superpac

The Launch of the MAYDAY Citizens' SuperPAC

There are a couple times in my life when I have felt like I’ve just leapt off a tall building. On the whole, I’ve decided, I’ve not had this feeling often enough.

So today, I leap again — with certainly the biggest chance to fail of anything I’ve ever done. 

Today we launch the MAYDAY Citizens’ SuperPAC — the “moneybomb” Matt Miller wrote that we were working on about a year ago, and the “moonshot” BillMoyers.com wrote about last month. Think of it as a “SuperPAC to end all SuperPACs,” built first from small-dollar contributions, which, if we’re successful, will be matched by larger contributions. 

That’s the leaping bit: We’ve structured this as a series of matched-contingent goals. We’ve got to raise $1 million in 30 days; if we do, we’ll get that $1 million matched. Then we’ve got to raise $5 million in 30 days; if we do, we’ll get that $5 million matched as well. If both challenges are successful, then we’ll have the money we need to compete in 5 races in 2014. Based on those results, we’ll launch a (much much) bigger effort in 2016 — big enough to win.

The ultimate aim is to spend enough to win a majority in Congress committed to fundamental reform by 2016. We’ve spent the last year gaming out how much that would cost. I think it is feasible and possible — if we can take these first steps successfully now. 

And that’s the leap: It is impossibly hard to imagine raising $1 million in 30 days, even as a contingent commitment (meaning, you only get charged if we hit the goal). I get that. But we’ve got to try. For if we succeed, we can change the story of this democracy; we can give people a sense that we can actually claim it back. And we can build a momentum, I believe, that no billionaire’s SuperPAC could defeat. 

Or at least, that’s the dream that inspires this leap. Help me if you can (understanding, I’ve already made the leap!). Make a pledge at MayOne.US. Or at least, share MayOne.US with anyone you believe might be willing to help. And if you have great ideas about how we can make this take off, please share them, either in email to me at pobox.com or in the comments. 

Thanks to everyone who has helped so far — especially my friend Brian Boyko who pulled the site together from scratch in 2 weeks. And thanks to all who have expressed their real and personal concern about how hard it will be to leap and fail. I don’t believe we’ll fail. There’s a frustration and hunger for reform that I really believe could matter. But if we do fail, then I’ve got three young kids, and an amazing wife, and I (think I still) have tenure at a great university (where this year I’ve had the INCREDIBLE experience of teaching undergraduates). So the worst case isn’t that bad. And the best case is the beginning of hope.

So please help if you can. Spread this far if you can.

Here’s the introductory video that I made for MayOne.US

Mayday PAC Launch from lessig on Vimeo.

As Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., prepared for his official announcement of a White House run, so had Conservative Solutions PAC. It’s a Super PAC focused exclusively on helping Rubio reach his goal. Technically, Conservative Solutions has no ties to Rubio. His campaign can’t coordinate messages or strategy with it.

But Rubio isn’t the first to have a superPAC revving up at announcement time.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who officially declared last month, is backed by not one but four Super PACs, in a network: Keep The Promise, and Keep The Promise numbers 1, 2 and 3.

Who Needs One Super PAC When You Can Have Four?

Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

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Nancy Pelosi launches the new “Stop Colbert” campaign to pass the DISCLOSE Act. And it’s freakin’ hilarious:

“Stephen Colbert used to be my friend. I even signed the poor baby’s cast when he hurt his hand. But since the day he started his SuperPAC, taking secret money from special interests, he’s been out of control - even using his SuperPAC to attack my friend, Newt Gingrich.”

Fuck yeah, Nancy Pelosi.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant

So now comes the news that the owner of the Chicago Cubs has been pitched the idea of creating an anti-Obama ad campaign focusing on Jeremiah Wright – the minister at Obama’s former church who became controversial in the 2008 presidential campaign for exclaiming, “God Bless America? God Damn America!” You can read a report about it here. The notion is to spend $10 million during the Democratic convention to link Obama to Wright, concluding that Wright implanted terrible ideas about America in Obama’s brain, and thus that Obama can’t be trusted to be President as a result.

