UPDATE 3: Back to answering as many questions as possible, and, understanding the evolving arc of the conversation. Tons to learn and lots to understand. Thanks for the continued thought.

Again: http://lessig2016.us

Our bio: Lessig is a law professor and activist, who on August 11 announced an exploratory committee to determine whether he'd run for president as a "referendum candidate" — promising to fix the democracy, first, and then step down. If the campaign raises $1M by Sept 7, he will run. If not, the money gets returned. lessig2016.us Wikipedia

Jimmy Wales is the founder of Wikipedia, all around great Internet citizen, and chairman of the Lessig2016.us Exploratory Committee. Wikipedia

Our Proof: proof

Comments: 2248 • Responses: 82  • Date: 

curiousparlante518 karma

Hi Dr. Lessig: There is concern that your presidential bid will dilute the vote for Bernie Sanders (see /r/Maydaypac for threads and conversation on this).

I myself am torn. I recognize campaign finance as a core systemic issue affecting all aspects of American society, both domestically and abroad. But at the same time, if Sanders is doing well in the polls and needs my vote, I’ll likely vote for him, and not you. What is your answer to this dilemma, which surely many others in support of campaign finance reform also face?

lessig336 karma

If you want to support Bernie (and I love Bernie too) then get Bernie to run a campaign that gives him a chance of achieving real reform. His current campaign does not do that. It rallies the base. It makes us angry. It will turn out the vote. It could well mean he wins. But does it leave us with a democracy capable of fixing its most fundamental problems? It doesn't. Not the way he's fighting it. Not by a mile. I love him. But I hate the idea of yet another reformer boxed out of the possibility of actually fixing anything. Remember Obama. He spoke as often and as passionately about the need to fix the system. Then he did nothing. Because his campaign too didn't have the courage to fight the campaign in a way that gave them a shot at fixing the system. We cannot make this mistake again.

dishmonkeyp279 karma

Hi Larry,

I'm not sure you're being specific enough in your criticism of Bernie. Are you staying that because he isn't focusing on campaign finance reform first, he won't be able to effectively accomplish all the other things he is trying to do? Or do I have this wrong?

Thanks for doing this AMA. I'm a longtime supporter of Creative Commons, and just about all your other work.

vtslim160 karma

I'm also confused. Somehow Larry is suggesting that Bernie winning, with campaign finance reform as one of his major policy issues, will handicap his ability to enact campaign finance reform?

lessig174 karma

Thanks for the followup. I think Bernie can win. I think his campaign is in the direction of winning. But I believe unless he builds the expectation that reform happens first, none of the other things will happen either.

It takes a different kind of campaign to build that expectation. It needs one that says, "look, we have to fix this corruption first, and that's what I'm going to do." Because if he's not committed to that, then what will happen is what happened with Obama: they'll get to DC, they'll look at the list of issues they campaigned on, they'll pick the one that's most popular first, and reform will never be that one.

You might think we can get by just find with things as they are. If you do, then my argument should mean nothing to you. But if you believe reform is necessary, it cannot be one issue among 8. If it is, it will never be the one that wins.

CaptHandsome14 karma

But does it leave us with a democracy capable of fixing its most fundamental problems? It doesn't.

And yours does? I'm sorry - because I'm aligned to your values as well - but how can you defend your strategy of achieving this? Do you really think your single point, single value platform is going to rally a majority in this country?

lessig5 karma

Imagine your Uncle Sam was an alcoholic. He's losing is job, his liver, and his wife.

Imagine you say, Sam, get it together! And his response was: Ok, I'm going to work harder at my job, and I'm going to drink more water with my scotch, and I'm going to spend more time showing my wife I love her, and I'm going to try — really try — to stop drinking.

I'd say to Sam: Sam, fix the drinking first. ONLY then could the other changes be possible.

Do I think we could rally America to that (metaphorical equivalent)? Absolutely. You're going to rally more Americans to the idea that we need to "fix democracy first" than to almost any of the ideas we progressives imagine the next progressive president adopting.

