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The Almighty Buck Politics

Lessig Launches a Super PAC To End All Super PACs 465

Posted by samzenpus
from the biggest-fish dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Lawrence Lessig has announced plans to kickstart a SuperPAC big enough to make it possible to win a Congress committed to fundamental reform by 2016. From the article: 'If you can’t beat them, join them. Then take them down from the inside. That’s the basic idea behind a super PAC launching Thursday that wants to destroy super PACs for good. The Mayday PAC, as it’s called, seeks to raise enough money to sway five House elections in 2014 and elect representatives who have committed to pressing for serious reform of the campaign finance system. If that endeavor—a sort of test case—is successful, the PAC will then try to raise an enormous amount of money for the 2016 cycle—enough, PAC organizers hope, to buy Congress."
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Lessig Launches a Super PAC To End All Super PACs

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  • by houstonbofh (602064) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @07:08PM (#46894929)
    What about all of the other things they will do? Unfortunately, everyone involved will have different ideas about what else is important. Just saying the word "abortion" will split most of the people who might contribute.
    • by Deep Esophagus (686515) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @07:16PM (#46895023)
      The other problem is... does Lessig really think he can go up against the Koch Brothers? How much money does Lessig have that he's willing to throw away on this Quixotic dream?
      • by houstonbofh (602064) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @07:28PM (#46895157)
        None, and that is his point. The majority can outspend them. Sam Walton got rich from lots of small contributions from the middle class.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 01, 2014 @07:35PM (#46895215)
          Sam Walton got rich because everybody's gotta buy toilet paper. You won't be able to tap that same reservoir of cash for political purposes. Billionaires are different, because when they finish buying toilet paper, they still have billions of dollars to buy a Congress.
        • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @11:20PM (#46896551)

          This is part of why everyone, not just the really rich, pays taxes because it adds up to a large amount.

          So for political spending as a simple example: Suppose Bill Gates put every bit of his wealth, about $76 billion, towards a PAC. Unbeatable right? Not hardly. If each person over 18 gave $320 dollars, they'd outspend him handily.

          Now of course it is ridiculous to think that every eligible voter would give that much but it is equally ridiculous to talk about someone spending that amount of money. The point is that even for ridiculous sums, numbers still favour the population.

          A more realistic example would be that Romney's campaign cost about $850 million dollars (the most expensive ever). Crunch the numbers and you'd need half of voters to give $7 average to match that. So literally if you could get half of people to give $10, you'd crush the amount spent on the most expensive campaign ever.

          People also seem to forget that the rich didn't become, or stay, rich by spending all their money. Ya, they may be willing to kick in a lot, by a normal person's standard, to an election, but it is still only a small fraction of their wealth. Blowing a significant portion of their wealth on an election would be monumentally stupid.

          It really IS doable. What's more, politicians really DO care more about a large number of people voting one way than all the contributions in the world because if they get voted out, well the gravy train stops. So doesn't matter how much money they are offered, if their constituents say "Do this or you are out," and mean it, they are extremely likely to do it.

          People in the US do have the ultimate power, they just doesn't exercise it effectively.

      • by TsuruchiBrian (2731979) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @08:20PM (#46895573)

        I think about $10 from everyone would probably do it. I don't think it's easy to get $10 from everyone, but it's not that much money per person.

        The problem is not that there isn;t enough money to go against the Koch brothers. The problem is that for the average person, they'd rather have whatever they were going to buy with that $10 than the potential to destroy super PACs.

        What would be cool is if this super PAC returned everyone's money if they don't raise the critical mass of dollars to make a difference. Ultimately that's my main worry. I'd rather donate $1000 to a cause that would give me my money back if it failed to raise enough money to make a real difference, than donate $10 that was gone forever regardless of whether it is used effectively.

        Most of my charitable donations go to Doctors without borders because every little bit goes a long way. I don't want to donate money to a political campaign that is only going to raise like half a million dollars for the same reason I don't want to donate to a new charity that may or may not get off the ground.

        Even my cousin who worked for a small charity said my money was better spent at doctors without borders or oxfam than at his small charity organizations.

        • by tepples (727027) <tepples AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday May 01, 2014 @09:02PM (#46895875) Homepage Journal

          Professor Lessig started in copyright. After his defeat in Eldred v. Ashcroft, he traced the blame for the copyright expansions of the 105th Congress (No Electronic Theft Act, Copyright Term Extension Act, and Digital Millennium Copyright Act) back to the source, and the source ended up being politicians who listen to Hollywood and other special interests over their individual constituents. This lead to Change Congress, which became Fix Congress First, which became Rootstrikers [wikipedia.org]. The $100+ that I'd give to Lessig's organization is $100+ that I would have otherwise spent on something that's illegal to produce solely because of these expansions of copyright.

