Republic Lost

Larry Lessig book about Corruption. ISBN:0446576433

Hit the shelves right at the start of Occupy Wall Street.


*Lessig proposes four different possible methods of dismantling the alleged gift economy of special interests, lobbyists, and legislators.

  • First, Congress could pass a law reforming campaign funding (Campaign Finance);
  • Second, a popular, non-politician "supercandidate" could run for the House Of Representatives in multiple jurisdictions in the same state, promising to stay in the race until other candidates promise to reform their campaign funding procedures;
  • Third, an elected president could prevent the government from functioning until Congress enacts campaign finance reform;
  • Fourth, a Constitutional Convention could propose a Constitutional Amendment requiring campaign finance reform.
  • Lessig supports the fourth strategy as the most probable to succeed.*

The central part of the solution is elections funded through small-dollar contributions. Several states have systems that encourage this, which are opt-in. Candidates pledge to limit their fundraising and spending, and in return the state gives them a chunk of money to run their campaign. The broad outlines are similar to the system of public funding for presidential elections. Lessig has a slightly different proposal, known as the Grant and Franklin Project. Under this system, the first $50 of every person's tax contribution goes into a pool to be distributed to congressional candidates. Each tax payer then receives a voucher to be distributed to the candidate of their choice or split up between several candidates. (The actual proposal is more complicated -- for instance, the voucher can be accompanied by cash contributions of up to $100.) To be eligible to receive funds through the vouchers, a candidate agrees not to raise any funds outside the system. This would raise approximately $3 billion per year, or $6 billion per election cycle, which would make it competitive with the current funding system and provide candidates with a strong incentive to opt in... Lessig points out another problem with this, or any similar system: For every type of reform that's been tried in the past, money has continued to find a into the system... Now, we haven't had a Constitutional Convention since the one that wrote the original constitution. (And never mind that since the Articles of Confederation were in effect at the time, making that one technically illegal when it happened.) But we've come close. The Seventeenth Amendment, which changed the election of Senators to be by popular vote, was proposed by Congress when 27 states had called for a convention and it seemed imminent that more were about to. In fact, there have been over 700 such calls in our history, and they've served an important function in pushing Congress to pass certain reforms.

As part of his strategy, Lessig seems to be cozying up to the Tea Party, which seems unlikely to work.


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