I teach law at Harvard, and run an ethics center focused on Institutional Corruption. And I co-founded Creative Commons, Rootstrikers.org, and have now started the MAYDAY PAC — a SuperPAC to end all SuperPACs.

**My Proof: https://twitter.com/lessig/status/462049858660995072

Comments: 562 • Responses: 66  • Date: 

lessig143 karma

Hey, we're about to cross $200k.

charbar91 karma

Professor Lessig, thank you so much for doing this AMA, I am a huge fan! I was very impressed at how effective the Internet community was in the SOPA debates, but I've been so disappointed that there has never been a similar outcry for issues that are even more important, like net neutrality. Do you think that effort is replicable? And if so, what would rally the troops to do it again?

lessig171 karma

I fear the NN fight shows precisely why the corruption fight is so crucial. The cable/telecoms can afford the long game. And will always win the long game so long as an FEC commissioner seat is just a stepping stone to some multi-million $ industry contract. Why doesn't the president pick people who commit not to go lobby for the industry they're going to regulate?

sajeffe83 karma

Congratulations on the launch of MAYDAY Pac. I contributed 1% of my May SSDI check in support of those who support the 99%. I'm hoping you will promote your work through The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or The Colbert Report. You are an ideal guest for either show and we need all of the young people on board. Good luck and thank you.

lessig73 karma

I've never said no to Colbert/Stewart...

TKirby42267 karma

'Republic, Lost' was a great book. Thanks for writing it. I often remind my friends of the many legal ways that lobbyists can corrupt American government.

My Question: After watching five seasons of 'The Wire' and reading 'Republic, Lost', I've become much more cynical about America. Professor Lessig: Are you more or less hopeful about America's ability to prevail over the lobbyists and corruption since you wrote 'Republic, Lost'?

lessig121 karma

I am more hopeful. People get it more clearly, and they really want it fixed. You just need to give them hope.

Look at what happened today: We did NO promotion of the Mayday PAC. A website, a blog entry, a tweet — and people flocked to the issue because it is important to them, and they're frustrated that politicians ignore it.

mmccafferty6762 karma

Mr. Lessig...great work...how do you get your message and mission more mainstream? I've forward to 100 contacts in my "circle of influence" but fear that as the days pass, so will the momentum.

lessig90 karma

Our strategy was to start pure grassroots — no ads, no build up, no pre-set contributors. And now the challenge is to get people to carry the story forward. If we meet our goal early, that will earn us media. And earned media will light this on fire.

will--42 karma

Thank you!!

Have you thought about reaching out to Stephen Colbert for his Super PAC money?

lessig106 karma

Yes, working on it. I tried to pitch Colbert on this idea when he launched his superpac — a superpac to end all superpacs. He was worried it wouldn't be funny. That's when I knew it was perfect for me.

Nolubrication38 karma

Mr. Lessig, you've stated that your goal is to influence 5 congressional races in 2014. Which incumbent seats, if any, do you plan to defend with Mayday PAC? And which seats do you plan to contest and with what challengers?

Thanks for all you that you do. My $100 was part of the first $1k this morning.

lessig36 karma

We've scoped a bunch of perfect contests, but are enjoying the pressure this creates for people to commit to reform at http://reform.to, so we're not announcing which until we get closer to the target. The rule is: consistent with the contributions (mix between Dems/GOPS) and best able to help us determine what will win in 2016

quirked38 karma

Thank you for taking on the important issue of our time. What do you think of Wolf PAC and the effort to go through the states to get a 28th amendment to get money out of politics?

lessig52 karma

I love Wolf-PAC. They're working for an Article V convention, which I support strongly. And they're incredibly good at motivating. Cenk for President!

joelschlosberg37 karma

Do you think the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act will ever be overturned?

lessig68 karma

If they extend it again, I think there's a good chance the Court will finally draw the line.

idkfj29 karma

Thank you.

lessig22 karma

and you.

mossc26 karma

It seems most of the grass roots efforts hing on getting people to influence politicians. Do you think there is potential in grass roots efforts to get people to run for office?

lessig60 karma

I hope more people run, but the key is to create the pressure to change the way campaigns are funded. That's the essential change. Without that, the people who win are the people with the friends with the biggest checkbooks.

