Thanks for the AMA and the comments.

Here are some ways you can help:

1) Join #rootstrikers:

2) Tag and spread politic$ stories: #rootstrikers

3) Join /r/rootstrikers

4) Watch/spread my TED talk:

5) Buy boatloads of books:

6) Join #DemandProgress:

Comments: 1127 • Responses: 86  • Date: 

werddrew164 karma

I see money in politics being a "chicken and the egg" problem. The legislators who would have to pass the law getting money out of politics are the legislators who got in place by being good gaming the "money in politics" system.

How the heck do you even START to address a problem this deeploy rooted? I imagine you acknowledge this issue, since the name of your organization is "root strikers." Is there a practical step beyond "awareness" that can be taken?

lessig204 karma

Awareness is the gasoline. Spread it broadly, and a tiny spark can ignite change. (Hey, not so bad for on the fly...) And look at states where a similar change was made: Activists in Connecticut spent years pushing that issue, spreading awareness. And when the governor was convicted for corruption, change happened.

hobostew98 karma

Do you believe it is possible to keep money out of politics in a way that is consistent with our first amendment rights? If I were a billionaire who really felt strongly about a particular candidate, shouldn't I be allowed to put up billboards, do TV and radio spots, etc? Is there a way to reconcile the personal freedom to support a candidate granted by the constitution with the desire to remove the political-favors-for-campaign-dollars loop?

lessig171 karma

GREAT QUESTION because it surfaces a confusion that is rife within this field. The problem (imho) is not the money. The problem is the fundraising. I don't care if the Koch brothers or Soros spend their money to promote one candidate or another. I care about members of Congress spending 30%-70% of their time raising money from .05% of us. Change the way we fund elections and you change the corruption. We won't utopia, of course, but we will have a gov't "free," as my buddy, Buddy Roemer put it, "free to lead."

pixelperfect386 karma

You advocate in your book that congressmen should be paid much more than what they are right now (about $175,000/year). How much do you think they should be paid to make them lose the incentive to become a lobbyist? Does 250-300k sound better?

lessig180 karma

Oh please don't out me on this. Ok, but DON'T TELL ANYONE I SAID THIS: They are lawmakers. Why aren't they paid as much as a first year partner at a DC firm? In Singapore, gov't ministers get paid $1 million a year. Where is corruption in Singapore. NO-where.

Chewy_Vuitton63 karma

Professor Lessig, Thanks for doing this AMA. I have two questions:

How have your clerkships with Posner and Scalia, respectively, shaped your worldview?

Has anything really changed since US v. Microsoft? and how?

Thanks again!

lessig88 karma

Posner was the most important person (after my dad) in my life. He showed me the life of someone not afraid to be hated. That's key. Scalia deeply queered my theorizing about constitutional law. I am, like he is, an originalist, but he wouldn't likely think so.

And re Microsoft: Those guys are NICE TO ME now. It's really cool. (Ok, not really that cool but it's really different).

ev01ve61 karma

In addition to taking the actions Lessig suggests, please consider joining us on /r/rootstrikers.

Dr. Lessig, thank you for all that you do!

lessig79 karma

Thanks, but Lessig is fine. The only "doctorates" I have are honorary (but SUPER cool!)

lelzinga59 karma

Hi Lawrence, big fan. I've read Republic, Lost, and loved it (I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the corrupting influence of money in politics).

What is your take on the NSA's Prism program and other spying programs that are coming to light? In your opinion, how big of an impact would getting money out of politics have on our national security programs and internet freedom in general?

lessig85 karma

Really troubled by them, of course, because we don't know exactly what protections are built in (and it doesn't sound like the only real protections — code — are even part of the system). Money's not the biggest reason for the problem here, of course, but I do think the private-contractor-economy drives much of this, and wouldn't drive it as strongly if we didn't have a corrupt system for funding elections.

adamb197252 karma

Can anything meaningful change without a constitutional amendment to overturn Buckley v Valeo?

lessig98 karma

Yes, absolutely. Independent expenditures are a problem, but they are not THE problem. The problem is the way we fund campaigns. We could change that tomorrow with a statute — either vouchers or small dollar funded matching systems. Anything that gives Members a reason to pay attention to all of us and not just the .05% who are the relevant funders of campaigns would be "meaningful change."

