund political candidates that you don’t support. This is the evil of direct taxpayer funding of campaigns—taking money from a person to support speech of which he or she disapproves.
That’s not technically true. Someone with a voucher is free not to use it at all (and if so, then no one is “taking money from a person” to support anyone). But let’s assume for a second it does, because this is the real ipse dixit of Harper’s reply. Harper says:
The “democracy voucher” is a tax break that subsidizes political speech, something about which the Constitution says Congress shall make no law.
Notice, of course, the Constitution says no such thing. It says that Congress shall not “abridge” the freedom of speech. More speech is not abridging speech.
Moreover, there is no rule in our Constitution that says that the government can’t “promote political speech” — so long, at least, as it is content and viewpoint neutral. And for all his hand waiving, Harper can’t point to a single source — either the actual text of the constitution, or an opinion of the Court — that suggests any constitutional problem with such a subsidy. The whole purpose of the Post Office, originally, was to subsidize political speech. And if presidential public funding is constitutional — which was Buckeley’s rule — then a voluntary system that enabled people to spend rebated tax money on a political candidate of their choice, or, if they choose, on no one at all is certainly constitutional. And I challenge Harper to offer one bit of actual authority to counter that statement beyond his “this is the way I wish the Constitution were interpreted” mode of argument.
No doubt one might argue against a voucher program on the grounds that there’s nothing wrong with the current system of campaign funding. (Good luck with that). Or that it would cost too much. But here’s where I think the Cato finding about “corporate welfare” — ~$100B per year — is so useful. If Cato is right, then if changing the system could reduce corporate welfare by just 10%, we could pay for the voucher program ($3.5B/year) more than two times over. It wouldn’t be money funded “out of debt,” as Harper writes. It would give the government a pretty good way to reduce the debt.
Finally, Harper writes
Professor Lessig has advocated against transparency, though, because it might “push any faith in our political system over the cliff.”
Of course, I have not “advocated against transparency,” though Harpers claim that I have proves the very point my article was making precisely.
Of course, I support vigorous and extensive transparency. The point of my article, however, was the limited utility in transparency because of the “attention span problem.” To understand the information within transparent data will often require more attention than the rational individual will give it — just as to understand the argument of my essay required more attention than Harper gave it. That means that merely making data available isn’t enough to deal with an underlying corruption problem. Transparency may therefore be a necessary condition of any proper political system. My only point was that it isn’t sufficient.
Great news about MAYDAY.US data (for the very hungry data-mavens). Read the announcement just sent to the list.
The NYTimes has an incredible story today about Governor Cuomo and his ethics commission.
According to the story, when the commission issued a subpoena to a firm that was related to Cuomo, Cuomo’s aid contacted a commission co-chair and told him, “This is wrong” and then “Pull it back.” The commission then did.
Cuomo has already marked himself as the reform community’s biggest disappointment — grabbing reform headlines with an ethics commission that he then hobbled, and then teasing reformers with the promise that he would get public funding of elections passed — only then to sabotage that as well.
But this — if true — crosses a pretty important line. Many of us saw the tragedy of Eliot Spitzer as just that: a tragedy, because whatever demons led him to his wrongful and hypocritical act, they sapped America of an incredible force for change.
The corruption here is different — and much much worse. If an aid to the chief corruption reformer in NY has corruptly interfered with a corruption investigation, then NY doesn’t need that “corruption reformer” anymore — because that’s not what he is.
If this charge is true, then this is a governor who believes himself above the law. THAT is the keystone of corruption.
The Democrats had a chance this year to mark themselves as the party of reform (I hope not too much, or not too exclusively, because reform will only come if supported by Democrats, Republicans and Independents all, but movements need leaders, and it is good the Dems lead). But if this charge is true, then Cuomo destroys the party’s chances here. “Here’s a young, NY ‘reformer,’ in the tradition of not Teddy, but Tammany.”
If the charge is true, then Cuomo should go: as quickly as Spitzer did, for the hypocrisy here is worse, and so the party can get on to electing its next governor — hopefully this time, one honestly focused on reform.
A week ago today, we watched as thousands raised more than $1.5M for the #MaydayPAC — a commitment to fundamental reform in the way Congress funds its elections. It was electrifying and amazing, and many of us heard the first fireworks as we crossed our $5M goal.
But it just so happens that the most important money in politics race this year may not be in Congress, but in New York: Zephyr Teachout is challenging Governor Andrew Cuomo because of his failure to deliver on his promised corruption reform and public funding for state elections.
If you’re a supporter of the #MaydayPAC, you should be supporting Zephyr and Tim. And if if you’re not a supporter of the #MaydayPAC but still a supporter of fundamental reform of the way money corrupts our politics, you should be supporting Zephyr and Tim. I know both of these amazing souls well. Tim is a former student of mine, and gave birth to the “network neutrality” debate. Zephyr has been an incredibly important inspiration for my own academic work and activism. I met her first when she was working for Howard Dean.
