It’s Election Day, America. By this evening, there might be a new Senate majority. Republicans will likely control both houses on Capitol Hill. And Lawrence Lessig’s democracy reform movement will be well underway. “You have guaranteed change,” wrote the Harvard Law professor and anti-corruption crusader to his supporters.
That was this summer when Lessig’s Mayday PAC – a crowd-funded political action committee committed to raising and spending millions of dollars in an attempt to elect congressional candidates invested in passing campaign finance reform – surpassed its first fundraising goal in mere weeks. And it hasn’t slowed since.
Since 1998, Lessig has worked passionately and tirelessly to illuminate – and weaken – the connection between money and politics. His TED talks rouse standing ovations and have gone viral, his books are best-sellers, his Twitter following exceeds 300,000. Lessig has captured the attention of millions, and he continues to compel many to join his quest to fix the (legal) corruption that has infected and poisoned our government.
A recent, several-page feature story in The New Yorker digs deeper into Lessig’s motivation, inspiration, wins and losses, champions and critics. Today’s election is just part – albeit a pretty important part – of his plan. Lessig is gunning for 2016, and some activists believe the ambitious timetable is impossible. Others have dismissed his entire movement and its goals as ridiculous and hopeless.
He’s undeterred. But while the Mayday PAC quickly reached its mid-year election numbers, to truly impact the 2016 elections, it must raise several hundred million dollars more – a total of $700 million. As Lessig puts it, he needs “fifty billionaires,” each contributing some $14 million. Why would some of the richest people in the U.S. pay to reduce their ability to have clout in government? His pitch is simple: “Would you like to be on the list of the fifty Americans who saved America?”
Importantly, it’s not about the money for Lessig, though clearly his “super PAC to end all super PACs” counterintuitive experiment requires a lot of it to succeed. Rather, his urgency for change centers on this belief: Americans are deprived of liberty today because “the government is dependent on the few and not on the many.”
“This is the moral question of our age… can we reclaim our democracy?” If Lessig is right and the power to fix America’s broken political system is indeed in the hands of the people, today’s electoral outcomes may give us a fighting chance.