LastRedCoat25 karma

Professor Lessig, the holding in McCutcheon which overturned aggregate limits on campaign finance seemed to turn on the question of what type of political corruption our legislature has a legitimate interest in regulating. When you submitted an 'originalist tumblr' amicus brief to the court detailing usage of the term 'corruption' in the founding era, you seemed to receive a lot of negative feedback. As a left-leaning individual I tend to think that repurposing originalism for progressive causes could be a powerful tool for social change, why do you think that so many people criticized your position?

lessig29 karma

I don't know and I don't get it. One doesn't have to embrace originalism to point out what a consistent originalist would do. I have no idea why the gov't didn't advance that argument — especially given how weak their other arguments were.

kjh125 karma

Professor Lessig - first of all, thank you so much for taking the time to organize what we all wished someone had done all along. My question is this: what do you plan to do should you raise much more funds than your goal. Let's hypothetically say $5M.

lessig24 karma

We won't stop taking contributions, but we're pretty disciplined about what we want to spend in 2014. Just enough to make it clear what a fully funded effort could/would do.

LastRedCoat24 karma

Professor Lessig, would Justice Scalia still have mischaracterized the holding in Whitman v. American Trucking if you were still clerking for him?

lessig39 karma

I feel incredibly sorry for that clerk. It's a tough job (clerking). It's going to be a tough couple months till s/he gets out.

charbar23 karma

What's your take on Tom Wheeler at the FCC? Any chance he'll stop (or put meaningful conditions on) the Comcast/Time Warner merger?

lessig45 karma

People I respect like him. "The most decent lobbyist in the building." But he's yet to demonstrate independence and progress.

cpt_yesterday23 karma

Do you think reclassifying telcos as common carriers is actually feasible? It seems that public outrage and Internet slacktivism don't necessarily translate to policy changes, especially factoring in jobs FCC chairmen have before and after leading the FCC.

lessig40 karma

It is trivial from a regulatory point of view (the power is clear). Politically, it is unlikely — given the Dems need the cable $ in the 2014 elections.

toonaphish21 karma

Can you give me a 2 sentence pitch I can use to convince my friends and family that they need to care about this issue? It seems easy if I know that someone is politically active and I can use "their issue" as an example, but what about those that keep their politics to themselves?

lessig26 karma

The bit that always gets me is the America this way of funding campaigns creates. The business model of fundraising is teaching us to hate our neighbors. The more we hate, the more we give. The more we give, the more they have. We need a system of funding campaigns that doesn't depend upon destroying the nation to win.

EnterTheCabbage18 karma

The facts of Citizens United make a sympathetic free speech case against some campaign finance laws -- an organization was forbidden from releasing a movie about a political candidate because it was too close to the election. How do you propose to ensure robust, universal, protections for political speech while still advocating rules that limit how people spend money during campaigns?

lessig19 karma

by focusing not on restricting speech, but on how campaigns are funded. The problem is the speech; the problem is the fundraising.

dansplain18 karma

how do you feel about someone swooping in for the first mayday pledge before you? on a scale of 1 to lessig

lessig21 karma

it made me very happy.

scorz17 karma

How do I know if my pledge went through? I did not receive any emails after.

lessig13 karma

We are working on adding that. Brian?

jasayeed16 karma

Any plans to plug the cause on a talk show in the near term? Bill Maher, Stewart, Colbert, O'Reilly(jk) ? If we agree in advance to tweet the hell out of a particular celeb or news anchor, you think that would give you a better shot at getting airtime?

lessig13 karma

It's a good strategy.

jadesmar16 karma

As a Canadian, it seems I cannot donate. Apart from word-of-mouth to my American friends, is there a way to help with Mayday?