Ok, I slept. A lot. For the first time, forever.
Overflowing my inbox is a single question: What’s next?
Next is selecting the candidates. We’ve been looking at this for months, but there is tons to think through before we make the choice.
Here’s the simplest first step — though there are many steps after this:
Q1: Is the candidate credibly on the right side of reform.to?
If so, then it is not possible that they’ll be someone we’re trying to remove.
If not, then it is not possible that they’ll be someone we’re trying to elect.
There’s little fudging in the “credibly” qualification: the commitment one way or the other has to be believable. But beyond that, this is a pretty good first step to understanding the universe of possible targets and support.
In other news, today begins some time away with my family. Can’t wait.
For the last week, I have been fighting furiously something I was 100% confident about: that we would not make it. That $5M was too big. That I was mistaken in setting the goal to high. And that this incredible movement of now close to 25k contributors would stop.
This morning, at 4am, I was doing everything I could to find a way to make it. White knights, etc., anything to get us to the $5M. But again, I was 100% certain we couldn’t get there.
But then, obligation intervened. My family and I had to race to Amherst, NH to walk in a parade with the #NHRebellion. Then the same in Merrimack. And again, for the whole parade, I was thinking about what I could possibly do to make it so we could make it.
The parade is over. I’m sitting in a Dunkin Donuts (“what’s the healthiest thing you have?,” I asked. “I take the 5th,” said the guy behind the counter), with a coffee, and an internet connection. And after conferring with the data mavens, here’s what I believe.
BELIEVE. Not “believe,” in that bullshit sense that anyone in a campaign says, but BELIEVE in the sense of this is what I think is true:
That we can make this. We have raised $1M in 1 day. We have 14 hours of Independence Day in America left (THANK YOU, Hawaii!). We are collecting donations faster than at any time so far. And we have less than $800k to go.
WE CAN MAKE THIS. It will take an INCREDIBLE effort by everyone, but if everyone presses, we can do this. Only with extraordinary effort, but with extraordinary effort, we will.
I can’t quite believe it. But it is true. It is the truth. We can make this.
Now please help us make it happen.
Share this: http://Mayday.US/Pledge
And thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
So Craig, founder of Craig’s list, is famous for doing his own customer support. I’ve recently learned how hard that can be.
In a rookie mistake, when we set up our Stripe account to service the MaydayPAC account, I put in my cell phone number. Stripe then put that on the credit card charge. Because we charged people in May long after they had pledged (because our campaign was contingent, and we would only collect when we got the $1M matched), it was weeks between a pledge and someone seeing the bill on his or her credit card.
So many people call my cell phone to complain. It’s striking how similar these conversations are. Usually there is someone who is incredibly angry. They’re sure I’ve stolen their credit card number. But within 10 seconds, the usually (90% of the time) remember and are then insanely apologetic. I get a great chance to thank them for their contribution. It usually ends on a happy note.
But during the heaviest call period, I put a special message on my phone explaining the same thing, and asking people to leave a message if they wanted me to call back. For two weeks people called, and no one left a message.
But then I discovered (for reasons I’ll explain later) that my voice mail box had been rerouted, they had not been getting the message, and I do not have access to any messages they might have left. Two weeks of non-responsiveness — Craig would have me fired!
If you’re one of the people who called (unlikely, I know, as if you’re reading this you should know what the MaydayPAC is), I apologize. The first lesson of great customer service is DO NOT LOSE ACCESS TO YOUR VOICE MAIL BOX.
Oh, yea, and if you want to pledge, do so here.
At 12pm ET, July 2, Jack Abramoff and I will be doing an AMA on Reddit about the corruption in DC and the MaydayPAC’s effort to fix it. Come and read and ask questions.
For the readers in the crowd, here’s a plan.
(And to clarify: This is just a prime to get us to the next level in our campaign: Our goal is still $5M).
God knows, we’ve had enough “high professors.”
Go ahead and pledge in celebration.
This is how we win: Every single group begins to recognize how corruption is their issue too.
Here’s the link to the video.
Every so often, but increasingly frequently, a character named “Brett Glass” returns to the twitter space to assert that I am a “lobbyist” for Google. E.g. (and this is just a sample: this stuff goes back for years)
2014-06-01 04:09:47: @GeorgeRussert I never got the notice that Lessig speaks on society’s behalf. (He doesn’t. He speaks on Google’s behalf.) @alaskarobotics
2014-05-11 22:08:46: @VictorLicata1 @lessig, in particular, has served as a de facto paid corporate lobbyist for many years. He knows the game and participates.
2014-05-11 17:22:58: @antonejohnson Both @Vanschewick and @lessig lobbied for Google to get more funding for @StanfordCIS. Academic dishonesty. #NetNeutrality
2014-05-11 01:39:25: @mitchellkoch Oh, yes, @lessig is supported by tech. Specifically, by monopolist Google, for whose #NetNeutrality regs he lobbies.
