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Lawrence Lessig wants to run for president in an unconventional way (washingtonpost.com)
446 points by nkassis on Aug 11, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 197 comments

Some of his ideas are great (particularly trying to take on gerrymandering), but I think on the money issue he's nearsighted.

> He launched Mayday PAC to much fanfare in the spring of 2014, billing it as the "super PAC to end super PACs." But it failed to play a decisive role in any race that year.

As Lessig found out, money by itself cannot buy power. Money is a means for magnifying the impact of forces that are already in play.

Consider, for example, climate change. During the last debate of the last Presidential election, Barak Obama was falling over himself to be more pro-coal than Mitt Romney. Was it because he hoped to court the coal-industry lobbyists and turn their firehose of political spending in his direction? There wasn't a chance in hell of that happening, and he knew it. He did it to court the voters in central and southern Illinois whose livelihoods are dependent on the coal industry there. We're a sprawling suburban nation addicted to cheap gasoline. Energy companies would have tremendous power even if they didn't spend a penny lobbying.

The same is true for banking and finance. People complain about fancy financial instruments, but at the end of the day main street businesses are utterly dependent on payroll loans, consumers are dependent on credit cards, and everyone wants to get a fat adjustable-rate mortgage so they can buy a big suburban house. Do you think banks need to spend any money lobbying to sway politicians in their favor?

And I'll also go out on a limb and suggest that money being a factor in politics isn't as bad as it seems. At least when money can influence politics, the noveau-riche can upset the old guard. Consider the auto industry. Traditional carmakers don't need to spend money to buy political power--the fact that they employ hundreds of thousands of middle-class workers guarantees that. But as traditional cars decline, and the Teslas and Googles of the world remake the industry, it's probably a good thing that those companies can use money to overcome the inertia and political mindshare of existing car companies.

I actually worked on a congressional race last year (in addition to other races) and not only is money important, but I'd dare say that it's more important than ever before. Even in a small congressional race you'll first be judged by the party and other supporters on how much money you're raising. So if you can only raise say a mere $50k you won't be taken seriously. And the person you're running against may have a million or more in the bank.

What does that money buy? Well first there are media buys, and it doesn't matter of it's broadcast TV or Facebook ads — that all costs money to just get some name recognition. And then old school tools like direct mail also cost quite a bit. Even polling costs money, so you'll spend a chunk of money just to figure out if you should even run. And then feet on the ground, or get out the vote costs money too. You want someone to ring doorbells or make calls? That costs money.

So a normal middle class person can't run for a federal office unless they are well connected. But connections come with a price. That price may not be legislation that has anything to do with Wall Street, but that price can be local pork or maybe a bill that's in the interest of the public that never comes up for a vote.

By the way car makers spend a ton of money in Washington. the Detroit bailout was all about that, but they do a great deal of work on smaller issues like emissions standards and the like. And if you look at the walls that an Uber is running into across the world it's hard to go up against existing interests.

I don't know, seems like access is a big deal. I'm sure Buffett could get a meeting with any presidential candidate he wanted to because of his celebrity. Me? Probably not for good reason.

However, if I had a super PAC with $5 million in the bank "trying to figure out what to spend it on" I bet I could get a lot of politicians trying to meet with me. Let's even say I said I was going to spend $1 million on each of the next 5 elections in my local district. So the first meeting we talk about some "ideas" I have and they just nod their head. If they don't think that would help in the next election, maybe they just ignore me, but if maybe they didn't have strong opinions on my important policy points to begin with, or are even against them but "have other things they want to prioritize first" then maybe I'll tilt the odds in my favor. Let's say they even want to pass their pet project, but need votes from other congresspeople they know that they can influence their colleagues if they can "sell" access to me as a "donor".

None of this is hard corruption, but it's access and influence all indirectly acquired through money.

Also, failed campaigns often just end up paying out the candidate indirectly by buying a book written by the candidate and giving it to donors as a "gift". While it might be hard for a politician to sell 1 million copies of their book, if they can buy it with campaign funds it's a lot easier.

This was the example I can remember. http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/sarah-palin-pac-buy-book/story...

It is not so much that money leads to influence, but that politicians spend most of their time fundraising. They spend so much time on it that they do not have time to govern effectively. That is his primary argument. He wants to create a system where politicians only have to worry about fundraising during the election rather than their entire term.

