And leaning ever so slightly to the right....
We need a team of legislators in Congress who will champion the public policies necessary to fix our broken government, starting by ending the stranglehold of big money on our political system. For 2014, our goal is to create a $12 million fund. With that money, we will make fundamental reform the key issue in five congressional races. And win.Hey, what could possibly go wrong, right? Well, let's think about that below the flourish.
Lessig's flirtation with the concept of Using Big Money in Politics to Get Big Money Out of Politics isn't new. In his previous effort he served as a member of the Board of Advisors to and vocal public advocate for 2012's most quixotic and shady (and failed) political adventure, Americans Elect (AE), the not-a-party political party (and corporation) that aimed to appeal to teh kidz by staging an online primary to choose a "centrist" presidential candidate that AECorp would subsequently provide, for 'free,' with 50-state ballot access. That kind of technology development and ballot-access petitioning doesn't come cheap, and AECorp brought serious money...$35 million...to the effort.
AECorp's fatal flaw, as it turns out, wasn't its what, but rather its who and how. And therein lies a lesson regarding the quality of Lessig's judgement.
On its 'who' side, AECorp was the brainchild (and multi-million dollar beneficiary) of Wall Street tycoon, junk-bond princeling under Michael Milken, and serial tax avoider, founder Peter Ackerman, and drew to its Board of Directors and committee leadership such unsavory characters as:
- William Webster -- former director of both the FBI and CIA and Chairman of the Board of Advisors of Diligence LLC, the ‘Rent-A-Spy’ to the worlds of finance and industry founded by ex-CIA and MI-5 operatives
- Tom Sansonetti -- head of DC lobbying firm Holland & Hart's 'Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Practice Group', (AKA, coal, oil, and gas lobbyist)
- Will Marshall -- co-founder of the Democratic Leadership Council, which Howard Dean famously branded “the Republican wing of the Democratic Party,”
- David Walker -- founding CEO of the billion-dollar ultra-conservative Peter G. Peterson Foundation and serial beneficiary of Peterson's political big-money largesse through multiple initiatives
Unsurprisingly, throughout its short intense life AECorp categorically refused to divulge the names of its millionaire and billionaire donors.
Despite its dark origins, unsavory leadership, and impenetrable plutocratic funding, Lessig was an active and vociferous champion of AECorp throughout its life, both officially (as a leading member of its Board of Advisors) and as its high-profile apologist in print and online (publishing an early and influential paen to AECorp, The Last Best Chance for Campaign Finance Reform: Americans Elect, in The Atlantic and prominently pooh-poohing concerns regarding its secret funding and plutocratic leadership in his blog).
Was Lessig on the take? Of course not. Was he blinded to the fathomless knavery of AECorp out of his uncontrollable excitement over the fact that here, at last, was The Big Money In Politics to End Big Money In Politics? You betcha.
Vitally important in our effort to measure Lessig's judgement in matters concerning his pet cause is also the issue of AECorp's 'how': how it proposed to select its non-party third-party presidential ticket. On the surface, this was egalitarianism itself: anyone could nominate either himself or someone else, and the surviving nominee through multiple rounds of online voting would be the recipient of AECorp's hard-won 50-state ballot access. But, below the surface, careful readers of its Bylaws and rules discovered just the opposite: the corporation's Bylaws reserved to its unelected and self-appointed Board of Directors "extraordinary power and authority to take or compel any action," including arbitrarily disqualifying candidates whom the Board did not favor, and even including rejecting the primary-winning ticket and crowning a ticket of the Board's own choice, instead, leading some wags to re-christen Americans Elect as "Ackerman Selects," since chairman Ackerman selected the Board's members who, in turn, had the power to select the corporation's nominee without reference to the convention balloting. Additional anti-egalitarian measures enshrined in AECorp's rules set the bar for winning the online vote several times higher for 'nobodies' than for Board-sanctioned 'somebodies' such as congressmen, senators, CEOs, large university presidents, and high military brass.
With his vociferous support for this sort of pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain legerdemain blotting his judgement's reputation, it seems fair to insist that Lessig has some 'splainin to do when he proposes to found and lead his own crowdfunded SuperPAC. So how does Mayday PAC propose to choose the beneficiaries of its independent expenditure campaigning activities? The Mayday PAC web site is largely silent on this matter:
we will launch a small campaign in at least 5 congressional districts.Ah, good. Pray tell, which five? Who will choose?
the money raised is turned over to professional campaigners, who will craft interventions in targeted districts to make fundamental reform the issue in that campaign — and to make the reform candidate the winner.Ah yes, so you're a one-issue PAC. And if your interventions happen to hand control of the Senate to Republicans...shrug.
What does “fundamental reform” mean? What specific proposals do you support? We want to reform the way campaigns are funded. As we see it, the critical problem in American politics today is that a tiny fraction of Americans are the effective, or relevant, funders of congressional campaigns. We want to spread that influence out, to include the widest number of citizens as the effective funders of campaigns. There are a range of proposals that would do this — some better than others, but all which would achieve fundamental reform. Lawrence Lessig’s campaign finance reform group Rootstrikers has listed five specific proposals at reform.to, and that list may evolve.Ah. I see. Basically, then, "no comment." Or, at least, "no commitment." Ya donates yer money, ya takes yer chances.
Is campaign reform the only “screen” that will be used to decide which candidate(s) to support? Yes. Support for fundamental reform in the way campaigns are funded is the essential filter now. And while there are other issues that we all feel passionate about, the one and only thing that our pledgers and volunteers are unanimously united on is the need to reform the way we fund elections in the United States.Ah. So, for "now" your litmus test is "support for fundamental reform" (whatever that means). Tomorrow morning, maybe not so much. And we should likewise rest assured your "pledgers and volunteers" are single-mindedly focused on is the need for campaign finance reform. But, uh, what about the guys who decide how to spend our donations? Hmm? (...crickets...)
Isn’t it possible that otherwise “awful” candidates could say they will support campaign reform and then not actually do so once elected? How can you deal with this?Oh, thank goodness. For a moment there I was concerned you might use my money to support candidates who seem untrustworthy and unreliable.
Yes, that’s possible, but we will select candidates to minimize that possibility (by selecting people who otherwise seem trustworthy and reliable)
Why do these trust and character issues matter so much? Well, for one thing, money you donate to single-issue Mayday PAC is money you don'tate to your favorite multi-issue candidate...and who knows how this might affect progressives' efforts to defend the Senate, take the House, combat climate change, defend womens rights and voting rights and healthcare, and more? And for another thing, we need to be concerned regarding Lessig's judgement here not only on the basis of his past bad behavior, but...more importantly...on the basis of his current choice of friends and associates. Note, for instance, that in the Number 2 spot on Mayday's "About Us" page is none other than Kahlil Byrd, ex-CEO of Americans Elect and, subsequently, ex-President of Michelle Rhee's union-busting and charter-school-promoting StudentsFirst. Has Lessig ever met a right-wing minion he didn't like?
If Americans Elect Corporation was, as Lessig has breathlessly and repeatedly asserted, America's "last best chance for campaign finance reform," then what does that make his new Mayday PAC?