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Lawrence Lessig "The Economy of Influence" - “A Republic, if You Can Keep It”

Here's a bit of curating and snippeting of Lessig's latest article - click the link and read the rest.

Summary - a call for a constitutional convention to get the corrupting influence of election financing under control. A call for public funding of elections, because "“The public ... had no lobbyists. The ideas of the public domain weren’t even on the table because there was no infrastructure for putting them there.”"


"Lessig cites the example of Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, whose position gave him a critical role in the debate over President Obama’s healthcare proposal. Between 2003 and 2008, Baucus received $5 million in campaign contributions from the financial, insurance, and health industries. But Lessig also cites similar examples from both sides of the aisle, blaming neither political party in particular. The corruption, he says, is systemic and systematic: in 2009 alone, lobbyists spent $3.5 billion, or about $6.5 million per each elected member in Congress."

A Radical Fix for the Republic

Lawrence Lessig thinks American democracy requires a constitutional overhaul to counter the “economy of influence.” 

Elsewhere in Republic, Lost, he advances the idea of democracy vouchers, a publicly funded campaign-finance system that would give every citizen $50 to support his or her candidate of choice, and would limit total contributions from any single person to $100. But this system would apply only to candidates who “opt-in,” says the libertarian Lessig, leaving other candidates to take money from super PACs, corporations, or industry lobbyists.

A constitutional convention could make limiting that kind of contribution clearly legal, as he clearly hopes that it would, while leaving the specifics to the delegates themselves, who he believes should be ordinary citizens from across the country, “a random selection drawn from the voter rolls.” In fact, he writes: “I recognize that of all the insanity strewn throughout this book, this will strike readers as the most extreme. Ordinary citizens? Are you crazy? Proposing amendments to our Constitution? When two-thirds of Americans can’t even identify what the Bill of Rights is?”

Yet it is a solution characteristic of Lessig, this former chairman of the Pennsylvania Teen Age Republicans who turned liberal while studying philosophy at the University of Cambridge in England—an unconventional, innovative, and radical thinker. His proposal in a single stroke does away with experts, politicians, and activists.

It also highlights Lessig’s idealism: a commitment to American democracy bordering on faith. In One Way Forward: The Outsider’s Guide to Fixing the Republic, an ebook he published in February as a follow-up to Republic, Lost, he describes the principles that ordinary citizens—perhaps including those named to a constitutional convention—might pledge to uphold: “To provide that public elections are publicly funded; to limit, and make transparent, contributions and independent political expenditures; and to reaffirm that when the Declaration of Independence spoke of entities ‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights’ it was speaking of natural persons only.”


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