The 2014 midterm election is on track to break dark money records. The very wealthiest Americans are enjoying even more options to influence elections this year, thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision striking down aggregate contribution limits. All this is too much for campaign finance reform activist and Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig, who announced Thursday he’s starting a new Super PAC to end all Super PACs — the Mayday PAC.
Lessig vows that 100 percent of the money will go to candidates who want to reform campaign finance, and all overhead costs will be paid by the directors. Lessig hopes to use the maritime and aeronautical distress signal, “mayday”, as a call to action to end the growing influence that the 1 percent holds over American politics. “Our democracy is held hostage by the funders of campaigns. We’re going to pay the ransom, and get it back,” Lessig said in the launch video. “We want to build a Super PAC big enough to end all Super PACs.”
Recent studies have found that wealthy Americans’ influence over politics has grown significantly over the past few decades. Just a few hours after the launch, the Super PAC had raised nearly $50,000 — 5 percent of its $1 million goal.
Mayday PAC is not Lessig’s first venture into campaign finance reform. In 2008 he founded Change Congress, a grassroots campaign finance reform movement that is now a part of United Republic, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. that supports anti-corruption laws. Lessig was also an avid supporter of the Occupy movement, saying it was “striking at the root” of the problems in our representative democracy. Post-occupation, Lessig is apparently now looking to bring down the system by working within it.
The 2012 election broke records for outside spending on elections, with over $300 million spent by outside groups that do not have to disclose donor information. The 2014 election is likely to surpass even that sum. On 2014 Senate elections alone, advertising spending is already 45 percent higher than the previous cycle — and nearly 60 percent of ads are funded by outside groups, according to an analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project. Over two-thirds of ads supporting Republican candidates were bankrolled by outside groups. Democrats are not far behind, with outside groups funding almost half of pro-Democrat ads.
It is worth noting that Mayday PAC is not the first Super PAC formed to take on dark money in elections. It joins America’s Super PAC For The Permanent Elimination of America’s Super PACs (ASPFTPEASP) and Friends of Democracy in playing the big money game in order to end the influence of big money.
Tumblr goes to the Supreme Court

On Thursday, Senator Elizabeth Warren and I will participate in an event hosted by the Constitutional Accountability Center (livestream here) to discuss a brief I submitted in a corruption (aka “campaign finance”) case that the Supreme Court will hear on October 8: McCutcheon v. F.E.C.

At the center of the brief is a Tumblr — the first time a Tumblr has been used in an argument in a Supreme Court brief.

The basic argument of the brief is that the Framers of the Constitution used the word “corruption” in a different, more inclusive way, than we do today. The Tumblr captures 325 such uses collected from the framing context, and tags to help demonstrate this more inclusive meaning. 

The upshot of the collection is that the Framers meant more by “corruption” than simple “quid pro quo” (this for that) corruption. In particular, their main focus (or most common usage) was institutional corruption. And one prominent example of the institutional corruption they were concerned about was an institution developing an improper dependence. Like — to pick just one totally random example — a Congress developing a dependence upon its funders, rather than the dependence the framers intended — “on the People alone.”

This research should be significant to the “originalists” on the Supreme Court (the 5 conservatives) at least. They say they interpret the Constitution by looking to its original meaning. If they look to the original meaning of “corruption,” they would see that they have no legitimate sanction for restricting the meaning of “corruption” to “quid pro quo” corruption alone (as some recent cases suggest at least some believe). And if they did not restrict it to “quid pro quo” corruption alone, then the regulation in McCutcheon, which limits aggregate contributions, could be justified: it’s purpose is to limit dependence upon large donors; that purpose is a perfect valid “anti-corruption” purpose, at least in the view of the Framers. 

The (Internet) giant has stopped this craziness—here and now. But the challenge is for the giant to recognize the need to stop this craziness generally. We need a system that is not so easily captured by crony capitalists. We need a government that is not so easily bought. And if only the giant could be brought to demand this too, in the few moments we have before it falls back to sleep, then this war—this “copyright war,” this war that Jack Valenti used to call his own “terrorist war,” where apparently the “terrorists” are our children—will have been worth every bit of the battle. I admit, today this hope seems like a pretty far-fetched dream. But I can assure you that a decade ago, the idea that millions would have rallied to stop Hollywood from pushing an “anti-piracy” bill through Congress was also little more than a dream. A dream that hundreds of activists have now made real.

Yesterday, my wife and I squeezed into a sold-out matinee of Citizenfour, the film by Laura Poitras telling the story of Edward Snowden’s NSA leak. The film, filmed as the story develops, as Poitras was one of the two journalists (Glenn Greenwald the other) that Snowden brought into the story to tell the story, is the most hopeful fact about our democracy that exists anywhere today.