MrDNL51 karma

Why are you focused on the Federal government (where Rootstrikers is going to find a difficult path to success) instead of state and local ones?

lessig103 karma

We pivoted from "Fix Congress First!" to "Rootstrikers" to encourage a focus on money at all levels. But I do believe we don't have the time to fix this from the state level up. We need to fix it at the federal level, or we're fracked.

cenalan46 karma

What do you think the odds are we'll see a constitutional convention in the next 30 years?

lessig68 karma


bosabosa35 karma

How successful have you been at getting "conservatives," as they are popularly known, and economic libertarians to join rootstrikers? What messages connect with people who think the free market solves all the world's ills?

lessig42 karma

The reviews of Republic Lost I've been most proud of have all been by "conservatives" or "libertarians." I worked hard to earn that, but I don't think it's actually very hard to convince people on the right. Impossible to convince Beltway Republicans, of course, but it's also hard to get Beltway Democrats to do anything Bold (just ask the PCCC how hard they've had to push to get the Dem caucus to get behind real reform). But anyone who cares about "crony capitalism" (in the way everyone cares about cancer) gets what this movement is about. And if we learn to talk in a way that doesn't send them screaming, we might be able to build a movement that ties both together.

TBones007230 karma

I keep hearing about all these things our government is doing that I do not agree with. As an average U.S. citizen what are some things I can do to make a difference?

lessig50 karma

1: recognize the root: politic$

2: join groups spreading that recognition. (like, say,

3: stand ready to engage when a plausible strategy is in play.

kapnasty30 karma

Thoughts on Snowden and the NSA leaks? Do you see similarities in how he is being treated by gov and Aaron?

lessig44 karma

similarities, sure. The underlying alleged wrong is radically different. But the reactions are analogous — and I fear will be equally as counter productive.

Echoey28 karma

No question, just wanted to say thank you, and to keep doing what you're doing, especially on campaign finance.

Edit: Spelling

lessig92 karma

thanks. but I'm Stallmanesque about the word "campaign finance": let's call it "corruption"

ucffool26 karma

How do you and Rootstrikers decide to spend your time? Between TED talks, direct contact with lawmakers, etc, what factors are used to determine where is best to invest your time in making a change in corruption (i.e. campaign finance)?

lessig44 karma

I spend as little time with lawmakers as possible. Many are great. And more than you expect want real change. But they're not going to do anything till we, the outsiders, force them to adopt it. So I spend WAY TOO MUCH time on the road, trying to bring people into the movement. The TED talk was a real gift — it would have taken many many frequent flyer miles to speak to 1 million people.

SomewhatHuman26 karma

I'm a huge fan of your work, and "Republic, Lost" convinced me that ending corruption through campaign finance reform is Issue #1 in American politics today. In your opinion, what will real reform look like when we finally achieve it? How will we get from the "awareness" phase to a point where actual Congresspersons feel pressure to enact anti-corruption laws?

lessig48 karma

I'm conspiring with a bunch of people to kickstart a money bomb big enough to make change likely — people at the top (the super rich) and at every level on the way down. I think something like that will be essential.

We're also starting in the fall something called "the New Hampshire Project" — to send speakers into New Hampshire to remind that great state about their really great judgment on this issue, and about how every presidential candidate coming through needs to say something about how they will end corruption.

tonyjnel23 karma

If you could draft a bill that would be guaranteed to pass, what would it say?

PS- You are the man. Keep it up.

lessig32 karma

The best and most ambitious bill we've got right now is the American Anti-Corruption Act (think AA Act). Check it out at

curtrohner22 karma

Congress hasn't increased in size since 1913. How do you feel increasing the size of the house from 435 (1 rep:720,000 citizens) to 800 (1 rep:390,000 citizens) or more appropriately 1500 (1:210,000 (the ratio in 1913)) would affect policy and governance.

lessig18 karma

All for it — AFTER we change the way we fund elections.

shokufeyesib22 karma

Thank you on behalf of Andrew Auernheimer, Barrett Brown and Jeremy Hammond. All CFAA victims. <3

lessig27 karma

ugh. as a lawyer, I am sorry.

4kids19 karma

One thing that always frustrates me is that I've following the idea of #rootstrikers since I first heard of it which now seems like several years. It doesn't seem to me that anything has been accomplished.

So my question is, what would you consider big wins for this type of organization that you've had, and where is it going? It's hard to not be 'fuck it, we're doomed' as I'm not seeing anything work.

lessig37 karma

You got to look at the nature of the problem. Some problems don't get fix in a year, or in 140 characters. This is at the top of that some problems list. So I'm very encouraged by the number of people picking up this issue, and the number interested in doing something about it. 5 years ago, a TED talk about corruption would not have gotten 1 million view in a couple months. It does now because many are pushing the issue, and increasingly successfully.

But there is A LONG way to go. Or else, we need a BIG (political) FORCE to get there. Either way, we will.

kevmoo18 karma

What's your big push now?

A Constitutional amendment? Opt-in public financing of elections?