AKVM489 karma

Hi Lessig - will you join Bernie Sanders in pledging not to run if you lose the Democratic nomination, and if not, why?

lessig519 karma


AKVM141 karma

Wonderful! You should publicize this more - I've heard lots of people worry about this.

TreeFitThee81 karma

Would you mind briefly explaining why this is a good thing? Don't we want candidates we like to run regardless of party affiliation?

lessig124 karma

There isn't a deep principle here. There's a practical read of the current political situation. I was critical of what Nader did — not in running, but in not withdrawing. Those principles in this context (e.g., the potential war with Iran) would lead me to fight for this cause in a different way.

kash_if246 karma

Hi Jimmy,

I'd like to know your stance on Net Neutrality. I ask this question in the context of your support to Facebook's Internet.Org in my country India where Wikipedia has decided to ally itself with FB which violates net neutrality and gives an upper-hand to established internet companies.

Back when you started Wikipedia, do you think Wikipedia could have ever grown if another encyclopedia like Britannica had tied up with telecom providers to either shut Wikipedia out or charge selectively for data?

Reference: http://i.imgur.com/A6Gtkx3.jpg

Hi Lawrence,

I would like to hear your opinion as well. Do you support net neutrality or you do not?

Thank you.

lessig116 karma

since the very beginning. See The Future of Ideas.

Bouillonaire108 karma

Say you're elected, and the Citizen Equality Act of 2017 isn't passed by Congress. Now What?

lessig107 karma

not an option. With 50 referendum representatives, and a president that doesn't care about what's next, it gets passed.

I get the anxiety here. I really do. But here's the reality: We have a government that doesn't work. We need the best shot to getting a government that does work. Making "reform" one of 8 issues on a platform is not a plan. It's a wish.

DinoDrum38 karma

I'm a huge supporter, but surely you have plan beyond relying on your "unprecedented mandate."

Members from both parties in Congress are under pressure from special interests, many of which benefit from the current state of our democracy, do you truly believe that your supposed mandate will be enough to secure the necessary votes? I have doubts that it will be so easy considering the Congress we've had in the past decade.

Monkeyavelli11 karma

It's not even "special interests". There are a host of issues people want dealt with. Lessig seems to be saying that if he wins everyone will be so focused on this one issue that they won't care if nothing else ever gets done.

This is not how people or the government works. Government shutdowns don't get results.

lessig23 karma

No I actually think that if the referendum won, people would be keenly focused on Congress respecting it, and quickly. The public doesn't focus on the details. But the arc of this story is pretty clear: Will Congress do what the referendum says.

1tudore61 karma

As President, you would have a range of unilateral powers at your disposal to implement reforms and gain political leverage.

You could offer clemency or pardon Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and other whistleblowers. You could require radical transparency from government contractors. You could pursue federal-state, public-private partnerships to incentivize public and private experiments in anti-corruption reforms across the country and beyond.

What executive orders have you drafted?

What beneficial-but-unnecessary executive orders could you issue and promise to rescind in exchange for a recalcitrant Congress passing your essential reforms?

If your reforms are completely frustrated by Congress, what executive actions would you take before you resign?

lessig45 karma

You're right. The president has enormous power — especially if s/he has just one goal.

I would use those powers to the end of getting the CEA enacted. Re powers unrelated to those — pardon, etc. — I have said that I personally believe the next president should pardon Snowden. But it isn't appropriate to make promises about pardons one way or the other.

1tudore51 karma

You expressed support for Jon Stewart moderating a DNC debate.

What other efforts would you support to make the debates more small-d democratic?

The White House has their We the People petitions. Why can't the DNC put together a similar effort to solicit questions from voters and let us choose what questions should be answered?

Why should a handful of media and party elite get to determine the contours of our national discussion?

Doesn't that reinforce the strong upper-class bias our national conversation?

lessig43 karma

It does. PCCC has been experimenting with Open Debate formats. That would be a fantastic complement.

1tudore9 karma

Will you mention this if you get in the debates?

Point out how the party is not living up to its values of small-d democracy?

lessig16 karma


1tudore45 karma

Lockhead Martin doesn't need to bankroll a politician to get government money.