lessig20 karma

I'm afraid not — even though under the reasoning of Citizens United, there's no justification for excluding you, that's not the fight we're gearing up for.

lessig16 karma

Ok it's late. I got no sleep last night. Brian got even less. Last call? Thanks to everyone who asked questions and especially thanks to those who have joined the Mayday PAC.

dansplain15 karma

When you asked "Can we hit 200k by end of day?" (spoiler alert: we will), I thought and replied "Yes, we can." It reminded me of the Obama campaign, but a key difference being that here we're not looking toward a singular individual to save us. Here, we're looking at each other and toward ourselves to be our own heroes. It's so dangerous to look toward a single person as a savior, I think. Any comments?

lessig25 karma

This is the key to reform in the 21st century. We don't need a leader. We need a community that respects leaders. There are many great leaders in this movement. We need more. And we need people with very different values to learn to work together on this one issue that they share.

barhoppingfrog15 karma

One of the things that really gets me down about our politicians these days is the rampant corruption and paid for votes. I don't have a question, I just want to say I love what you are doing and hope you succeed.

lessig21 karma

thanks. but we will succeed only if WE succeed in organizing enough of us.

sillstaw13 karma

I'm the type of guy who gets those political e-mails from places like Rootstrikers and is usually happy to sign petitions, but reluctant to actually call senators. How much do those petitions actually help?

lessig16 karma

They help some. They certainly help grow and support organizations pushing for reform. But you do need to think about what the next step is. Don't waste your time calling senators. But maybe make sure every rep in your area is committed to fundamental reform. http://reform.to

MoralObligation13 karma

Do you feel that there's a need for more community building in the anti-corruption effort? Right now it feels like an "I clicked the link so I've done my part" thing. Are there plans for more real world activities, chances to connect with other real live people and build a larger movement?

lessig17 karma

Check out NHRebellion where we're organizing people in New Hampshire to make this issue the first issue in the 2016 campaign. We walked 185 miles in January — starting on the day AaronSw died, and ending on the day Granny D was born.

lessig12 karma

Thanks, all. Time to crash... Please consider supporting the Mayday PAC, and whether you can or not, please spread the word. Thanks

Parmesan_Goldfish11 karma

Are you afraid that if this goes mainstream, public campaign financing will just become another highly contentious political issue, instead of a true bipartisan movement?

lessig18 karma

I'm willing to take that risk. It needs to become an option in the debate. Now it's almost invisible.

pcpcpcpcpcpcpc10 karma

Are there any members of Congress that you have great respect for? Find particularly reprehensible?

lessig15 karma

Sure. Jim Cooper. John Sarbanes. Jackie Speier. Zoe Lofgren. As for reprehensible...

Parmesan_Goldfish9 karma

What's the strongest argument you've personally heard in opposition to public campaign financing? Is there a good one?

lessig15 karma

There are bad ways to publicly fund campaigns, sure. IF the gov't picks the amount that can be spent, if it doesn't fund enough, etc. But even the bad ways get you something important over the mess if privatly funded campaigns.

swieton8 karma

Hello Mr. Lessig,

I'm excited for the possibilities - I think this will be an interesting fight to see play out.

Two questions:

  1. The New Hampshire walk certainly seemed well received - but do you have any real measure of the impact? Do you feel like it will make a real difference in the upcoming campaigns?
  2. For MAYDAY - there's a sense in which it feels small to me. When we talk about elections we talk about funding from so many multi-billion dollar net worths it seems, so a goal to raise $1 million seems small. Forgive me if this seems naive - but can't we just convince Warren Buffet to write a check for $1 billion and be done with the whole thing? Or perhaps that's an exaggeration - but aren't there very high-net-worth individuals who have spoken out against corruption? Are there so few of those willing to try?

lessig12 karma

(1) The walk was the first of many. It had enormous impact in the state — estimated 650,000 impressions, and basically everywhere we went, people honking their horn, etc. As we repeat it, it will have more and more effect. Certainly. (2) This is the first step. Show people that something no one thought was possible — kickstarting $1m for reform — is possible. Then ratchet it up — $5m. Then win some seats, and then repeat in 2016. There's no doubt we will need the billionaires to help. But we can't let anyone own this. There needs to be a large community that built this.

bullpenlife8 karma

Im taking my con law final tomorrow, uh, any advice?

lessig36 karma

um, shut your browser down?