What's your strategy? What are you key tactics?

lessig33 karma

I support an amendment, but the real work and real opportunity for change is from citizen-funded elections: bottom up, small dollar funding systems that force candidates to appeal to everyone to raise the money for their campaigns, and not just from the .05%.

hbpaintballer8817 karma

I read the title wrong and came in this thread because I thought you were Jennifer Lawrence. Can you just answer my question anyway? What's the craziest thing a fan ever mailed you?

lessig13 karma

a jar of moss (or I think she was a fan).

305d8517 karma

Do you think that someone, like yourself, who works as a Harvard professor can be objectively critical enough of the current economic/financial/political system or does working in academia cause you to self-censor your opinions?

lessig35 karma

Great and fair question. The key is to follow the money. I get a fixed salary, I don't raise money, I am not consulting or getting paid to make anyone happy, and NEVER has anyone at Harvard or anywhere else every suggested I tone it down. Not everyone has my freedom, but that's why I think I should be doing something about this.

Amadeus300016 karma

What books and authors and blogs do you read?

lessig18 karma

I go in spurts on books — deep into the depressing world of economics now. just finished David Stockman's book, now reading Stephen King's "When the money runs out" (it's a horror story but it's not that Stephen King). And re blogs: I skip around but am increasingly twitter, G+ driven. The only regular read I've had over the past 15 years or so is /.

mediocre_sophist15 karma

What is your best extremely-short-form explanation of the corruption in Congress and easy-to-understand remedy?

While it's easy to post a link to your videos and / or quotes from your book on social networking sites, I have found it difficult to succinctly explain the problem and the proffered solution to people in "old school" social situations.

Usually I see their eyes glass over right about the time I bring up the gift economy...

Thanks for your fantastic work bringing this issue to the attention of the people.

lessig41 karma

here's what we need: a 30 second you tube video of some guy at a party constantly checking out everyone else at the party, while he pretends to be speaking to the other person. We're the other person. The guy are the politicians. And the distraction is the corruption: We need a Congress that can afford to talk to us. For at least one drink or so.

Skyhoper14 karma

As money influences elections, what would be the cost to recall elected official who presided over illegal government activity, such as Senator Dianne Feinstein on the Intelligence Community responsible for the NSA?

lessig26 karma

There's no recall for a Senator, and I suspect she's not running again.

knoam12 karma

You've attributed the failure of the Change Congress movement to its attempt to be a bi-partisan organisation that argues with both conservative and liberal messages. Could this have been remedied by splitting the organisation into two having only secretive backroom ties?

lessig24 karma

This is a road to winning. No one thought there was victory to be had in 2010 — so I resist the term failure. But the point I believe is that it is INCREDIBLY hard from the perspective of non-profit organizing to have a cross-partisan movement. Not a fan of backroom ties, but that may be one way.

I_Ask_About_IceCream11 karma

When did you last eat ice cream? When did you first eat ice cream? When do you plan to eat ice cream again?

lessig27 karma

you're from Big Sugar, aren't you.

yossarian99 karma

Prof Lessig. Don't know if you've seen OpenSecrets work on dark money, but I have a quiestion about futility.

Consider a few things

-- A while back, OpenSecrets reported that $10 million essentially vanished in transactions among a set of groups run by the same people, but nothing appears to have happened to the group that was underreporting:

-- In another instance, a set of Delaware corporations received grants from a massive c4. Turns out most of these were "disregarded entities" of groups like Americans for Prosperity, but using the Delaware corps made the grants almost impossible to track:

-- A set of Liberal groups that are essentially mailboxes full of money repeatedly shut down and restarted immediately, making it nearly impossible for oversight by the IRS:

The question is this: with the endless loopholes for tax-exempt groups, is there any chance of disclosure without major changes (which are impossible in this climate)?

lessig12 karma

Disclosure is good. Disclosure is needed. Disclosure is not a solution to anything. So I'm a HUGE fan of the great people in the transparency movement — CRP, Sunlight, Maplight. But we need to build on what they've done and take the next step: change the way we fund elections.

RightWingersSuck9 karma


Love your work for a popular audience.

lessig21 karma

thanks. that's the hardest bit for an academic...

keithjr9 karma

First off, thanks for the work you do.

Proponents of campaign finance reform (edit: guess I should call this anti-corruption reform) such as myself often hear a few arguments repeated by opponents of such measures. One is that we're seeking to "abridge the First Amendment." Another that I've heard of late is we should have "a free market of ideas." How do you typically respond to criticisms like these? I'd like some ammunition.

lessig15 karma

There are people focused on limiting the right of people (and the "rights" of corporations) (not people) to speak. I think that's an ultimately unhelpful way to attack this problem. The problem is not the speech. The problem is the fundraising. So let's fundraise in a way that isn't corrupting — by giving citizens, e.g., $50 vouchers to fund campaigns (which would produce 3x the total spent in 2012). That solution produces MORE speech, not less. It has nothing to do with "abridging" free speech.

kerowack8 karma

Mr. Lessig, I watched an interview you did recently with Bill Moyers and it was extremely interesting and enlightening.

