Tag Archives: lessig

Fix Congress First

23 Mar

In the healthcare debate, I think there is at least one thing we all can agree upon, Congress is broken.

The tedious procedural sausage making, complicated by special interest money from industry and interest group lobbies nearly killed the bill. It certainly shaped the final legislation in many ways that left the progressive caucus wanting more and the conservative caucus complaining about the big black man’s socialist package being crammed down their throats.

Can we ever get to the point where legislation is primarily debated on the merits rather than on the vig?

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If you’ve been reading this website long enough, I think you know where I stand. Support the Fair Elections Now Act

The bipartisan Fair Elections Now Act was offered this year by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (D-PA), and Reps. John Larson (D-CT) and Walter Jones (R-NC). With senior leaders in the Senate and House taking the lead, and 135 co-sponsors in the House alone, the bill has strong champions in both houses of Congress.

Under this legislation, congressional candidates who raise a threshold number of small-dollar donations would qualify for a chunk of funding—several hundred thousand dollars for House, millions for many Senate races. If they accept this funding, they can’t raise big-dollar donations. But they can raise contributions up to $100, which would be matched four to one by a central fund. Reduced fees for TV airtime is also an element of this bill, creating an incentive for politicians to opt into this system and run people-powered campaigns.

This legislation is supported by Rep. Louise Slaughter and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Rep. Brian Higgins, Rep. Chris Lee and Sen. Chuck Schumer have not stated their position to Fix Congress First. They might support it, they just are not on the record with this organization. Take action and let them know you support the legislation.

Change Congress Now

22 Jan

Yesterday, in a 5-4 decision (Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission), the US Supreme Court eliminated restrictions on corporate spending that went into effect with the McCain-Feingold legislation passed in 2002.

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There is a lot of teeth gnashing and worry floating in the country about what this decision means not just for our elections, but for our republic. It is a sea change in the way we elect our leaders, but there is an effort underway to fundamentally change that process. It’s simply a new wrinkle to an old problem.

Corporate money and influence clouds our government at a very fundamental level. Politicians, regardless of party, are recipients of campaign finance largesse courtesy of the lobbying organizations organized to influence those politicians and in turn, the legislation they create. It is an economy of opportunity that lobbying groups have created which distracts from intelligent and reasoned discussion about policy which effects us all.

It is exceptionally clear to me that our legislative system is fundamentally broken. Our Representatives and Senators are not able to properly and logically address significant problems facing our nation due to the influence of money in politics. Until we can trust that our representatives are making the right decisions, for the right reasons, sensible legislation is impossible and the public trust compromised.

It’s time to publicly fund state and federal elections. Eliminating the dependence on lobbying money and focusing our legislators on the tasks at hand is a necessity if this country is to prosper. It was an idea first proposed by Teddy Roosevelt nearly 100 years ago and it’s time that it be considered once again.

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Limiting campaign donations to an amount between $100-$250 with built in increases (tied to inflation) over time and allowing for access to public funding once a certain level of electable credibility is achieved through petition signatures and measured support is where we begin.

It will not be an easy job to build a new system, but it is the only way in which we can return sanity to our government. We will also need to address and perhaps limit the power of incumbency to avoid franking abuses and influence gained through seniority. We now have professional legislators who are simply waiting for the opportunity to become professional lobbyists and trade on the influence accrued while in office. At the state level, we have hangers-on like Steve Pigeon who can bring to bear the financial resources of one man to essentially throw an entire city, county or state into gridlock. Is this the way we want to be governed?

It should be clear to all, right or left, that the system is fundamentally handicapped. Monetary influence from unions, corporations, industry associations, PAC’s and other niche lobbies are crippling our ability to tackle the most significant economic downturn since the Great Depression. Corporate donations and industry authored legislation inhibits the proper measurement of costs and consequences when we attempt to address long term deficits, military largesse, foreign policy, climate change, infrastructure, urban planning or skyrocketing healthcare costs. Considering yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, the problem has never been so obvious.

This video is about the economy of influence and the trust gap between Americans and Congress. It’s worth the time, please watch it.

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Finally, this is Lessig’s response to the Citizens United decision. He’ll have more detail to come, but this message does highlight the need to act now, while the momentum is behind the idea.

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Do you agree with this idea to change the system? If so, head over to Change Congress and voice your support.

You should also call your Representative and Senator to let them know you support the Fair Elections Now Act which would establish citizen funded elections.

In WNY, Reps. Slaughter, Massa and Maffei are co-sponsors of H.R.1826 and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, S. 752. Rep. Higgins has voiced support for the bill in previous interviews and I will call his office tomorrow to confirm his support, the same goes for Sen. Schumer. Rep. Lee has not signed on nor has he voiced support for the bill.

Legalized Bribery?

13 Nov

Lawrence Lessig and Change Congress take a look at why two specific Democratic Senators (Evan Bayh and Joe Lieberman) might oppose inclusion of the public option in the pending healthcare reform bill.

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It’s easy to be cynical, point fingers and accuse Lieberman of corruption, but the problem itself is actually much more nuanced.  The issue isn’t that politicians do the bidding of interests who pay for them to win re-election, it’s that we allow for those payments to happen at all.

Take some time to see how a solution can be implemented.

The shorter version:

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The longer, more historical version:

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Until we publicly fund our elections and remove the influence of money from the policy making process, we’ll never get sensible legislation on important issues.  It’s how we ended up with the watered down reform bill recently passed by the House and now under consideration in the Senate.

Change Congress.

Netroots Nation Update

15 Aug

The volume and quality of information and discussion here at Netroots Nation is something I wasn’t really expecting, and am gratified to see.  Not a lot of rah-rah red meat preaching to the choir.  Instead, aside from networking, the attendees are figuring out ways to not just change policy, but the best process through which to bring it about.