They can just divide up their missile construction project across multiple congressional districts and lobby for contracts & subsidies to help them 'create jobs.'

What reforms are necessary to prevent incumbent corporations from securing regulations and subsidies that give them unfair advantages against current & future competitors?

djs758116 karma

We can't pass reforms to end crony capitalism (subsidies, reductions in unnecessary military spending, tax breaks, etc.) until we pass campaign finance reform, because candidates are reliant on corporate donors. In fact, all populous legislation is impossible unless it has support from America's wealthiest individuals. Lessig wants to pass campaign finance reform in order to empower the public, so candidates are beholden to voters and not dollars. Then, the idea is that we'll be able to elect candidates who are there to work for the people, rather to enter a revolving door system or handouts and cronyism.

lessig81 karma

man, can we hire you as a speech writer?

lessig40 karma

That's a really great and hard question. (Remember Eisenhower warned us about the "military, industrial, congressional complex" (that was the first draft). I think the most we can do is to allow members of congress not to be dependent on defense contractors for money; then the rest of Congress needs to determine whether they are too dependent on other stuff.

moviemaniac22638 karma

Professor Lessig, thank you for taking the time to do this. I read Republic, Lost when it was released and it motivated me to start working in politics, so it’s sort of surreal to see it come to life in this campaign. That being said, I have a few questions:

  1. Do you intend to include the DISCLOSE Act in the first proposal of the Citizens Equality Act?

  2. Your campaign is essentially strategy 3 of 4 in Republic, Lost (“An Unconventional Presidential Game). If this does not succeed, do you plan on pursuing the fourth strategy, pushing for an Article V Convention?

  3. This is a bit longer, so I apologize. The campaign finance reform community seems to be split into two camps: those like yourself who believe a bill like the Citizens Equality Act needs to come before overturning Citizens United and those like Wolf PAC who believe the reverse. What worries me about your approach is that even if CEA is passed, Super PACs and oligarchical donors will still exist, just alongside a public system. And while having such a system is important, Mega-Donors will always create the “distorting influence” you talk about in your book and the “gift economy” of Zephyr Teachout’s Corruption in America. While we can say overturning Citizens United would be the “next step” for reformers, we know the kind of issue fatigue Congress gets after passing a big reform and calling the job done (e.g., Dodd-Frank didn’t break up Too Big to Fail, the ACA didn’t directly control high hospital costs…), let alone momentum for a constitutional amendment. So: why not include an amendment like the one Congress voted on last year (Tom Udall’s S.J.Res.19) and restore donation and expenditure caps contingent on its passage by the states? I guess the point I’m trying to make is I feel like reformers will only get one shot at this, so they might as well aim to achieve everything: reverse McCutcheon, reverse Citizens United, reverse Buckley and truly end Big Money in politics.

lessig36 karma

** Do you intend to include the DISCLOSE Act in the first proposal of the Citizens Equality Act? ** Disclosure would be part of the election funding bill. ** Your campaign is essentially strategy 3 of 4 in Republic, Lost (“An Unconventional Presidential Game). If this does not succeed, do you plan on pursuing the fourth strategy, pushing for an Article V Convention? ** Absolutely, I do whatever I can to push an A(V) convention, and have worked with Wolf-PAC to get legislatures to pass resolutions a bunch of times. That work will continue after 2017, but will be made much easier by the CEA. ** why not an amendment first ** First, because we can't wait. Second, because an amendment couldn't sensibly address all of these issues. Third, because even with an amendment, you still need legislation to implement. But fourth, I think the best way to get the Supreme Court to come around to sanity is to manifest a broad political movement for sanity. That's been the history of the Supreme Court forever. And my prediction is that if we passed the CEA, they'd find a way to reverse the rule that gave us SuperPACs (though not Citizens United).

1tudore37 karma

If we are reforming the way we vote, why switch to ranked-choice voting rather than range voting (link)?