          • by lgw (121541) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @09:24PM (#46895991) Journal

            I'm in complete agreement (and if you know our posting history, tepples and I don't agree on much).

            This is cheap at the price. Like the Tea Party before it was co-opted, it takes surprisingly little per-person effort to really shake up incumbents who weren't expecting a fight.

            The worry is also like the Tea Party: how will this be co-opted?

        • You're in luck! (Score:5, Informative)

          by danaris (525051) <danarisNO@SPAMmac.com> on Thursday May 01, 2014 @09:04PM (#46895883) Homepage

          What would be cool is if this super PAC returned everyone's money if they don't raise the critical mass of dollars to make a difference. Ultimately that's my main worry. I'd rather donate $1000 to a cause that would give me my money back if it failed to raise enough money to make a real difference, than donate $10 that was gone forever regardless of whether it is used effectively.

          Wasting my already-spent mod points by posting, but I think it's worth it:

          That's exactly what they're doing. If you look at their FAQ [mayone.us], the second section explains that they will set certain funding targets, people will "pledge" their contributions, and only if they meet their total pledge target will any money actually change hands. Just like Kickstarter.

          I've already pledged $20, and I wish I could give more, but our financial situation isn't super-stable at present :-/ I think what Lessig is doing is probably about the most important political action of our time.

          Dan Aris

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 01, 2014 @07:10PM (#46894947)

    What's a PAC? It sounds like it's a way of buying politicians, but surely that can't be it.

    • by riverat1 (1048260) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @07:18PM (#46895049)

      PAC is short for Political Action Committee and it is a way of buying politicians. What is boils down to is a way for many people to combine their political contributions into one entity. (sarc) If the PAC supports your issues then that's ok. (/sarc)

    • by knarfling (735361)

      What's a PAC? It sounds like it's a way of buying politicians, but surely that can't be it.

      Yes, it really can be a way to buy politicians, and stop calling me Shirley.

      OpenSecrets.org defines a PAC like this:

      Political Action Committee (PAC) — A popular term for a political committee organized for the purpose of raising and spending money to elect and defeat candidates. Most PACs represent business, labor or ideological interests.

    • by arth1 (260657)

      What's a PAC? It sounds like it's a way of buying politicians, but surely that can't be it.

      It's exactly what it is. "Campaign contributions" is just another word for money. PAC stands for Political Action Committee and is a way to legally handle the outright bribery.
      And the American public has proven over and over again that they're gullible enough to vote for those with the biggest coffers, possibly through some cargo cult mechanism in the brain thinking that wealth will rub off.

    • by Delarth799 (1839672) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @07:19PM (#46895063)
      That's exactly what it is. It stands for Political Action Committee and large corporations can donate to PACs or super-PACs, allowing them to get around contribution limits, which then turn around and use that money to buy millions of dollars in advertising to destroy or help someone during election time. We aren't allowed to call it bribery because money has been ruled to be free speech but it is basically used to by corporations to buy politicians or punish those working against them.
  • by Rinikusu (28164) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @07:11PM (#46894949)

    I volunteer to determine how much handing an individual unused to wealth a couple billion dollars will affect his moral and ethical judgments. I don't even need the billions.. just a couple million. And I can do this from home.

  • I signed up (Score:5, Insightful)

    by whistlingtony (691548) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @07:11PM (#46894955)

    Lessig is amazing. I signed up. The question is, will all of you? Everyone here likes to complain about politics and politicians. Everyone agrees there's a problem. Here's a guy we know isn't bought trying to fix it. Put your money where your mouth is, or never open it again.

    It's really easy to complain and do nothing. It's really not that difficult to actually do something...

    • no, I won't. It's the same reason I don't vote.
      • by riverat1 (1048260)

        And the powers that be are glad you don't vote. The fewer people who vote, the more who are cynical about the process the more power they end up wielding. I personally refuse to let them make me that cynical.

        • Ignoring reality makes you less powerful, not more. If you want real political power in the US, you'll have to do more than vote.

          • by MightyYar (622222)

            you'll have to do more than vote.

            Like give money to, say, some kind of organization dedicated to reform?

  • by fche (36607) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @07:12PM (#46894961)

    Lessig appears to implicitly accept the idea that "money in political campaigns" = "corruption". Can it not be that the wealthy love their country enough to volunteer their own hard-earned wealth to improve it (as they see it)? The theory that every money-related act is necessarily self-interested (let alone corrupting) is naive.

    • by grimJester (890090) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @07:19PM (#46895061)
      Yes, the wealthy love their country more then the poor do, exactly proportionally to the wealth they have. One dollar, one vote!
    • by Algae_94 (2017070)

      It's not that money itself is the problem. The problem is that the money is overwhelmingly held by a small minority of the population. That minority then effectively gets more representation than they should.