I would only like to thank you for that. And to say that I wish you were more public.

lessig10 karma

120 nights away from home last year: feels pretty damn public to me! (Thanks for the kind words).

IknoweD8 karma

Thx for all you've done. I've found in local politics that the "perfect dictatorship" relies on nonprofits where activists are essentially bribed with fulltime jobs doing something remotely beneficial so long as they run interference from the left for corrupt power. How do we get a clear shot at power under these circumstances?

lessig10 karma

Revolving doors are the death. Everywhere. They create the permanent inability to upset others. We need to encourage people to stay clear of them, in lots of way, some popular ("JUST SAY NO"), some not (paying gov't officials better).

masstermind8 karma

Thoughts on the IRS "scandal"? Shouldn't they be applying more scrutiny and actually denying 501 status to these organizations and making them register as 527s?

lessig18 karma

They should impose 527 transparency requirement on all C4s, and then much of this problem would go away.

librarianry8 karma

What battles do you believe libraries need to focus on to improve free and open access to information and materials for communities across the country?

lessig11 karma

Support right to archive, and resist business models that take away the guarantee of access.

had3l8 karma

What is it like attending Bilderberg meetings?

lessig9 karma

like a conference, but with more senior sorts. It was fun (though I must have missed the backroom conspiracies)

305d857 karma

What do you think about the need to reform the nations media? Specifically do you have any suggestions about using public broadcasting to make the election campaign process more democratic? Have you read John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney's latest book Dollarocracy?

lessig6 karma

IN the middle of Dollarocracy and loving it. I don't think this Court will let us get away with much reform focused exclusively on public broadcasting. But we need to find a way back to a more independent journalism, of course. Their other book was really good in this regard: The Death and Life of Journalism.

jongalong7 karma

Hey Lawrence,

(I'll try to keep this on point)

As a relatively uninvolved person who tends to throw money at the issues that I think are important, I tend to pick organizations that represent an umbrella of causes that I think are worth funding.

I've got a list of organizations that get quarterly or yearly support, and it's based on boring, corporate things like:

  1. percentage of funds toward work vs administration
  2. annual reports summarizing concrete accomplishments

I would love to help out with your cause (and I have in the past in small ways), but I felt a bit squirrely about all the different organizations that seem to be doing the same thing (as partly addressed in your AMA intro).

I want this to work, but I want to back an organization that has the charisma, intellect, balls, and momentum to actually pull off meaningful reform.

Can you elucidate the different organizations, and provide a bit of a map about who the players are and who is likely to succeed (knowing full well that it will be a biased view)?

This apparent jockeying has made me tentative about committing much cash, even though I think this is one of the fundamentals that needs addressed before we can make progress on other fronts.


lessig10 karma

I get the skepticism, but recognize the nature of the beast. We cannot build a single organization that will take on this fight, because this fight MUST be a cross-partisan battle, and any single organization will always spin Left or Right. My model is the progressives of the early 20th century — who were not "liberals" or even all "leftists." Instead, there were progressives of every political stripe, working on a wide range of issues, all pointing back to the root problem: the corruption of the gilded age. If we can get leaders who can tame their egos, we might be able to do that again.

poinmonster7 karma

Hi Mr. Lessig. Big fan. I actually just starter re-listening to Republic Lost on my commute this morning. My question: what tactics/arguments have been successful for you in pointing out corruption in one's own party. I think a lot of people have the response of, "yes, government is corrupt, that's why we need more of my team in charge, because they get it."

lessig10 karma

that's the hardest thing, because no one likes a "traitor": But I think this has got to be the discipline of this movement. WE do it just like YOU do it, so WE ALL need to fix it, now.

I certainly think Democrats are as guilty in the money game as Republicans (and the grotesque pandering to Wall Street described here makes me sick: )

But here is one reason to be proud as a Democrat: Only the Democrats have even begun to discuss reforms that would fix the problem. They're no where close yet, but still, they've taken a first step.

whatsanlp7 karma


lessig12 karma

change the way you fund elections and you RADICALLY change the economy of K St. Most interesting statistic in my book: The average salary of a staffer in (circa) 1972 was the same as the average staffer of a lobbyist. If we could back to something close to that, you won't need to worry much about revolving doors.

concussedYmir6 karma

I read your book Free Culture a few years ago and quickly became insufferable to friends and family for a few weeks. I have since recovered, but I just wanted to say that I'm a fan and your work is the main reason I'm even contemplating entering politics at all.

