I am Lawrence Lessig, activist and law prof at Harvard, here to talk about McCutcheon vs FEC -- the case SCOTUS heard this week that could end contribution limits to candidates. AMA.
UPDATE: Thanks for the questions. It's 15:51, and I need to race to a meeting. I think I've answered everything asked so far. I'll check back later for more. And PLEASE join rootsrikers.org.
First: Please help fix our election system by supporting the Grassroots Democracy Act. We need citizen-funded elections.
And click here to watch my recent TED Talk on this subject:
The Supreme Court heard a case this week that, if decided in a way that I'm hopeful won't come to pass, could, unimaginably, deepen the corrupting influence that private money has over our political institutions. The court could eliminate aggregate caps on how much an individual may donate to different candidates during an election cycle; it might even decide to do away all limits on the size of donations to particular candidates. (Now at $2,600, donating the max is an opportunity taken by only .05% of Americans.)
Critics say such limits “abridge” their “freedom of speech.” But the court has recognized that preventing "corruption" is a "compelling interest" that can legitimate contributions caps.
I believe SCOTUS's decision will hinge on the justices' understanding of what "corruption" is: Corruption ought be understood to mean something grander than the petty quid pro quo, brown paper bag corruption that makes for an engaging episode of a TV drama. Rather, it must be taken to mean, as the framers understood it, the creation of an "improper dependence" -- such as the dependence on an extremely small, extremely moneyed, class of donors that substantially defines the operations of Congress today.
I filed a brief in McCutcheon, based on a review of the framers' understanding of the meaning of "corruption", which I described in the Daily Beast:
Indeed, the most common kind of institutional "corruption" that they discussed was an institution that developed an “improper dependence.” Fully 29 examples—almost five times the number of “quid pro quo” examples—were cases of “improper dependence.” Their concern was to craft a constitution that would avoid institutions becoming improperly dependent—as Parliament, for example, had become improperly dependent upon the king.
These conclusions should matter to the committed originalist. The Framers were pretty clear about the dependence they intended Congress to have. (Or at least the House of Representatives: the Senate was different at the founding, since it was appointed by state legislatures). As Madison put it in Federalist 52, the House was to be “dependent on the People alone.” But by “the People,” Madison meant all the People. “Not the rich,” as he wrote in Federalist 57, “more than the poor.” (OK, and not women or blacks at all, but later generations would fix --those errors).
But as reddit knows, today's campaign finance laws don't make for a panacea. Whether we win or lose McCutcheon, we must work to achieve citizen funded elections to return Congress to that proper dependence on the People alone: http://www.rootstrikers.org/#!/project/we-need-citizen-funded-elections