A proportional representation system with range voting (a.k.a. score voting) allows voters to express a finer gradation of preferences - allowing for more small-d democratic feedback - and solves for the problems of spoilers & strategic voting.

lessig32 karma

The Citizen Equality Act of 2017 right now incorporates packages of reforms proposed by others. As we get into the fall, we want to use that as the baseline for a conversation about what other stuff we should have. The goal is to have a final text by Jan 1. So I'd be open to considering these alternatives.

1tudore33 karma

Convicts are a highly politically marginal group, so it seems deep structural reforms may be necessary to protect them.

Do you support restoring voting rights to felons?

Given the racist history and on-going disparate impact of this disenfranchisement, it seems necessary.

More broadly, how do we secure the rights of current and former prisoners?

Particularly, how do we end the modern debtors' prisoners created by our bail system?

Can we make sure everyone is tried by a jury of their peers and not have huge racial disparities in the make up of our jury pool?

The current state of public defenders - underfunded, overworked, the salience of plea bargaining, being unable to view all evidence gathered by prosecutors in advance of a trial - reveals the limits of Gideon and the inability of the current system to safeguard the right to a fair trial.

lessig57 karma

Absolutely. The absurd way we disenfranchise felons is just one example of how the system denies equal citizenship to all. I believe a criminal should pay his debt to society. (And I believe corporate criminals should pay a higher debt than they have). But once that's paid, we should welcome them back into society — warmly and fully.

Lottabirdies25 karma

Larry... Why is $1 million at Labor Day the decision point for running or not?

lessig35 karma

We needed a number to determine whether we could make a credible run. I didn't want to take anyone's money unless we could make a real go of it. That was the # recommended. So we jumped...

1tudore25 karma

Senator Warren – then Prof Warren – was able to make the CFPB a reality by making common cause with independent community bankers against Wall Street bankers. She won because she exploited fissures in dominant political and financial coalitions.

Looking at the coalition arrayed against your reforms, what fissures do you see that you can exploit to win allies and divide your opponents?

Where do you see their interests diverging from each other?

How can you exploit those divergent interests to further your reforms?

lessig34 karma

Our task is, in one sense, easier than hers. The public is united in its view about the corruption of the current system. The challenge is to unite them in the context of a partisan election, which will be hard. That's why I want a Republican to do the same thing I'm doing – so reform can be assumed, and then we can get back to the partisan question of who should control the next gov't.

OccupyMoneyCoop23 karma

I saw on a video that you called on Obama to pardon Snowden because he's an American hero. If elected, would you pardon him?

lessig35 karma

I did say that. I do think that's what the next president should do. I don't think it appropriate to make promises -- one way or the other -- about pardons.

lessig26 karma

So look — I get how in this context in particular, me saying, "I'm going to pardon xxxx" would earn me cred. But I think it is wrong for a candidate for president to promise one way or the other. So I can't, regardless of the cred lost.

Mikesterling32322 karma

I'm running for U.S. 16th Congressional District of Illinois I'd like to use your videos to help educate prospective voters. Would you mind?

lessig26 karma

All my videos are CC licensed. Just give attribution, and use them however you like. And THANK YOU for your service. Too many think a corrupt system means corrupt politicians. But every politician I've met is a great person in an awful system (except one).

djs75816 karma

What impact did Martin Gilens' research have on your decision to run for president as a referendum candidate?

For those who are not aware, Gilens compared policy views of the general public by wealth with political influence, and found that policy influence is almost purely determined by wealth, with the bottom 70% of Americans having zero impact on public policy, because their views are not supported by dollars.

lessig25 karma

Gilens made me see the urgency. We can't afford 8 more years of not solving this problem.

ElectricFlower15 karma

Why did you decide to create the Citizens Equality Act instead of trying to get a Consitutional amendment passed like Wolf PAC is trying to do?

lessig36 karma

Because (1) we need reform NOW (not 3 years from now), (2) a majority in Congress is more likely than 2/ds (to propose), or 3/4ths (to ratify), (3) because changing the way campaigns are funded is something Congress could do tomorrow, and should. An amendment may well be necessary — if the Supreme Court doesn't fix the superPAC problem it is certainly necessary — but we can't afford to wait. We need to act through Congress now.

mpsalisbury14 karma

What are the best ways for us (the public) to advance the issues you're campaigning on beyond supporting your candidacy? [These issues are too important to put all of our eggs into just one basket.]

lessig22 karma

Great organizations to add to your reformer portfolio strategy... Represent.US Wolf-pac.com Mayday.us the group Aaron Swartz helped found, Demand Progress. PCCC. You should work with all of them to help fix our democracy.