And the question: I live in Iceland, and I don't feel the dialogue has progressed as much as I would've liked in the past few years, despite proposed legislation (IMMI) and the entry of a Pirate Party into government. What would be the most effective, radical changes a small country like Iceland could make for the sake of global digital privacy and liberty?

lessig3 karma

I would love to understand Iceland. The constitution process seemed so hopeful. Not sure I get what's happened.

shomer_fuckn_shabbos6 karma

Lawrence, what's your take on James Bopp? Does he really think what he's been working for these past few years is actually helping to increase democratic access to the election process?

lessig6 karma

I think he's wrong. Not always — I do think the non-profit Citizens United had a constitutional right to use its non-profit corporate money to promote its film. But the opinion in that case went way beyond that obvious position, and Bopp's activism was a big reason why.

lofi766 karma

I first encountered Amy Goodman at a talk in Kansas City in my early 20's. I was a fast fan of Democracy Now and am the daughter of a librarian. I wonder if you'd heard that at last weekend's ALA Conference the ALACouncil passed a Resolution in Support of Whistleblower Edward Snowden?

Resolution in Support of Whistleblower Edward Snowden, ALA CD#39 Resolved, that the American Library Association (ALA): recognizes Edward Snowden as a whistleblower who, in releasing information that documents government attacks on privacy, free speech, and freedom of association, has performed a valuable service in launching a national dialogue about transparency, domestic surveillance, and overclassification.

Thanks for all you do.

lessig9 karma

we need more like this.

asurais6 karma

How can we bring this awareness of corruption and political activism to college campuses?

Youth, who have the passion, time, and naivete to actually move change; who have the energy and the necessary lack of roots to protest against the system, how can we involve the American youth in the political process like we see in many other countries in the world?

Surely most would be against the corrupting power of money in politics, especially when the realization that their opinions and values are crushed by those with deeper pockets.

Would be delighted to hear your opinion. (And go Demand Progress!)

lessig17 karma

I want to do a tour with Jack Abramoff. He's wicked smart (and no longer wicked.) Maybe we can kickstart that?

dejavu055 karma

First off, thank you for all the good you're doing Lawrence. You did an incredible job in your TED talk and I look forward to reading your book soon. Really glad to have you here answering questions on Reddit. I'm crossing my fingers that you may stumble upon this question.

I recently wrote a sixteen page final paper on the failure of Occupy Wall Street. I firmly believe that the lack of specific demands, key leaders, and nonviolent direct action failed the movement. In my mind, the movement didn't progress beyond chanting, marching down the streets, and remaining isolated in Zuccotti Park. I believe that they needed targeted nonviolent direct action. I'd be honored for you to look over my paper. I'm fascinated by the movement. Despite its collapse, I believe that it had tremendous potential.

Do you have any thoughts on Occupy Wall Street? Also, connected to your work as well, do you have any hope for a mass, nonviolent direct action movement against campaign corruption?

lessig6 karma

The Occupy Movement changed the way people were talking about those issues. That is an incredible success. It wasn't everything, and its methods couldn't get us everything. But no single movement will take us to the promised land. Spring comes in waves.

kstinfo5 karma

I've got a short list of people "worth listening to". Yourself, Paul Krugman, Bernie Sanders, Bill Moyers, and Elizabeth Warren. Can you expand my list?

lessig13 karma

You need to listen to people on the right. Not because you will agree with them, but because they are not idiots and we need to speak a language both sides can hear.

thatswhatshisaid5 karma

How do you feel about voting for Obama now?

lessig8 karma

I have no trouble with my vote. It was my faith that he was a reformer that I am troubled by. Indeed, humbled by. I obviously didn't know squat.

br0_x4 karma

I don't really have a question, but thank you so much. I read Free Culture when I was about 14 or 15 and it was such great exposure for me at the time. I have you to thank for a lot of my beliefs and viewpoints regarding copyright issues etc.

lessig6 karma

tks. And I hope you shared it (cc-licensed)

gregmango4 karma

How do you expect that the hundreds of independent progressive organizations all weekly asking their (largely duplicate) mailing lists for $3 to fund their organizations to support their (largely duplicate) objectives will become relevant to the people that are not on a progressive mailing list?

lessig5 karma

if the only groups who take this issue up are people on the left, we're doomed. but that's no reason for people on the left not to take this issue up.