BrianBoyko21 karma

...after going to MayOne.US and pledging - THEN study.

lessig14 karma

ok that makes sense.

jasayeed7 karma

Hi Mr. Lessig. Speaking on the Citizens United ruling, you have said in the past that you actually agree with the court's ruling that inequality and distortion in speech on its own, is not corruption- That it is not the role of the government to "even the playing field" for all of the different groups vying for influence, i.e. media outlets, labor organizations, etc. A proponent of Citizens United, or McCutcheon v. FEC might argue that limiting independent expenditures, or maximum contributions, etc. is just more of the government trying "even the playing field" among public interests vying for free speech. I am not a lawyer, not even close (engineer), but was wondering if you could refute this criticism, and elaborate on the nuance and distinction between the two sets of views. Thanks again for your work and I'm a proud contributor of MAYDAY.

lessig6 karma

I like that idea — proud contributors. Thanks!

The corruption I would focus on is the improper dependence we've allowed Congress to develop on their funders. Their funders don't represent "us"; the dependence is real and debilitating; and Congress was meant to be "dependent on the people alone."

dansplain7 karma

$200K, baby! BOOM! Believe.

lessig13 karma


where are the pundits now who say Americans don't care about this issue?

Moki_Hundo7 karma

Preparing to submit a paper regarding the current illegal state of unlicensed music remixes. It is heavily influenced by your Copy-Left scholarship.

Do you believe Copyright in the United States will ever reach more balance toward the "promotion of sciences" (i.e. more public domain and Fair Use). Or, on the other hand, do you believe that corporate copyright influences will continue to prevail?

lessig11 karma

Until we change the way elections are funded, I don't see much hope.

aclib6 karma

Mr. Lessig, two questions for you. First, what is one thing that each of us can do in our daily lives to help bring copyright law in the US into a better balance, respecting both the rights of the copyright holder, as well as rights for reuse? Second, there is a move towards electronic resources (databases for articles, ebooks, etc.) and away from traditional print materials in academic libraries. This has had an impact on resource sharing between academic institutions. Do you see a situation in which licensing agreements with publishers could accommodate resource sharing of electronic content similar to how physical resources are currently shared, while respecting copyright so as not to open academic institutions to potential liability?

lessig12 karma

If you want better © legislation, work for a less C (as in corrupt) Congress. And yes, the proprietary licensing of knowledge is a disaster not even waiting to happen — it's here (see, e.g. the Swartz tragedy).

HomeStarHobo5 karma

Looking at our how government mechanically (not the fundraising or lobbying, but the mechanics of passing legislation, Senate procedure, appointing positions, etc ) what rules or systems would you change? Is there anything in particular this has really bad incentives or is particularly open to producing really bad governance?

I often think of government in terms of game design where it is amazing how sometimes a tiny change in the rules, a tiny tweak to incentives, can change so much player behavior.

lessig10 karma

Chokepoints are the locus of corruption. The Senate is an awful institution in that regard — and historically (except for the first 40 years) has been as well. Also, agencies like the FCC, where the decision of 3 commissioners can fundamentally change internet policy — again, that's too small a number, to vulnerable to influence.