A panel I attended yesterday discussed how to best make red districts blue.  First off, regardless of the size of your electoral disadvantage, it’s important to get out there and run – just running can, by itself, change the game. After all, even if you’re the longest of long shots, your opponent may screw up majorly. But it’s also important to run in every race, and to run to win.  One of the big problems I had when I ran was the fact that I just didn’t put in the time that was necessary to do that.  That’s a killer.

When you do run in a red district, you will inevitably come across people who are not initially receptive to your message.  One key is to listen to the voters and find that common ground and common value system that you probably both hold.  Also, you have to decide if you’re going to just be straight with voters about your dem/progressive positions or if you’re going to try and carve a 3rd way where you compromise a bit.  You can’t do both.  The key is to get out there and meet voters and get your ideas out into the political discussion.  Sooner or later, people might start to be convinced and you could do the impossible.

Finally, Darcy Burner noted something that every political activist should take to heart – we use too many sticks, and not enough carrots.  In other words, we’re too quick to scream and kick and yell when a politician betrays us, but we’re very stingy with praise and support when they do what we expect of them.  Positive reinforcement can be much more powerful and effective than negative reinforcement.  Ask any parent.

Among the more fascinating panels that I’ve attended here at Netroots Nation was the Change Congress presentation led by Professor Larry Lessig.  His Powerpoint presentation was incredibly compelling as he just came right out and called the current system a corrupt one.  It costs so much to run for congress that members are beholden to the lobbyists and special interest money they convey, and then the member will, in turn, take steps that are helpful to the lobbyist’s client interests.  The only way to break that triangle of failure and corruption is to break the money chain.

Lessig noted that the President doesn’t run the government, Congress does.  But Congress has become little more than a farm team for K Street; between 1998 – 2004, 50% of outgoing senators and 42% of outgoing house reps became lobbyists. (Hi, Tom Reynolds!)  He did not pull any punches, arguing that our system is the worst possible one for democracy, and that our corrupt system of influence and money affects everything and leads to bad law and cynicism in the electorate.

I sent a tweet to my Congressman, Chris Lee, to ask whether he supports the Change Congress agenda, and you should ask your representatives, too.  If you agree with the plan which can be described in shorthand as small individual contributions coupled with public financing of elections, pledge to go on a donation strike until they do.  If they send you an email asking for a contribution, just send them a link to this page. Both direct and indirect pressure for fundamental campaign finance reform is needed to make this change and return Congress to the people.

Each side snipes that the other side is corrupt, when in fact the whole underlying system is corrupt at its core.

More to come later.

The Trust Gap In American Politics

4 Aug

If you’re like me, you’re tired of the the anecdotal arguments, misinformed positions, corporate feeding of astroturf organizations and the general “deluge of dumb” in the current debate about healthcare reform.  It’s a disservice to an issue that will determine the future and perhaps survival of our republic.

Corporate money and influence clouds the issue at a very fundamental level.  Blue Dog Democrats, Republicans and other opponents of a public option are recipients of campaign finance largesse courtesy of the medical and pharmaceutical lobbies.  It is an economy of opportunity that the lobbying groups have created which distracts from the discussion about the health of our people and the best way to provide access to health care.

It is exceptionally clear to me that our legislative system is fundamentally broken.  Our Representatives and Senators are not able to properly and logically address significant problems facing our nation due to the influence of money in politics.  Until we can trust that our representatives are making the right decisions, for the right reasons, sensible legislation is impossible and the public trust compromised.

It’s time to publicly fund state and federal elections.  Eliminating the dependence on lobbying money and focusing our legislators on the tasks at hand is a necessity if this country is to prosper.  It was an idea first proposed by Teddy Roosevelt nearly 100 years ago and it’s time that it be considered once again.

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Limiting campaign donations to an intial amount of $250 with built in increases (tied to inflation) over time and allowing for access to public funding once a certain number of petition signatures are collected is where we begin.  The idea is loaded with details that need to be addressed due to the hundreds, if not thousands, of loopholes in our existing system.

It will not be an easy job to build a new system, but it is the only way in which we can return sanity to our government.  We will also need to address and perhaps limit the power of incumbency to avoid franking abuses and influence gained through seniority.  We now have professional legislators who are simply waiting for the opportunity to become professional lobbyists and trade on the influence accrued while in office.  At the state level, we have hangers-on like Steve Pigeon who can bring to bear the financial resources of one man to essentially throw an entire state into gridlock.  Is this the way we want to be governed?

It should be clear to all, right or left, that the system is fundamentally handicapped.  Monetary influence from unions, corporations, industry associations, PAC’s and other niche lobbies are crippling our ability to tackle the most significant economic downturn since the Great Depression.  Corporate donations and industry authored legislation inhibits the proper measurement of costs and consequences when we attempt to address long term deficits, military largesse, foreign policy, climate change, infrastructure, urban planning or skyrocketing healthcare costs.

This video is about the economy of influence and the trust gap between Americans and Congress.  It’s worth the time, please watch it.

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Do you agree with this idea to change the system?  If so, head over to Change Congress and voice your support.

Lessig On The First Problem

5 Mar

Lawrence Lessig tells us that we can’t address the biggest problems until we fix the first problem.  It’s one of the most clearly worded presentations on how to fix America that I have seen.

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The longer I’ve been active in politics, the more cynical I have become that I am simply an unnecessary cog in a machine.  Special interest groups, corporations, unions, industry lobbies, and wealthy donors have stolen democracy from us.  It’s time to take it back.

Support this idea of reform with your votes at change-congress.org