Indiosmith4 karma

Lawrence, We spoke briefly as you left the stage at the Rootstrikers conference about a new political process using Internet-linked theaters as political venues, described in my book, The Predicament -- the idea being to create a political consensus while bypassing Big Money and TV. I sent you a copy of the book to your Harvard address. Wondered if you received it and whether you might be inclined to read it and respond. David Smith

lessig4 karma

Thanks for sending it. I haven't had the chance to read it, but hope to. I'm not optimistic about the bypassing option, but I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

joshbloch4 karma

On Twitter, you came out in support of a law to allow Tesla Motors to sell direct to consumers. This would appear to violate everything you stand for: a law that grants special privileges to one company (Tesla Motors), a law bought and paid for by a billionaire (Elon Musk). Why not a law that allows every car manufacturer to sell direct to the consumer?

lessig11 karma

yea, I retweeted someone who said exactly that. Of course don't support ONLY Tesla having that privilege.

mixlplex4 karma

First, Great job! Second, though I've been following you since you decided to not run for an elected office and instead try to institute a change from the outside in, I'm puzzled by all the different organizations. Why Change Congress, then Fix Congress First, Root Strikers, and Demand Progress? Are these all the same initiative but with different names? If so, why the name changes? If not, isn't it better to focus your (our) energies on one rather dividing our efforts across multiple fronts? (And are the others abandoned when you pick up a new one?)

Regardless, I think what you're doing is tremendous, and I whole heartedly agree that we need to get the corrupting influence of private money out of politics.

lessig8 karma

Yea people are really focused on the name changing bit and I don't really get it. This is a movement. It needs to be responsive to the time. CHANGE CONGRESS played off Obama. He got old quick. FIX CONGRESS FIRST was the more neutral version of that. And then when we saw Congress was hopeless (because of the change in control), we broadened to the core issue, to invite people to make the connection in lots of places — state gov'ts, universities, etc. With each name change (and we're not changing names now — we're just becoming part of the DP empire), we keep are growing army of supporters, and urge them to help take the next step. But throughout, there is a simple descriptor of who we are: Citizens. Not politicians wanna-bes, not people who will be a candidate for Congress next year, but people who want to fix gov't so we can go back to the things we want to be doing.

aeranvar4 karma


Like many others, I'm a big fan. I'm an academic in computer science at a small state school.

I'm wondering what your opinion is on the relation between governmental information policy and knowledge of technology amongst lawmakers. It seems to me it would probably much more difficult for President Obama to mislead the public by using very precise language or for DNI Clapper to lie to congress if there were congressmen with backgrounds in computer science.

As a follow-up: Justice Scalia (if I recall correctly) recently claimed that he didn't feel qualified to rule on cancer gene patenting. If the laws involved in the NSA scandal were to make it to the Supreme Court, would they have sufficient knowledge to make an informed ruling on the matter?

Thanks! (Also, thanks for all the hard work!)

lessig8 karma

Really great point. We need more technologists in government, of course, but more importantly, more technical knowledge generally. You don't need to be a congressman to help other citizens understand the basics of what's at stake.

MASTER2604 karma

Do you think traditional Internet forums will still be used 5-10 years from now?

lessig3 karma

not in a traditional way.

metametamind3 karma

Does Jack Valenti actually not understand the concept of digital reproduction, or is he just shilling for the courts?

'Cause when I read the transcripts, it appears to me that one of the most powerful figures in global media is an idiot.

lessig10 karma

Jack is dead. By the end of his life, he had become a friend. I was no idiot. To the contrary, like most successful Texans, he tricked northerners into thinking he was an idiot, while he got everything he wanted from them.

I miss the guy. I miss beating up on him, I miss laughing with him, I miss those rare moments when we agreed: Like when he endorsed Creative Commons at our birth:

LeFourthAccount3 karma

What can i do to get a constitutional convention?

lessig5 karma

Today, follow and join WOLF-PAC. Soon, follow and help

knoam3 karma

How do you confront, in conservative terms, the argument that since a democracy voucher comes from tax money, it is being taken from the people and would be better spent if they got to keep it? I guess it comes down to a collective action problem. Do you think a political version kickstarter could help?

lessig8 karma

I think conservatives begin by thinking tax dollars are their money. So it's easy to say to a conservative: the government is giving you YOUR money back, in the form of a voucher.

Shahid-Buttar3 karma

Larry -- Thanks so much for all your work, as well as your support and guidance as your student and TA (over a decade ago! How time flies....)

I share the question about the NSA issues, and how your public corruption analysis squares with apparent corruption in that arena (which I unpack at and

Beyond that, I'm curious how Demand Progress might be encouraged to take on the broader anti-corruption issues you've explored in the political process. BORDC (the group I run) works closely with Demand Progress on many campaigns addressing privacy and civil liberties, but as an online organization with few offline opportunities at this point, there may be stronger ways for supporters to get involved -- especially at the local level, where the opportunities are most ripe given the problems you've observed pervading our national political process.