1tudore13 karma

Most congressional Republicans are ideologically opposed to any reforms that would circumscribe the influence of money, and generally see a partisan advantage in the status quo.

They not only agree with Roberts & Scalia, but while Democratic presidential candidates have offered some proposals to reform the system, Republicans haven't even offered a fig leaf.

How could you effectively negotiate with people who not only oppose you, but would be willing and even happy to damage the government (shutdowns, sequesters) to break you?

Do you have any Republicans who you can hold up as competitive primary candidates for House or Senate races who could break with their caucus and support you in office?

lessig17 karma

Most are opposed when they are described piecemeal. But if they are part of a citizen equality package, it becomes harder. And our plan is to encourage 50 "referendum representatives" to run in districts where the incumbent has not pledged to support the people's reforms. They could run as Republicans, Democrats, or Independents (and I'd really encourage the independent run).

aesopwat13 karma

How can we connect issues of campaign finance and voter equality with the day-to-day practical & emotional realities of regular Americans?

lessig25 karma

The pundits think Americans are stupid. I don't. I think that if you connect the dots, they'll get it. Start with the issues they care about — health care, social security, student debt, minimum wage, the environment, network neutrality, copyright (ok, a guy can dream) — and show them how EVERY ISSUE is linked to this one issue. Try an obvious metaphor: An alcoholic could be losing his liver, his job, his wife. Those are the worst problems someone can have. But unless you solve the alcoholism, none of those problems is going to be solved.

claymaker10 karma

could Elizabeth Warren be your vice president?

lessig11 karma

Yes, absolutely. Politically, it would make sense for one of us to move out of MA (and that would be me since she's the senator). That's because the constitution wouldn't permit MA to cast its votes for both of us, and so if the election were close, that would risk one of us not making it. But constitutionally, there is no bar (except the rule that forbids a state to vote for two people from that state).

aesopwat10 karma

  • Would you consider compiling similar questions and then answering the most prevalent among those questions on camera and throwing it up on youtube? I think the more media you put out the better.

lessig23 karma

Don't say I'm not responsive:

What do you think of Donald Trump? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urzsn6xtFNs

Have we really lost our democracy? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97T5JhzJ4uQ

What's wrong with Bernie's proposal? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxjwJaUsVw8

Will you pick your own vice president? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PT7iLJqXVms

How do you know this will work? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imNT85zkSyo

Why don't you believe Bernie? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPyfXfJ-FIA

Is a vote for you a vote against other Democrats? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BuEh4KQpWo

What can people do to help? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9b75KFRJGWY

Why a "Referendum President"? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMbzMuTC3HU

How will you deal with attacks from people like Trump? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmZCNi3kLf4

alaurag9 karma

I find it difficult to get people to think this is possible. How can I get even just friends and family to give the referendum fair consideration?

lessig10 karma

start with what we know: We have to fix this corruption if we're going to get a government that can fix anything. Given that, what strategies are even plausible? My view is that making reform "one of 8" (Bernie) or "one of 15" (O'Malley) or "one I'll get to" (Clinton) is certain to fail. Compared to that, a national referendum on reform begins to sound at least plausible.

suaveitguy9 karma

Do you think Jon Stewart's hilarious, timely, satirical look at serious issues helped or hurt reform? I wonder if it gave people a release valve for their frustrations instead of something more hands on, or even worse - had them cheer on dysfunction for entertainment's sake.

lessig14 karma

They definitely helped. It was the only context in which those issues could be discussed seriously (weird as that sounds). That and Colbert.

JJrodny9 karma

Hi Dr. (Mr.? Sir? Allpowerful redeemer?) Lessig, after seeing your TED talk and following your MayDay super-PAC, I've been on the Lessig train, telling my family and friends that you are the hero we need, not necessarily the one we deserve.