    • Except because that rich guy can pay more than 90% of the population put together, he's got more say than that 90%. That's kind of antithetical to the basic tenets of democracy.

      Even if you want to say that the politicians are unswayed by huge donations (ha!) it would still be a problem. It's well known that if you don't advertise you aren't going to win anything. So the politicians who are likely to win are all the ones who agree with one rich guy or another. You have to see why this introduces a rather fri

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by fche (36607)

        "he's got more say than that 90%"

        More "say"? Equality of "quantity of speech" is a ludicrous standard. Electorally, the rich are way dis-empowered compared to the masses, whether based on simple capita counts, or contributions to the treasury, or indeed receipts from the treasury.

        "It's well known that if you don't advertise you aren't going to win anything."

        Then work on that problem: make people less gullible (if that's what you think all those proles really are).

        • by machineghost (622031) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @07:48PM (#46895333)

          Then work on that problem: make people less gullible (if that's what you think all those proles really are).

          Of all the many stupid ideas that have been suggested in this discussion, that has to be the stupidest. Until we can engineer a massive virus that alters the DNA of everyone on the planet (or at least in the USA) good luck changing human nature.

    • by MrL0G1C (867445)

      "volunteer their own hard-earned wealth"

      That's called bribery when the money they are 'volunteering' goes to a politician.

    • I think that people rich and poor donate money to political campaigns for the purpose of making this country better. Thinking that the vast majority of money spent in politics isn't self interested is naive.

      I personally think the influence of money over politics is a symptom rather than a cause for the problems we have. But it's pretty clear that some huge percent of the money spent in politics is basically corruption.

    • Let's start with the two assumptions that

      Government should be functioning in the best interests of their Citizens.
      and
      If there needs to be a subset of the group of Citizens, then Government should side with the one that benefits the most Citizens.

      The Wealthy love their country enough to volunteer their own money to improve it as they see it. Do they necessarily have the same objectives as the two above? If so, then the Wealthy are not a corrupting force.

      If the Wealthy use their influence to deviate the Gov

      • by fche (36607)

        Your assumptions make it sound like you want/have utilitarian government focused on generally econmic "benefiting" citizens (no doubt at the cost of un-benefitting others). Others argue that the purpose of government is only to defend people's rights to live in liberty to pursue their happiness. The latter is a less zero-sum-game view.

        • by cbhacking (979169) <been_out_cruising-slashdot&yahoo,com> on Friday May 02, 2014 @03:47AM (#46897359) Homepage Journal

          The sheer stupidity in that statement may overwhelm everything else you've said so far. Benefiting society (the citizenry, collectively) is exactly the opposite of a zero-sum game. "Live in liberty to pursue their happiness" sounds real good until you come down with cancer, can barely afford treatment, and are left with the liberty of pursuing your happiness while lying in a ditch because you sold your house trying to stay alive. It's left to somebody to haul away your corpse when you die (what, you didn't expect the government to do it, did you? That's no part of defending people's rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness...) All your future contributions to society die with you. Even if you manage to get back on your feet, you've wasted years of productivity and probably permanently harmed your health.

          Or you could live in a society where the government actually looks after its people. Yeah, you'll earn a bit less money because the government takes some to pay for all those lazy freeloaders getting expensive medical treatments, but you won't go broke trying to survive when you (or your kid, or your parent...) find yourself in the hospital. Instead, society will support you too, and when you're back on your feet you'll still be financially stable and able to resume contributing to society. Your *personal* contributions to this pool may never amount to what your treatment cost (in which case you, personally, came out ahead) or they might (if, say, you go on to develop something really significant), but society will still be better off in the long run than if they let you lie there in that ditch.

          It costs less to provide housing to the chronically homeless than it costs the city to deal with the expenses of them living on the street, did you know that?

  • by sir_eccles (1235902) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @07:14PM (#46894995)

    I'm not sure people realize how much money is needed.

  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @07:17PM (#46895039) Homepage

    Thatâ(TM)s the basic idea behind a super PAC launching Thursday that wants to destroy super PACs for good. The Mayday PAC, as itâ(TM)s called, seeks to raise enough money to sway five House elections in 2014 and elect representatives who have committed to pressing for serious reform of the campaign finance system.

    Is that the only issue that they will press for? Or will they also be required to support Lawrence's position on gun regulation, or any of his other issues? I am all for campaign finance reform and would happily give large to the cause, but I don't support everything Mr. Lessig does, and I'm not sure I believe he has the self-discipline to keep his other issues out of his PAC. I'd love to see five campaign finance reformers elected, but despite my respect for him, I would not want five Lawrence Lessig clones.

    • by MayOne.US (3638889) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @08:01PM (#46895441)
      This is the only issue that the PAC will press for.