Nolubrication5 karma

Can you reveal who the donors are that are matching the kickstarter funds?

lessig8 karma

Not until they've done it. All will be transparent.

lessig6 karma

Not until they've done it. All will be transparent.

ianmalcm4 karma

Mr. Lessig, have you considered taking over the Late Late Show after Colbert?

lessig5 karma

Absolutely. All the time.

run_zeno_run4 karma

Do you have any thoughts on Jaron Lanier's criticism of the direction the web took due to the successes of the free/open-source/creative commons movements? In his new book (and the one before it) he claims that a major reason we're seeing economic inequalities that are only going to get worse are due to the inability of the middle class to make money on the internet without forming 'gatekeeper' data silos like FB, Google , et al. which horde as much data as they can (by pimping out their users for ad dollars).

lessig10 karma

I think the more persuasive account of growing inequality is Paul Pierson and Jacob Hacker's Winner Take All Politics, which ties exploding inequality to a series of gov't decisions — decisions which happen to favor the funders of campaigns.

mossc3 karma

One of the issues I see with politics currently is none of the good bills get to the floor. If the senate majority leader or house leader don't bring it to a vote no politician has to make the tough votes. e.g. 70% of the country supports term limits. Do you see a way around this other than getting many more people who put the country first in office?

lessig6 karma

There will always be a filter. The question is what directs the filter. We should try to remove money as a factor in that. But we can't remove all efforts to filter.

mmccafferty672 karma

As far as the 5 races you are hoping to impact...are you backing candidates that will take some sort of pledge to reform campaign finances? what kind of assurances do you have that they won't cave to the pressures of their respective cash machines?

lessig4 karma

We will pick races where the choice between the two is crystal clear — and yes, a commitment to cosponsor fundamental reform will be essential.

BetaZerker2 karma

Wait, isn't WOLF PAC doing the same thing? I'm confused now.

lessig3 karma

Wolf-PAC is pushing for an A(V) convention. Rightly so.

miyakami2 karma

While presented as a non-ideological initiative for 'The People', there is undoubtedly an inherently progressive aspect to what the MayDay SuperPAC is aiming to do. To what degree can this campaign be nonpartisan if getting money out of politics is a traditionally left-leaning goal?

lessig8 karma

Check out reform.to. There are 5 reforms identified as "fundamental reforms" — two are GOP, two DEM, and one is a nice mix of DEM/GOP. The only Republicans who think reform is not a Republican issue live in the beltway of DC.

COPCO2 karma

This is too weird! I just watched your episode of The West Wing last night for the very first time. My wife and I have been marathoning it on Netflix, and given the time on your AMA entry, I was watching around the time you were writing this.

So I have to ask, do you feel badly about keeping the President up so late?

lessig3 karma

it was his fault, not mine.

Parmesan_Goldfish1 karma

Who is moderating /r/rootstrikers?

lessig2 karma

That I don't know.

stylusa1 karma

Even if your MAYDAY PAC works, at this point isn't any campaign finance reform just going to be declared unconstitutional? What do you think of Justice Stevens' argument that we need a constitutional amendment to fix this problem?

lessig2 karma

We may need an amendment, but we won't get it with this Congress. So we need to change this Congress — through perfectly constitutional legislation that changes how elections are funded. You can see them at http://reform.to

charbar1 karma

I donated! Thank you so much Professor Lessig!

lessig1 karma


defeatedbird1 karma

Hi Lawrence,

Believe it or not, your book lead to a psychological meltdown on my part as it put together how the government was corrupt, how the process worked, and it utterly destroyed all my faith in our institutions.

You compare the current situation to the Gilded Age, but for some reason I have the feeling that matters are actually worse now. Although the Gilded Age had deep-seated issues like state appointments of senators and no campaign finance laws to begin with, I feel as if today's intertwined corporate world, our dependence on those corporations for jobs, the global nature of those companies and the world economy, and the immense amount of study that goes into advertising (and thus, by proxy, propaganda), we're actually more deeply entrenched in corruption than ever before.

Is it fair to say that there's more at stake in the status quo now than there was in 1900? When I watched Occupy get very deliberately and cynically dismantled by the news media and government, it disheartened me greatly that even non-violent protests can work. It seems like whether through agents provocateur or complete distortion through the media, those in charge could stop another Occupy or similar movement, like Civil Rights. The incredible amount of government and media co-ordination to bring down Occupy was also very troubling.