2014-05-09 19:58:26: @livebeef Among other things,@lessig has exhibited academic dishonesty while serving as a de facto lobbyist for Google. @JoshuaStaples
2014-05-01 18:44:28: @EBagsLOLZ You don’t have to believe a thing I say about @lessig; you can follow the $ from Google to schools to him. #Rootstrikers #MayOne
2014-05-01 18:32:40: lessig And then you went to Harvard and are a fixture at Berkman, a think tank that lobbies for Google’s corporate agendas. @ebagslolz
2014-05-01 18:30:24: @lessig I watched as you spoke on behalf of #Google at the FCC’s en banc hearing at Stanford. @ebagslolz
2014-05-01 17:09:28: @EBagsLOLZ Could write a book on it. Not gonna do it in 140 chars. But @lessig is well known as a #Google shill. #Rootstrikers #MayDay
2014-05-01 16:45:37: @EBagsLOLZ Nonsense. @lessig is a lying corporate lobbyist trying to separate the gullible and their money. #Rootstrikers #MayDay
2014-04-03 16:21:1: @adamjwhitedc Corruption: When an academic such as @lessig claims to be expert in “ethics” while acting as a paid corporate shill.
it would be forgivable for someone reading this stuff to think that I get money from Google. That, after all, is the ordinary meaning of words like “paid corporate shill,” “de facto lobbyist for Google,” etc. And so have many inferred from Brett’s words, and at least some of them have written me angry emails about my “betrayal” and the like.
In fact, however, I have never received any compensation for anything from Google at all. And what’s surprising, given what he says above and elsewhere, is that Brett knows this.
In 2011, I asked him why he was saying what he was saying. In an email to me, he acknowledged that by saying I was a “paid corporate shill” or “lobbyist for Google,” he didn’t actually mean I was being paid by Google, or paid to lobby for Google. What he meant instead was:
You know as well as I do that Google has given big bucks to the institutions where you have worked, many of which have found their way into your paychecks.
Even this, however, is wrong. I asked Brett what money the EJ Safra Center (which I direct) received from Google. None, he acknowledged. But Google “has also funded Berkman for many years.” Maybe, but I am not part of the Berkman Center, and certainly haven’t received money from the Berkman Center. Ok„ Brett says, but Google had given money to Harvard, and Harvard pays my salary, so Google is therefore paying me. But wrong again: Google hasn’t given money to Harvard (or at least so I was told by Harvard). So in absolutely no truthful sense of the term am I being “paid” by Google.
But, Brett says,more than a decade ago, Google gave money to the Stanford Center for Internet & Society, and I was the director of the Center when they did. That’s true, and that’s precisely the kind of funding that we at the Safra Center are studying and if done improperly, criticizing.
Yet again, Brett has the basic facts wrong. I came to Stanford with a contract that created a Center, and gave me no fundraising obligations for the Center. After I came, and again, without any tie to me or any relation to my work, Google gave money to the Law School, which it used to pay for the Center. That money didn’t affect my salary (that was set independently of the Center); it wasn’t my obligation to raise that money for the Center; I didn’t raise that money for the Center; the Center would have existed and functioned exactly as it did with or without that money. In a word, then, I was independent of that money.
How research is funded, however, is an important issue to me. Again, it is the focus of the Lab I run at the Safra Center on “institutional corruption.” And it is the reason I first articulated the standard by which I do or do not accept money for my work. (See “Disclosure” here.) I’ve yet to see anyone argue that the standard I have set in that document is insufficiently independent.
FInally, perhaps in an effort to update his campaign to facts less than a decade old, Brett has taken up the fight against the MaydayPAC. It turns out. in the strange world of Brett, this too is part of the grand Google conspiracy. As he wrote on 26 June (and many other times since we launched):
@lessig uses #MayDayPAC to lobby for Google’s regulatory and legislative agendas.
Of course the MaydayPAC has no lobbyists. Neither is its aim in 2014 to lobby for anything. It’s aim in 2014 is to make 5 races turn on the issue of “fundamental reform in the way Congress funds its campaigns.” If we’re successful, then in 2016, we’ll do the same at a much bigger level, with the aim of electing a Congress committed to fundamental reform by 2016. If we’re successful in that, then we’ll push for that reform — and only that reform. And once that reform is passed, we will push for whatever constitutional changes might be necessary to secure the reform that we have helped to pass.
Google may or may not like reform. I don’t know. I hope they do. I hope every right thinking sort does. But whether they do or not doesn’t make me a “lobbyist” or “shill” for Google.
I’m not sure why — of all the causes that there are in this world — Brett has made this sort of slander his personal mission. And my ordinary practice in cases like this would be to ignore it.
But to the extent his assertions confuse people who might support our work with the MaydayPAC, I’ve got an obligation to respond to them.
So I did.