It’s not hopeful on the facts: The story it tells, familiar to anyone who has followed this closely (but recognize, that’s about 5% of America, if that) is incredible. Whether or not the United States Supreme Court would uphold as constitutional the behavior of our government (and ever the optimist, I don’t believe it would), what is absolutely clear is the complete failure of democratic process. The administration lied to Congress; it conspired with foreign governments to construct the Stasi’s wet-dream of a  world surveillance system. And now, with no sanction from any democratic decision by any democracy anywhere, we have a world wired for the watchers. Yes, the terrorists are terrible. But when exactly did America vote to repeal the fundamental ideals of privacy and liberty in order to get the terrorists? We didn’t in 2004 (remember, the New York Times kept from us the fact that Bush had begun the surveillance system that Obama has now perfected). We didn’t in 2008 (the film opens with Greenwald recounting Obama’s promise to restore the rule of law, not double down on Chenyism). We didn’t in 2012 (that election was more about whether the 47% were citizens or not, not whether we still had a constitution). Snowden’s aim was to get us to see just how far our government had strayed. Finally, we have a use for that absurd battleship banner: “Mission Accomplished." 

Nor is the film hopeful for this President, or any other public figure on the side of the surveillance state. Snowden kills it in this film. Of course, we’ve seen edited bits before: His initial interview when he came out of hiding; a few video interviews he’s given since. What has been striking about all of these is the calm and balance and basic brilliance of this incredible soul. In my interview (difficult because so difficult to achieve interactive engagement with the 7k mile lag), my aim was to make clear just how narrow Snowden’s justification for the act of disobedience is — and yet, even justified so narrowly, it justified what he did. All the facts before this film pointed to a balanced, and reasoned, and incredibly careful citizen, acting on his oath, as he understood it, to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

But now we see a broader picture of Edward Snowden. We see him in the middle of the anxiety about what’s about to happen as the story unfolds; we see him suffering the pain of recognizing the anxiety he has created for those he loves; we see him explaining himself, patiently and calmly, yet with recognition that everything he’s doing is about ending his own life. I can’t believe that anyone watching this film will come away doubting the integrity of this American, whether they like what he did or not. And integrity is all that matters in a fight like this. He has it. Our government doesn’t. 

So where then is the hope? The most striking fact about this film is that 500 people were sitting in a theater in the middle of (MIT’s half of) Cambridge watching it. There could be no better testimony to the potential we still have than this. If the ultra-conspiracy theorists were right, this film would not exist. But it does exist. And it will spread as widely as the market allows — protected from the government by a norm of free speech that apparently still lives.

Greenwald made the strategic decisions that have made this reality possible (that story isn’t told here, but is elsewhere); the ACLU plays a critical role too (also underplayed in the film, and also told elsewhere).

But that this film is playing is the reason there is hope.

There will be plenty who will continue to hate Edward Snowden. There will be plenty who will continue to justify a system that would prosecute him, but not the officials who blatantly lied.

But there is a core who will be moved. And I suspect that if you are a public official on the wrong side of this fight, that core will stand against you. They are young. They still believe. They will catch all the internal references (the EFF sticker; Cory Doctorow’s book). And so far, when they have turned out, they have won. 

There is a corruption at the core of our democracy: our democracy rests on ideals; it needs leaders who believe in those ideals; yet ours are ”a priesthood that [has] lost their faith [but] kept their jobs.

They don’t believe in representative democracy any more. That’s why we have the corruption I call Tweedism.

Nor do they believe in liberty anymore. That’s why we have the story told in this film. 

But we can see this film.

Which means we may still have the power to do something about it.

Which means there still is a reason to try. 

Someday, we will look back and see how free society was reborn in the streets of Hong Kong. First Snowden, then the Umbrella Movement, and then the recognition of how both are the very same fight. 


Lawrence Lessig, We the People, and the Republic We Must ReclaimTED (2013)

In his trademark style, lessig shows how corruption in politics is one of the most pressing issues we face in America and what hope we have to stop it.

A Possible Constitutional Convention?

In the following article in the link provided http://www.conconcon.org/,  Harvard Professor in Law Lawrence Lessig and Daily Beast contributor Mark McKinnon will be hosting a discussion at Harvard Law School on Sept 24 - 25  about the possibility of a Constitutional Convention, an intervention so to speak by the state, to help remedy the problems of our nation’s Capitol that has been caused by their greed and influence by big corporations. 

I think it is long overdue, but it is better late than never.