Before you announced your exploratory committee I would (jokingly) mention to friends that I would blindly vote for you and follow whatever you (and the EFF) would do if you had a political position, and I'm excited that I (hopefully) can!

Everyone I talk to about politics (Republicans and Democrats alike) has given up on the political system, and whenever we reach that point in the conversation, I point them to your TED talk, and try my best to explain how you (or your ideas) can fix it.

I don't really have a question, and I just want to tell you that people believe in you, and that you should run for president, if only to get the most important issues of money in politics talked about during debates.

I'm super excited to get the chance to participate in your AMA (even though I've brought nothing to the discussion) and I'm sorry about being a 27 year old fan-boy about it but I LOVE YOU Laurence Lessig! You have my vote!

lessig8 karma

Hey JJrodny, thanks. Your vote is critical. But this is golden.

1tudore8 karma

A healthy democracy requires the enforcement of law. But today, law enforcement officials are able to routinely violate citizen's legal and Constitutional rights with impugnity.

Do you believe Campaign Zero's policy proposals (link) are adequate to provide communities adequate means to hold their police departments accountable, safeguard individual's rights, and eliminate racial bias? Do you believe the adequately safeguard the disabled, the non-neurotypical, and the mentally ill?

If not, what additional policies would you support?

lessig20 karma

Agreed. This ties to the culture of inequality that is America today. We don't have equal citizens, and that spreads to every aspect of social life. The stupid war on drugs turns police into drill sergeants, and they treat citizens as grunts in boot camp. The only way we change this is to reaffirm the basic equality of citizens, and use that power to undo these idiotic laws.

jlearman6 karma

Larry, I love what you're doing, and I've already made a pledge toward your campaign. The thing that I don't really understand is, if you are elected, how will you actually get campaign reform through congress? Won't you face the same immovable block of hatred from the right that Obama did?

lessig4 karma

Thanks. The opposition will be different. First, the mandate will be clearer (my team doesn't like the word mandate, but I don't know a better way to describe it); second, we will have referendum representatives to break the partisan division; third, I will have just one goal, Obama had 10, so I will be freer to use the power of the office.

dragontologist5 karma

How do you feel about congressional term limits?

lessig7 karma

I'm ok with (reasonable) term limits, so long as they go with changing the way campaigns are funded. But we should avoid what has happened in CA: a world where the only people who know how to do anything are the lobbyists.

1tudore5 karma

You argue proportional representation will lead to more minorities and women being elected, but you provide no causal mechanism to support that assertion. CT's experience is heartening (link), but they still don't have gender parity, and we don't have evidence that trend will repeat itself.

How can we structurally reform the system to guarantee marginalized voices will be heard?

Have you looked at South Africa's post-apartheid constitution or spoken to it's drafters - like Kimberle Crenshaw - for guidance?

lessig10 karma

The causal mechanism isn't hard to trace (remembering I'm pushing for changes in funding as well as representation): In the current system, the people advantaged are the people with the most direct access to money. Those are, on average, white men. Change the funding system, and make it easier for minorities (political as well as identity) to have representation, and you change that bias.

thelawr5 karma

Dr. Lessig: Outside of eliminating money from politics, what are methods that you see could improve American access to democracy and increasing civic engagement? Like vote by mail, universal voter registration, etc.

Thanks so much for using your voice to push for democracy this 2016 cycle. America could not last another day without talking about it.

lessig10 karma

All of those. The CEA would take many of the steps you're describing. But my purpose in framing this at the level of "citizen equality" is to get people to ask the obvious questions — WHY are we making it hard to vote (or harder for some to vote); why are we drawing districts that disempower many; why would we hand over the nomination process (through the green/money primary) to 400 families? Once you think about it at the level of citizen equality, these questions have obvious answers. Let's embrace the obvious, and make it law!

anitya14 karma

What are some of the most important lessons that Aaron Swartz taught you?

lessig5 karma

The cynics cannot win. It was the simple truth he demanded of me when he forced me to take up this cause.