I know you believe in a non-violent solution to our problems, but for the reasons (or at least beliefs) I've listed above, what is your opinion on the likelihood of a violent resolution to current tensions? 10%, 20% in the next 50 years?

lessig4 karma

Violence will not produce resolution. Giving people a sense of how change could happen would. We need to give them hope — which my book was pretty bad at — and then a way they can engage.

ubercoo1 karma

Hello Mr. Lessig, fan of your work and lectures. Do you think a second constitutional convention is still possible?

lessig2 karma

I don't support a "constitutional convention" (a creature with the power to change the constitution or change the rules by which amendments get adopted). I support an Article V convention, which simply has the power to propose changes.

Kremidas1 karma

Mr. Lessig, thank you so much for you work. The corrupting influence of money in Politics is THE issue of our time, and your work is so important and appreciated. I recommend and talk about 'Republic, Lost' far more than my family and friends find tolerable. Can't stop won't stop.

On to my question. I volunteer with Wolf-PAC, a group that as you know is working through state legislatures to convene an Article V convention to add an amendment to the constitution to overturn Citizens United and get money out of politics. Would you consider using the money raised from MAYDAY PAC for state level congresspersons? This would be a huge help towards our common cause. What are your views on an article V convention? About going through state level vs. national level?

Thanks so much for this. Very much looking forward to your point of view.

lessig2 karma

I support Wolf-PAC and the A(V) convention. But in 2014, the Mayday PAC is about Congress. We'll see how the debate evolves in 2016.

fouremten1 karma

I don't have a question, but I am very much inspired by your words, and I've recommended your book to many people. This is a worthy cause. I've donated and everybody that can, should. Let's elect people that care about fixing actual problems!

lessig2 karma


vlad_didenko1 karma

Mr. Lessig, would you think the mere existence of MAYDAY PAC will be used to justify unlimited PAC contributions? Kind of like "see, it works for everyone"?

lessig1 karma

They are (for SuperPACs) already. So we use their bad system to attack the system.

bskarin1 karma

How do you prevent this from getting hijacked by Democrats since they tend to provide stronger support on this issue already?

lessig1 karma

I want 218/60. I don't care the kind of animal that comprises the mix.

SittingTurtl31 karma

Was "The Green Mile" a true story?

lessig1 karma

you got me

mmccafferty670 karma

Professor Lessig: Loved you at Nantucket Project in 2012...been following ever since. How do you get more coverage this month...$200k today is fantastic but do you fear momentum will fade? Notice many twitter followers..Luntz, Sorkin, etc...any promotion by them to aid in the fight? Luntz would be surprising but he's a big fan of yours and Colbert for that matter.

lessig0 karma

I talk to Frank many times about this. We went to college together. We've got lots of work to keep the momentum going. But we need to learn to do it ourselves. Let the celebrities come in after it's done.

hlabarka0 karma

If it is possible, should everyone know everything that everyone else in the world knows and experiences?

If not, what shouldnt people know?

lessig0 karma

Of course not. Privacy is essential. About a person's life, I'd put the question the other way: what is it there's a very good reason for the public to know?

jarkmames-1 karma

I have finals starting monday, any advice on a law school exam to stand out from the crowd?

Thank you

lessig3 karma

be sure you type.

epgenius-2 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA Professor Lessig!

1) What would you say is the best, creative, out-of-the-box way for a law student to stand out from the crowd and appeal to an employer?

2) Would you please record yourself saying "It gets better..." to help out my campaign seeking to give 1Ls hope for the future when all we can think about is the sweet, somber embrace of death's open arms, cooing to us like a siren's dulcet melody?

lessig3 karma

You don't want the advice of a tenured professor for #1. It's the last thing in the world we know about.

Re #2: It gets better because you get better. The law will give you an enormous potential to do good — and a choice.

yolakoko-3 karma

Don't you feel shame for focusing on what the government did in the Aaron Swartz case instead of focusing on the problem of depression? I feel like your distracting from the most direct cause of his death was disgusting and opportunistic.

lessig1 karma

No, I don't feel shame. But for the prosecution, Aaron would be alive.