There is also this side benefit that whatever influence the money buys evaporates to some extent.

The snide answer is that the biggest benefit of money in politics is that it diverts the attention of politicians from "governing."

But seriously, the idea that the poor politicians are just TOO EXHAUSTED FROM FUNDRAISING to give us the good government that they desperately want to provide us seems, at best, under-argued to me. What evidence is there that this is the case?

NPR did a great series of pieces on this.



Here's a quote illustrating how much time fundrasing takes away from their normal job...

  Andrea Seabrook
  How many fundraisers do you typically go to in a given week, do you think?
  Nancy Pelosi
  A lot. Yeah. Either on the phone or attending events. But I think they've said
  this year I attended almost 400 fundraisers in nearly 40 cities.
  Andrea Seabrook
  That's 400 for the year 2011. That's more than one a day, every day of the
  year, Saturdays and Sundays included.

Nancy Pelosi has an incredibly safe seat in a district that would literally sooner die than elect a Republican, and enough power within the Democratic party to turn any challenger from the left into a greasy oil stain. Let me suggest that if she's going to 400 fundraisers per year, it's not because she's forced to at the expense of what she'd rather be doing.

EDIT: And here's in fact the bit right before the part you quoted:

"This is Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House. She's also the Democratic Party's number one fundraiser. Pelosi has raised hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. Close to $40 million in this election alone."

To wit: she's not representative, she's in fact the very extreme.

Nacy Pelosi isn't attending 400 fundraisers for herself -- she is doing it for the Democratic party and other candidates. Holding a single 'safe' seat in the House is not that important, but electing a few dozen more party members can make a difference, hence the crazy fundraising schedule.

She fund raises for the others to stay in the leadership not to stay in office. Poor questions from NPR.

Congressmen are expected by their parties to spend 4 or so hours per day, every single day, calling people and asking them for money. 28+ hours per week calling people and asking them for money, every single week, during their entire career. Plus attending fundraisers.


A friend of mine was an intern for a candidate that was on the national stage for the presidential election in 2012. This was a couple years before the election. He said all of the candidate's time was fundraising. The person was almost never in the office. Money is simply everything when it comes to being re-elected.

In case it's not clear, he was a supporter of this person (their families were long-time friends), so he wasn't saying it as a derogatory thing or speaking from a negatively-biased place.

Common sense? If someone spends 80% of their time on something, that is the thing that will get the most attention. That is where the 80/20 rule comes from.

That's not what the 80/20 rule is.

Do you have any evidence that politicians spend 80% of their time fundraising?

What is the big list of bills that just couldn't get drafted because the politicians were too busy fundraising?

Not 80% but it looks like as much time is spent fundraising as doing legislative work: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/08/call-time-congressi...

And my worry isn't about not being able to draft bills. It's about being able to review already-drafted bills. Isn't the TPP several thousand pages?

According to Rep. Capuano of Cambridge/Somerville MA, the reason he can't effectively evaluate the TPP is that he isn't allowed to write any notes or consult people who are actually trade experts.


The idea that congresspeople would just dive into the thousand and ten-thousand page bills of dense legalese if only it weren't for these inconvenient fundraisers is just not based in any version of reality.

You're missing the point.

The biggest issue with all this fundraising isn't that it's just taking away from time to legislate. The biggest issue that amount of time fundraising can makes it difficult for an honest politician (spare me the jokes) to not be influenced by the people he's asking for money.

As a legislator, you only have enough time and attention to research and care about a handful of issues. The remainder of those issues, you have to trust the expertise of fellow legislators and lobbyists. Lobbyists are experts in their fields and apart from being able to write checks, they know how to explain policy to a legislator so the legislator believes they're doing the right thing.

I realize asking people to have pity on congressmen is a tall order, but don't delude yourself into believing they have free-will that translates into power or influence without sucking on the fundraising teet.

"They spend so much time on it that they do not have time to govern effectively."

Not really. A bit like saying "if I don't let my kid watch football they will have more time to study!".

If they didn't spend time fundraising they would spend time on some equally worthless (for the public) activity. Like marching in parades and kissing babies, or giving out stupid medals, or attending events so that they can get more votes in the next election or attending events that will get others elected that will then owe them a favor.