      And indeed, you can direct your pledge to be used only to support members of one political party if you wish. We don't get as granular as issue-by-issue, but when you pledge, there is a targeting dropdown menu. That targeting dropdown menu allows you to choose from { Whatever Helps, Democrats Only, Republicans Only }

      If you pledge your money to Republicans only, it is statistically very unlikely that they would be for gun control.

      I don't agree with Prof. Lessig on all the issues either, but that's the point. No matter what side of the debate you fall upon, you have to make sure that this issue is fixed first, otherwise the decisions made will be those that are in the funders' best interests, not the peoples' best interest.

      — Brian Boyko
      —CTO, MayDay.US
  • Soo... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by the_skywise (189793) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @07:18PM (#46895051)

    He's going to use the, so-called, corrupt system to change the laws to prevent himself from ever doing this again?

    I dunno... why not kickstart a super-PAC that would buy candidates that does something productive? Like hire candidates who will restore our rights per the 4th amendment, stop the drug war, stop punitive taxation...yadda, yadda...

    No no... gotta use the loophole to close the loophole..

  • by taustin (171655) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @07:20PM (#46895079) Homepage Journal

    Anybody who wants to ban corporate political speech needs to carefully study similar reforms in India, where about 1/3 of national political candidates are under criminal indictment (and 3% of sitting members of their congress) for campaign finance crimes. Despite what some will claim here, that is notand improvement.

    The problem isn't corporate money in campaign finances, the problem is stupid, lazy voters who can't be bothered to find out what or what they're voting for, and just doing what the Magic Box in their living room tells them to. And no amount of campaign finance reform will ever fix that.

    • by MayOne.US (3638889) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @08:05PM (#46895491)
      I think you would be surprised at what we would need to do to get real reform. By no means are we *against* speech. We just want to change the *incentives* of our politicians. In short, we want politicians to have to worry about what the voters think first, and right now they have to worry about what the funders think first.

      We can do this without banning anyone from speaking or spending money to speak, by creating viable alternatives to fundraising that don't involve members of Congress and candidates for Congress spending 30%-70% of their time on the phones raising money from a pool of about 150,000 Americans, who represent private interests. We're interested in reforms like the ones passed in Connecticut where no speech was restricted, but an alternative viable method of fundraising through small-dollar donations was implemented.

      -- Brian Boyko
      -- CTO, MayOne.US
    • by plurgid (943247)

      so you're telling me that in India 33% of the political CANDIDATES are under indictment for campaign finance infractions, and only 3% of the sitting members of congress are as well?

      call me crazy but those numbers sound pretty damn good compared to 100% being up to no good 100% of the time and quietly legalizing any behavior that looks too obviously corrupt.

      that actually sounds like a system that is working by comparison

  • So they are going to influence policy by writing big checks? And this is change? Am I missing something.
    • Yes, you're missing something. Right now, the only way to influence policy is by writing big checks, and they are accepting this as a given. The idea is to write a big check to influence policy in such a way that will prohibit writing big checks to influence policy in the future.

  • No, once you are "inside" you are assimilated and become them.

  • by DMJC (682799) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @08:01PM (#46895439)
    End Corporate Personhood while you're there Mr Lessig, It's about time that more power was allocated back to the Voters of the United States. Where the USA leads, other countries will follow. Don't bother trying to amend things like gun laws, or drug laws etc in the constitution. Just focus on smashing corporate personhood. Hell a Constitutiional amendment to end it needs to happen.
  • by epyT-R (613989) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @08:13PM (#46895529)

    Once you buy them out, then what? How will you change the law? They will balk at not being able to receive such funding in the future, esp if your success hinged on the biggest buyout in history. The moment your funding is spent and they're back to business as usual, congress will undo those laws just enough to let funding trickle through again.

    The fundamental problem with washington politics (and really, world politics) is that it is more interested in compromise than it is in making correct decisions. Not rocking the boat and risking their 'careers' is of higher concern than treating their positions as duties like they're supposed to. As a result, few politicians nowadays have the testicular fortitude and backbone to LEAD; to make unilateral decisions when the situation calls for it. It's the only way to break the vicious cycle of passive aggressive fallacious attacks that make up the bulk of the 'political process.'

    Good luck. You'll need it. The mention of TED however makes me wonder this is just another left wing power grab, same as it might be a neocon power grab if this came from the heritage foundation.

  • by Deathlizard (115856) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @08:15PM (#46895547) Homepage Journal

    http://www.colbertsuperpac.com... [colbertsuperpac.com]

    At least the commercials were funny.

  • A logical flaw (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sootman (158191) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @08:19PM (#46895569) Homepage Journal

    If the RIAA, for example, spent $10 million last year on lobbyists, it wasn't because they only had $10 million to spend -- it's because they only needed to spend $10 million to get the results they wanted. If they have to spend more, they will.

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