I'm curious whether you might present a more holistic menu of options for supporters looking for ways to get involved.

lessig4 karma

Shahid remains a hero. Thanks for being here. David's the best person to engage re DP's future on issues like that. I'd be all for it, and happy to connect you. But I will stay focused on growing the group who recognize the first issue first: corruption.

uppaday3 karma

The Patriot Act, War on Terror (et al) has obviously influenced the political landscape. My Senator Feinstein is one example who's campaigns are funded by drones, tanks, submarines and other weapon systems. Which is undoubtably influencing her rhetoric (as well as others) on 'security'.

1) Can you speak to the corrupting influence of money on the war on terror.

2) Many of these companies are forecasting 'windfall growth' in their annual reports during the next 5 years because these systems will be sold domestically. Do you see the public becoming more interested in corruption with this future "urban militarization" or more intimidated?

lessig10 karma

Just recall Eisenhower's original wording: The Military-Industrial-Congressional complex, and you'll have a clue to the answer.

gvawaff3 karma

What do you think the current state of free culture would be had Creative Commons not been founded? Do you think another similar organisation would have been created, or would we just be stuck without anything similar to the CC licenses?

lessig4 karma

We thought and I still think CC was an obvious idea. So yes, I do. But that's the thing about ideas. It's not the idea that's important. It's the doing.

flippzz3 karma

I read a significant portion of Aaron's blog archive after he died. It made me (among other things) want to get involved. Where are the interesting things happening these days in internet activism?

_chrono3 karma

How do we get people like you and more people like Elizabeth Warren elected?

lessig6 karma

She's on the inside. I'm on the outside. We need more on both sides if we're going to win this.

ElvenAmerican3 karma

What is the ultimate mission of Demand Progress? I follow the newsletter and get updates on crucial or critical issues. But, what is the organization or group's ultimatum?

Thanks for fighting the good fight in this country, too!

lessig5 karma

DP has been leveraging Internet activists to Internet freedom issues. I support that work, but we're joining to do something that complements it: corruption reform.

Shoemaster3 karma

Hey Mr. Lessig,

When you gonna publish with JETLaw again, huh? We miss you!


lessig6 karma

that would be fun.

boorishbehaviour3 karma

It seems like the warnings you gave about the regulation of the Internet and mechanisms of control have not only come true, but in worse ways even than you might have envisaged at the time. Do you think this is the case, and if so, what can be done to mitigate the effect of Government regulation (e.g. blocking of websites, NSA surveillance, etc..)?

lessig4 karma

sadly, I agree. what needs to happen is we need to get a government "free to lead" (and hence the corruption work), and educated about how code can protect liberty/privacy.

knightjohannes3 karma

No question, but thank you. For everything you've done for my freedom.

lessig4 karma


saintpellegrino3 karma

Least favorite class in law school?

lessig5 karma


fitonkpo3 karma

Why is international capital out to exterminate the human race?

lessig6 karma

don't credit them with intentionality. the tiger isn't trying to kill anyone. its just trying to eat.

lelzinga3 karma

Do you have a favorite term for the influence of money in politics? Oligarchy? Corporatocracy? Something a little milder? Just curious.

userino4 karma

Above, he simply replaces "campaign finance" with "corruption."

lessig5 karma

what he said.

erikk383 karma

One of the most compelling aspects of your talks is your infectious optimism, particularly with regard to the realistic prospect of an Article V convention, which could seem like a remote and naive prospect, and also with regard to fixing financial corruption in politics, which could seem like a totally intractable problem. How much of your optimism is a motivational tactic? Do you truly in your heart feel optimistic about either of the above two prospects?

lessig3 karma

First, I am not, by nature, an optimistic guy. Read CODE AND OTHER LAWS OF CYBERSPACE. People (e.g., the great David Pogue) called me a digital cassandra back then, because I was so pessimistic about us getting code/law/privacy/IP right. But second, I am, for whole days at a time now, optimistic about this movement. We have the infrastructure to win. We are getting the recognition. There is a greater chance we'll get this right than that gov't will get NSA spying right. Third, though, look at the end of my TED talk: Whether you're optimistic or not, if you love this country, you have GOT to fight like hell to fix this. Because if we don't, it's a place much worse than hell that we're headed to.

hypotheticals3 karma

Hi. I'm a journalist and I was wondering if you have any advice for journalists trying to report on this issue. I feel like it's a very hard issue to report on because people typically don't care. Readers either feel helpless to change the status quo so the stories just all blend together and have no meaning, or the story is so complicated to explain that few people bother to read it or don't understand it (ie. basically every campaign finance story ever). I'm not taking the pessimistic view of readers, but I feel like it's a case of people having other things to worry about in their life, and since this feels unchangeable, why care what the news reports on this?

lessig3 karma

focus on what people don't understand: how it could be fixed. there is still the illusion that if we could declare corporations are not people or that money is not speech, all would be solved. Regardless of the good in those ideas, it wouldn't.