Obama after he was elected made a point of visiting his kids school (iirc the week after he was in office or close to that) in order to show that a father should be interested in his kid's education presumably or something like that. What is ironic is that with a father like the former President (not to mention a mother in attendance who went to Harvard as well and is quite educated) Obama's kids are the least likely to have to ever worry about their education and school studies.

I would imagine that half the things that Obama or any President does in White House events involves some favor or another for a politician that helped them in the past in some way. (In addition to donors of course) Otherwise hard to justify why such an important guy should take the time from his important work for so many photo ops.

Question for anyone running a business startup or otherwise. Do you spend your time doing silly stuff like that w/o a clear business purpose? Of course not.

The simple way to fix that is - counterintuitively - to abolish all campaign finance restrictions.

With vastly more money available, politicians would have to spend far less, both in time and favors, to finance their campaigns.

I always wondered what would happen if instead of making donations a public disclosure, that we did the opposite. We make it illegal to tell people you donated to politicians. Totally secret.

You can't quid pro quo if you don't know about the quid.

It doesn't seem like this approach depends on people not telling; the mere fact of it being unprovable does all the work. At that point, it doesn't matter if you tell a politician you voted for them, because you could be lying and they'd never know.

If you remove the incentive for a behavior, you'll usually end the behavior. AKA you'll see a precipitous decline in campaign donations.

How would you propose to implement this idea?

Lessig discussed an idea on this topic in Republic, Lost. If I remember correctly, it was something along these lines:

Donor makes a donation to a politician, which is anonymized. That money is then temporarily escrowed, along with all other recent donations, and the money trickles into the account held by the politician over a certain period of time. That way, donor can't say to the politician "$3mil coming your way, it's from me." On top of that, all donations are refundable so the politician can't trust that the donor actually gave them money and didn't revoke it.

The point of the concept is to limit the information flow between the donor and the politician. The politician can't find out who donated the money, or how much came from a single source, and they can't trust outside information about who their supporters are.

> On top of that, all donations are refundable

I see a massive exploit available on that clause.

I don't know what his proposal is, but necessarily step one would have to be "a constitutional amendment voiding the First Amendment."

His proposed amendment is here:


And yeah, section 2: "The First Amendment shall not be construed to limit legislation enacted pursuant to this article, save to assure content and viewpoint neutrality. Neither shall the First Amendment be construed to limit the equivalent power of state or local legislation enacted to regulate elections of state or local officers. Nor shall the First Amendment be construed to vest in any non-natural person any unalienable constitutional rights."

Oh good. So, to be clear, this proposed Amendment would legalize literally any burden on speech so long as the speech was not literally one person speaking alone using entirely their own money?

Like, under this Amendment, Congress passed a law saying "specifically the Democratic National Committee does not get to engage in any speech of any kind -- it may send no correspondence, buy no advertising, write no editorials," that'd be okay because the DNC is a non-natural person and as such has no rights under the First Amendment.

The extent to which people on the left have let the very words "corporate personhood," utterly divorced from any actual implications thereof, becomes a bugaboo that drives them to silly positions is really amazing.

Wouldn't "save to assure content and viewpoint neutrality" cover the example you gave?

Not as I read it. That clause is about natural persons.

Under this amendment, Congress could restrict the speech of natural persons according to article 1 of the amendment (that is: it could limit the expenditures of natural persons in support of a candidate within 90 days of an election). But it could not do so in ways that were non-neutral (so it could not say "Josiah Bartlett may not speak within 90 days of an election").

Similarly, state and local governments could also restrict speech of natural persons in this way.

But also: the First Amendment would just straight-up not apply at all to "non-natural persons." Not within the restrictions of article 1, but at all. Entirely.

This isn't quite as crazy as, for example, completely abolishing corporate personhood (which would pretty much upend civic life in America), but even if you think that Citizens United caused a watershed change in American politics (and, seriously: can anyone tell me they see a practical change in politics post-Citizens United?), removing ALL free speech protections for people who are channeling their speech through any kind of resource aggregation is an insane overreaction.

> But also: the First Amendment would just straight-up not apply at all to "non-natural persons."

It doesn't say that. It doesn't say that the First Amendment does not provide Constitutional rights to non-natural persons, only that if it is construed to provide such rights, those rights cannot be construed as unalienable.