I don’t want to talk about the inherent inanity of this idea: the idea that Obama is a dangerous radical might have worked before he had been President of the United States for four years, after all, but it is unlikely to change any minds AFTER he’s been president for four years. Likewise, I don’t really want to talk about the racism embedded in this attack: others will, and the “black other” who must be controlled by whites is an old theme in American political life dating back into the slavery era (a point I have discussed before). And I don’t even want to talk about the way this issue demonstrates the outsized influence of SuperPACs in this election: really? One guy can just dump $10 million into an election and we’re okay with that? Really?

No: I want to talk about transparency. See, as disgusting as I think this plan is, I am thrilled to death that I KNOW ABOUT IT AT ALL. Just by knowing whose money it is, and what goals are behind, I can assess whether I find the message credible. I can put the ad in a context from which I can make a judgment. And that’s just wonderful.

One of the worst things about Citizens United, and about American campaign finance law more generally, is that it makes it pretty easy to hide who you are and what you want from the public at large. I can know what a person or donor wants – or at least I can guess. But what does “Americans for a great America” want? What does the “Better America” foundation want?

Alas, Citizens United and current Federal Election Commission inaction make it all too easy to hide interests behind happy labels. Who can be against a group (I just made up) called “Puppies are great!”? (Or “GET ALL THESE DAMN CAT PHOTOS OFF THE INTERNET” for that matter!?)

As a consequence, I don’t know what the people behind these groups want. I can’t make an informed judgment about them – or the candidates and causes they support.

So I’d like make a modest proposal. Eliminate all campaign contribution limits. They’re essentially a joke anyway. Instead, go for 100% transparency. If you create or give money to a SuperPAC or associated organization, you have to declare who you are. That’s all. You have to cite, by name, every donor and list the amount they gave.

That sounds like a pretty good deal to me: you get to give as much as you want. I get to know who you are.

And if you’re afraid to tell me who you are because you are giving to a cause or a candidate you are embarrassed by, well then let me offer you a piece of advice: don’t give the contribution.

Sunshine, they say, is the best disinfectant.

“There is a hall-of-mirrors quality to what he is doing that is hilarious and very effective,” said Mark Feldstein, a professor of journalism who is about to begin teaching at the University of Maryland.

“He is taking advantage of loopholes to set up an organization that is not a legitimate political action committee, if there is such a thing, to make the point that the current system is a form of legalized bribery. Try making that point as a member of the mainstream media and holding on to your objectivity.”

—  David Carr
In Fact, No One Listens to What People Say

So as I engage in my morning ritual of reading lots of newspapers, both in real paper form and online, I have been fascinated by all the buzz Stephen Colbert has generated about his supposed run for President. I watched Colbert and Stewart riff on Colbert’s SuperPAC last night, and thought they satirized the win-wink nudge-nudge reality of non-coordinating coordination between SuperPACs and candidates quite brilliantly. Then, of course, Colbert announced the formation of his exploratory committee … and the crowd went wild.

Except, of course, Stephen Colbert DID NOT announce the formation of an exploratory committee to run for President of the United States. He announced the formation of an exploratory committee to investigate running for the President of the United States OF SOUTH CAROLINA.

Pop quiz: DOES SOUTH CAROLINA HAVE A PRESIDENT? If you don’t know the answer, please stop reading this blog post now. You’re too dim to understand my point.

For the rest of you: the moral of the story is PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT PEOPLE SAY, NOT WHAT YOU THINK THEY SAY. Colbert is a brilliant satirist, and a brilliant attention-getter. He will run a beautiful mock campaign for President of the United States … of South Carolina. It will slice the rituals and absurdities of the real campaign to pieces and we will laugh along with him.

But he’s not running for President. And he told you so. Pay attention.