1tudore4 karma

Immigrants and migrant workers are systemically disenfranchised. When they are (routinely) exploited as scapegoats, they have limited means to defend their rights and interests.

What structural reforms are needed to protect all US residents and allow them to effectively define & advocate for their interests, regardless of citizenship status?

lessig12 karma

I think our policy towards immigrants of all kinds is absurd. Immigrants are among the hardest working Americans. I would support getting them to citizenship as fast as possible. It is also absurd that legal immigrants are banned from speaking politically. The Supreme Court never explained why corporations couldn't be silenced, but legal immigrants could.

newdefinition4 karma

I'd like to hear your opinions on some past attempts at getting this issue more attention on the nation stage:

  1. Buddy Roemer's campaign
  2. Mayday PAC
  3. Fix Congress first

What lessons have been learned that will help make Lessig 2016 more successful?

lessig5 karma

Buddy's strategy would have been perfect had he been on the debate stage; it was a mistake not to have a strategy to get on stage.

Mayday was an experiment to see what we could learn/do. We learned an incredible amount, even if we didn't win 8 seats. Someone's got to explain to the nay sayers that when nothing is working, you've got to try stuff that radically new. Fix Congress First became Rootstrikers — and they are flourishing as they build a large coalition of people who see the root, and want to attack it.

JamesTWood4 karma

If you were only able to pass one piece of your proposed legislation, which part would be your top priority? Why is that?

lessig10 karma

The most important change is changing the way campaigns are funded. That makes the others more possible. But we need all three, together, and that's what I would hold out until Congress does.

aesopwat4 karma

You have spoken about social norms as a way to 'fill in the gaps' when incentives alone are not enough to produce a specific public good. Are there any normative reforms that could help reign in congress and compliment the legislative reforms you are proposing? What sort of culture could we create in congress to make them more responsive to the public good?

lessig7 karma

Great question. One of the causes of the terrible culture is the constant need to fundraise: the easiest way to fundraise is to vilify the other side; when you spend all your time vilifying, you can't get much done with the target of the vilification.

Great leadership in Congress would basically reverse 90% of what Newt did. Bring Congress to DC with their families; let them hang together, and work together. Monthly paintball contests.

Ledoux994 karma

Hello, guys. Just a simple question, what are your hobbies? Thanks.

lessig5 karma

three amazing kids (11, 8 and 5). Losing time with them is the biggest cost of this campaign.

aesopwat4 karma

  • What do you think about compulsory voting such as they have in Australia? How can we increase voter turnout?
  • Do you support restoring voting rights to felons?
  • Would you support automatic voter registration of every citizen who is of voting age?
  • Do you support providing full voting rights to D.C. and the US territories?
  • Do you see a need for the government to own and manage the voting machines used in elections?
  • What is your opinion on the electoral college?

lessig6 karma

1: give people a reason to vote, and I'm happy to say they should vote. But with the unequal representation we have now, they don't have a reason. 2: yes 3: yes 4: yes 5: no, but I do think they need to be open source and better certified. 6: out dated, but can't be fixed till we fix the way we fund campaigns.

tricky_coyote3 karma

While we're on the subject of longshots, do you also believe it's possible in 2016 to elect majorities in both houses who are down with your plan and, if so, how?

lessig4 karma

I am not arguing we need to win Democratic majorities in both houses. I want a referendum majority. We get that by (1) members pledging to support the referendum, and if they don't (2) running referendum candidates (Republicans, Democrats, Independents) who commit to the referendum, and then whatever other policy they care about.

FaceNibbler3 karma

Hi Larry -

First off, thank you for writing Lesterland! Such a concise book that really cuts across party lines, I've recommended it to liberals and conservatives alike.