Here is an essay by the Lessig and McKinnon on their idea of fixing Washington:  http://www.law.harvard.edu/news/2010/04/12_lessig.html 

Watch on occupyus.tumblr.com

More from Lessig on Maddow.

Is recreating illigal?

In “Larry Lessig on Laws that Choke Creativity”, he brings up important points to the argueement of copyright laws and piracy. I thought it was most interesting when he showed three videos which all used popular songs to convey a message which originally had nothing to do with the images in the video. He questions whether or not these practices are illigal and how it is a two sided agrueement which has extreme attitudes towards the notion of copyrighting. I agree with him that recreating, as in using other peoples content to create your own, is not priracy. Though, with all the laws out about copyrighting it is hard to say whether or not it is totally legal to just use someones work and in part claim it as your own. If this were the case and practices such as those were illigal, probably more than half of the “original” videos on youtube would be sued for copying. Think of all the people who submit and record covers of songs on youtube. I’m sure they did not ask the artist or songwriter first if they could sing that song and post for all with access to the internet to view. Lessig mentions the tools of creativity and how they become the tools for speech which are how we think and use speech. If copyrighting laws were needed on all aspects of work that anyone creates, would the tools for creativity and the tools for speech end up threating the way we think and use speech? Would creativity be threatened? Being able to recreate others work and make it into our own is apart of the creative process and producing work that is “remixed” as Lessig states.


Hugo Connery was moved to transcribe the last bit from my ACRL keynote. You can watch that segment of the keynote here, or read it below. Thanks to Hugo for stepping up. The full keynote is here.

We live in the age of polarized culture. We try, and take it for advantage that we are just supposed to identify who we are, and who they are. And we’re supposed to rally us against them.

We do that in politics. You know, the standard way in which Republicans and Democrats deal with each other is to rally their side against the hate of the other side. We do that on the media. You know, the way that you succeed in television is to be FOX or MSNBC, not the kind of ‘lets be balanced in the middle’ CNN. No! You’ve got to rally your base to hate the other side. And this is the way in which we engage in the business model of these organizations. It’s all directed to people to rallying hate.

But the only way we have ever made fundamental change happen, is to find a way to rally across partisan divides. Never in the history of America (USA), except once, have we seen fundamental change without cross partisan movements. And the once, was the civil war, and you see how well that went.

So, the point is we’ve gotta find a way to talk that reaches across and that, I think, in the end, is the hardest challenge. And the truth is, I’m not sure it is possible.

I’m not sure it’s possible.

But what I know is whether its possible or not is not really ultimately the question. The question is “what is our commitment; what is our love?”

It was Aaron, eight years ago, [who] shamed me into giving up copyright and internet, and take up this issue. And eight years ago he and I started a bunch or organizations committed to fighting this issue.

And so, from my perspective, when he left [perished], he left me with one clear task; whether its possible or not. Because I loved him.

And I love this country and I love my children, and I hate the future I know they face. And thats what all of us have to grab [grok]; that love, that love.

You might not have known that boy, but you know your boy, or your girl. You know your nephews and nieces. You know the future, and you need to recognize that if our grandparents were the greatest generation, we are the worst generation. Because whilst they built a world in which we flourished in, we have destroyed the government that our children depend upon. And, unless we step up and find a way to fix it they will look back at us and ask “how could we have been so weak?”

Now, think about the way people fight for things they think about. Fifty years ago people were dying on a bridge because they were walking for a right to vote, for an equal right to vote. They were willing to risk it all. Dogs and fire hoses and the hatred of everyone in their community; for an equal right to vote.

Well, we too need an equal right to vote.

We need an equal right to vote in the money primary as much as the general election. We need that equality.

But what are willing to do? Because there will be no dogs that leap at us if we fight for this issue. There are no fire hoses that are going to knock us down if we fight for this issue.

There is nothing like what they had to fight, for us to fight and win this issue.

So where are we? Why aren’t we out there? Why aren’t there tens of thousands of people recognizing this fight, and stepping up and doing something about it?

“There are more than 35 million people with the AIDS virus 

worldwide. Twenty-five million of them live in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Seventeen million have already died. Seventeen million Africans 

is proportional percentage-wise to seven million Americans. More 

importantly,it is seventeen million Africans. 

There is no cure for AIDS, but there are drugs to slow its progres- 

sion. These antiretroviral therapies are still experimental, but they have 

already had a dramatic effect. In the United States, AIDS patients who 

regularly take a cocktail of these drugs increase their life expectancy 

by ten to twenty years. For some, the drugs make the disease almost 


These drugs are expensive.When they were first introduced in the 

United States,they cost between $10,000 and $15,000 per person per 

year. Today, some cost $25,000 per year. At these prices, of course, no 

African nation can afford the drugs for the vast majority of its popula- 

tion: $15,000 is thirty times the per capita gross national product of 

Zimbabwe. At these prices, the drugs are totally unavailable.