[and man I can't believe I am ONE HOUR behind questions. I'm sorry. I'm typing as fast as I can.]

jamesdIII3 karma

Hi Lawrence, I attended the rootstrikers conference in SF and am incredibly thankful that I did. Outsider perspectives like Jakada Imani and Richard Painter's really made the conference valuable for me.

I'm wondering if you see any similarity in the grand narrative of this fight and other (successful) fights on social issues of the past. It seems like all of the major breaks with the status quo required mass demonstration, but any student of organizing knows that it takes a lot of tedious work to get that agitated.

I think the discouraged folks I talk to want to see a path to victory in experiential terms rather than political ones, i.e. now we make phone calls, tomorrow we march in the streets.

Being able to make connections with past successes, framed in the right terms, has helped me with persuasion in other areas.

lessig3 karma

Thanks, and yes, Imani and Painter was stars of that event.

We will be rolling out a project to get people to commit NOT to give money to any candidate who doesn't support fundamental reform.

And then we're going to have people calling "the Funders" asking them to join that strike.

Sign up to and we'll add you to the callers (at least!)

clinamen113 karma

Were you on Smiley & West.recently?

lessig6 karma

yea. I love Brother Cornel.

baha242 karma

Mr. Lessig, do you believe a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United is a feasible prospect, or is there another route we can take toward reversing the inexorable flow of money into campaign coffers and Super PAC ads?

lessig2 karma

I wish we could get 1/2 of effort directed at getting states to call on Congress to propose a Citizens United amendment directed at getting Congress to change the way it funds elections. Citizens United was a terrible decision, but it didn't break this democracy. This democracy was already broken, and reversing Citizens United alone won't fix it.

ranglejuice2 karma

Hi Dr. Lessig,

Rootstrikers is fantastic; I point people there all the time in my efforts to expose corruption on Wall Street.

In that vein, what is the single simplest legislative goal those of us who want Wall Street reform can push to "get the money out"?

lessig6 karma

Change the way we fund campaigns. Until we do, Wall Street will always be able to blackmail the Dems and GOP to giving them what Wall Street wants. (that was the point of my last piece for The Daily Beast:

AUwlw2 karma

What are your thoughts on removing contribution limits to candidates, with full disclosure, so that the money is steered back to candidates that have to stand by the ad, rather than outside groups. We know that when you cap a contribution to X it will find it's way to Y - isn't it best to remove limits WITH full disclosure? Then let the constituents see their reps for what they are... Thank you!

lessig6 karma

It fixes some of the problems of the current system (Members would spend less time fundraising). But it makes the corruption I'm talking about worse. If we had no limits, we wouldn't have a world where there were 150,000 relevant funders. We'd have a world where there would be 10,000 relevant funders. That is more corruption (in the sense I mean) not less.

davidhglover2 karma

Do you think there are ways to increase voter participation and wouldn't that help if more people were involved in the process?

lessig8 karma

yes — if the moderate middle would show up, that would change things. But the moderate middle is the sensible middle: smart enough to recognize there's little reason to show up when money is doing all the talking. (a bit rhetorical, I know, but THIS IS HARD TYPING FOR 1.5 HOURS STRAIGHT!)

Rbob482 karma

favorite cereal?

lessig7 karma

unprocessed oats.

SirRyno2 karma

Thanks for your great work on creative commons. It has allowed me to carry out some of my greatest passions becuase of the re use allowed part of it. I do a creative commons music podcast and run a 24/7 cc music internet radio station. That leads me to 2 questions.

  1. What is the best way to try and convince an artist to release under a creative commons license?

  2. Would you like to stop by as a guest some time and share some of your favorite ccmusic? Or do you have any artists you wanna plug?

lessig4 karma

  1. suggest it as an experiment, and get them to see the way the stuff gets to be reused.

  2. sure. find my email and happy to do so.

the_chan2 karma

Professor Lessig, thank you so much for your inspirational work. I first got hooked on work when I saw your talk on 'Innovation Corruption' at Yahoo! Labs in 2010.

In either case, one of the central ideas that you propose is the idea of publicly financed elections. Do you have any examples of other democratic countries who had a similar problem in campaign financing, and took the steps to successfully migrate to a publicly financed election which we could model after?

Thanks in advance!

lessig2 karma

Other countries don't have our First Amendment. The best examples are states — Arizona, Maine, Connecticut.