My question: What alternative form of a government do you think is most viable? For example, an open-source government, where rather than having representatives the citizens vote on issues akin to push/pull requests in Git, or perhaps a lottocracy where regular citizens would be elected randomly. Obviously, these would only get considered if our government was more responsive to our citizenry, but I'm curious what you think am optimal alternative would be given there weren't any political hurdles. Thank you!

lessig4 karma

I'd love to experiment with lots of different ways to aggregate a representative view of the public. So, e.g., deliberative polling is an excellent way to get informed judgments from informed citizens that are truly representative. I want to see more of that, and less government-by-opinion poll. The people are wise, when they have a chance to reflect. We should draw on that wisdom, by giving them a chance to reflect.

suaveitguy3 karma

Any comment on Aaron Swartz's legacy? Is there good to come from his death? Could it ever outweigh what could have come from his life?

lessig6 karma

No, nothing could outweigh losing him. All we can do is do as much with the inspiration he left us. That should be enough to get us a democracy again. If it does, that loss will hurt less.

rhumbline93 karma

I watched your video. I think your idea of stepping down once you've fixed democracy grabs headlines, but has little substance. How are you going to fix democracy and what makes you think you can in the face of a hostile congress and/or the next President reversing your efforts? Also, I can't vote for a one issue candidate, especially when fixing democracy may take you an entire term. Are we suppose to put the rest of this country's issues on hold in the mean time?

lessig6 karma

With referendum representatives (https://medium.com/equal-citizens/the-plan-part-2-referendum-representatives-4c6c5e341c5f ) we would fix this quickly. But however long it took, I would be president, making decisions that respected two trustee-ships – to the people (to pass the CEA) and to the VP (since hers would be the administration that would take over).

t0f0b02 karma

Do you think we will get to a point (hopefully in the not-too-distant future) where it won't be solely Democrats versus Republicans?

lessig1 karma

We need to get to a point before Dems v. Reps. We need to think about matters of principle not as partisans, but as citizens. That sounds like fluff. We need to recognize just how real it is. It is possible to be citizens first. We need to practice that.

ProgToddNorCal2 karma

I feel that getting real with racism, looking at it like an addiction that people have to battle to overcome every day, is one of the foundations for a more progressive future for our country. The GOP gains power by absolutes, allowing no gray areas through steadfast pride and perceived piety. When we try to overcome racism within ourselves, we open up that gray area and deflate unjustified hate. Are you willing to push for an Inclusive America through that awakening, using that specific term to define that long-term goal? Anyone can say, "God bless America" but how many are willing to say, "God bless all Americans?" To me only those that can utter the latter qualify as true Americans. Otherwise, the flag they wave might as well be partially confederate.

lessig4 karma

I love that, and will steal it (unless it is cc-licensed).

lessigAMAthrowaway2 karma

Hello Larry. No real hard hitting question other than to say I took Internet Law with Professor David Levine and it was a fascinating class and he always spoke very highly of you. Any advice for how an interested JD could get into the internet law field?

lessig5 karma

volunteer for great orgs like EFF.

wesselwessel2 karma

Hi Dr. Lessig. Thank you so much for doing this AMA. When I found out about your campaign, it gave me hope again. Everywhere we turn it seems like our government is bought and catering to the interests of whoever bankrolls legislation and candidacies. So thank you for standing up for an idea that actually matters.

My question for you is this, what do you think are the biggest issue(s) we face as a nation as a result of the current campaign finance laws and political gerrymandering? I have my own opinions on the subject, and am curious what your position is. Thank you in advance!

lessig6 karma

Thanks for your question (and the answers you're giving everywhere, wesselwessel). The biggest issue? The culture of inequality. That America has become the land of second class citizens. That's the issue that makes me want to cry. But when I think about it intellectually, climate change (which Jim Hansen says can't be fixed till we fix money in politics), the insanity of wall street, health care reform that isn't, insane non-regulation of guns. All that gets my mind going. But my heart bleeds to see the America of Ferguson, and the struggles that have to be waged there. How is that possible? Systemic inequality.

sisiouioui2 karma

Hello Larry, In your opinion, should you go somewhere as a presidential candidate, who do you find the be the biggest competitor in the GOP and why?

lessig6 karma

Not sure what you mean by "biggest competitor," so I'll interpret it in the way that gives me the freedom to say what I want (!): I want to run against Trump. We agree about the problem. America will not agree with his solution.