These prices are not high because the ingredients of the drugs are 

expensive. These prices are high because the drugs are protected by 

patents. The drug companies that produced these life-saving mixes en- 

joy at least a twenty-year monopoly for their inventions.They use that 

monopoly power to extract the most they can from the market.That 

power is in turn used to keep the prices high.”

Watch on occupyus.tumblr.com

“Welcome to post-Citizens United America.” Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig interview with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.

In defense of Lessig's Mayday PAC and an electoral strategy on money in politics

By: David Donnelly, president of Every Voice and Every Voice Action

A lot has already been written about last night’s primary results in the New Hampshire Senate race. Mayday PAC, founded by Harvard Professor Larry Lessig, invested heavily to support Jim Rubens and oppose Scott Brown, and when the dust settled, Brown had a relatively convincing win. That, some cynics claim, means an electoral strategy on money-in-politics in general is ineffective.

To reach this conclusion would be:
A) wrong,
B) a misread of what happened in NH,
C) to discount lessons that are important to learn in this or any loss, or
D) all of the above.

The right answer? D, of course.

First things first. Mayday was able to spend heavily in this race because of the vision of their founder and their amazing supporters. That shouldn’t get lost in the sauce of dissecting election results. Mayday is already succeeding at generating new interest, press attention, and volunteer excitement. Just because that hasn’t yet translated into electoral success, we shouldn’t criticize what they’ve already established.

In just 30 days in New Hampshire, they did tremendous work generating major press attention, securing the endorsement of a former U.S. Senator in Gordon Humphrey, and expanded money-in-politics activism in the Granite State.

Our experience inserting the issue of money in politics into elections dates back to the 2002 election cycle, but the most applicable experiences come from last cycle. In 2012, I co-founded and co-directed Friends of Democracy (FOD), the first super PAC to embrace the irony, as Mayday now does. FOD set out to defeat candidates who opposed legislation to reduce the influence of super PACs and wealthy donors in politics. We had extraordinary success in helping to elect seven of the eight candidates we chose to support.

Unlike Mayday, we did not set out to make money-in-politics the singular issue in these races. We set out to win highly competitive House races by making where a candidate stood on the issue and a pay-to-play narrative a determinant one for late-deciding persuadable voters who would provide the margin of victory. In six of the seven winning races we engaged in, the margin of victory was smaller than the 18,000 to 25,000 swing voters we targeted with our direct mail, phone, and web advertising campaigns.

Mayday’s model is different. For example, in New Hampshire, they sought to elect a U.S. Senate candidate in a GOP primary solely based on where he stands on addressing money in politics. And they sought to make the issue the only defining one of the race. The results from polling posted on Lessig’s tumblr shows tremendous progress in striving towards these goals, but observers, including Lessig himself, rightly raise the question whether the gap in this race was too much for too short a time. Regardless, there are significant lessons for us all to consider from the polling he’s posted. That reform voters were Rubens’ best constituency speaks to Mayday’s effectiveness in persuading voters to vote for a candidate because of his position on reform. Rubens gained substantially in the race, from nine points to 24 on Election Day.

It also shouldn’t be discounted that, looking to 2016, we know that a significant number of GOP primary voters are moveable on this issue. In a crowded primary, that could make a difference. (But that presupposes our model of how to target races, not Lessig’s.)

The macro-lesson is this: targeting really matters, both in the races selected and the voters with whom a PAC communicates. These lessons can be easily applied to races going forward for Mayday. I’m confident that Lessig and his team will do so.

For our part, Every Voice Action will be focused on re-electing five of the champions Friends of Democracy elected in 2012. All of them are in competitive elections where money-in-politics messaging, if we’re effective, can once again provide a margin of victory. We will also expand the state work we began in New York last cycle to additional districts in the Empire State and at least two other states. And we will mount a significant campaign to place boots on the ground to defeat Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. Additional races are on our radar screen, as well, including some in which we might partner with Mayday.

Mayday started out with a hard task in a GOP primary in New Hampshire with a long-shot candidate. It will be the hardest task they take on this cycle. The results last night in New Hampshire are instructive, NOT determinative, for future strategic decisions. As I can attest having done electoral work over the past eight cycles, they will succeed in some races and not in others. While we have slightly different strategies, Mayday is in the arena and is a force for building the political power necessary to win serious policy changes.