This is sort of odd language; and its not really clear what it means. The most likely interpretation I see is that it reduces potential intrusions on First Amendment rights of non-natural persons from the kinds of things judged under strict scrutiny (usually referred to as "fundamental" rather than "unalienable", though the terms are closely related in their general meaning and this seems to the most natural mechanism of giving effect to the language in the proposed amendment), even when the restrictions are not content-neutral; this would probably leave both content-specific and content-neutral regulation of speech that impacted only the rights of non-natural persons subject to intermediate scrutiny, but that's not entirely clear (and it would certainly lead to natural persons asserting that their rights were impinged by the restriction on the non-natural person that they control.)

> removing ALL free speech protections for people who are channeling their speech through any kind of resource aggregation is an insane overreaction.

But it certainly doesn't do that. If a natural person has a free speech interested affected by a law, the fact that they are channeling their speech through some mechanism of "resource aggregation" wouldn't prevent them from asserting their own First Amendment right, even if the amendment (as it does not) stripped all First Amendment protection from non-natural persons.

Well, you sound like you're more versed in the language of Constitutional interpretation than I am.

But a few points:

1. I would continue to not be very happy with language abridging the First Amendment if it wasn't very clear what that language meant.

2. If indeed the intended purpose of that part of the proposed Amendment was to lower the level of scrutiny given to laws abridging the speech of non-natural persons, I guess I'd like someone to make the case that that's the reform that we need -- that the scrutiny level of such laws is the big deal in our political system.

3. And, look, all non-natural persons are ultimately owned by one or more natural persons. If natural persons continue to have free speech rights through corporations even if the corporations per se do not have free speech rights, I'd again like to hear someone make the argument that this is a positive change. My immediate takeaway is that this would create an incredibly complicated legal situation for the courts to adjudicate with uncertain results.

Wouldn't it be a bill of attainder to point to a specific person, or company, or PAC like in the straw man above?

Maybe. But SCOTUS has been pretty huge leeway on government regulations on direct transfers to political campaigns.

If I ever ran for office, that's the approach I'd take: "Feel free to give me as much or as little funding as you like if you agree with my views, but the only way to change my views is to talk to me and convince me."

Shockingly (or not), I expect the vast majority of U.S. politicians would say that's exactly how they behave.

How much you believe them is probably a good proxy for how important you think campaign finance issues are.

> Shockingly (or not), I expect the vast majority of U.S. politicians would say that's exactly how they behave.

Except I've never once seen such a claim actually made by any politician. So at the very least it seems likely to stand out.

And as for how to believe them: "I intentionally have no access to the donor list, I have never seen the donor list, and if you tell me you've donated to my campaign I will have no particular reason to believe you, so don't bother".

> Except I've never once seen such a claim actually made by any politician.

I've seen it made by almost every politician I've seen questioned about the impact of particular donations, and most people defending campaign donations against proposals to regulate them more closely; and as a lifelong political junkie and Political Science major, those are things I've seen quite a lot of.

I see; I hadn't seen that, and that explains the pile of negative responses and downvotes to my original comment. Thanks for the explanation.

> Except I've never once seen such a claim actually made by any politician. So at the very least it seems likely to stand out.

Marco Rubio made a claim like that on Meet The Press two days ago.

> I intentionally have no access to the donor list

That would require doing away with the $50,000 per plate fundraising dinners.

What if someone just wants to pay for your dinner? Or figures out what sports game you're going to, and pays to rent out the entire row of seats next to you. Or pays to do the same for your staff - who advise you? That's the issue we face now, and precisely the issue Lessig is trying to combat; a subtle but very real form of purchasing power.

> What if someone just wants to pay for your dinner?

As an opportunity to talk to me about an issue? There'd be far better channels for that.

> Or figures out what sports game you're going to, and pays to rent out the entire row of seats next to you. Or pays to do the same for your staff - who advise you?

Then I'd be very interested in how they managed to break my security and privacy, particularly to figure out what seat; that just seems more creepy than anything else. And it seems more like something you'd do to a candidate you don't want to see elected, considering the PR image it would project.

(Also, do you mean "rent out and leave empty" or "rent out to fill with people who want to bug me/them"? Either one seems obnoxious; the first is wasteful and creates an awkward situation, and the second seems decidedly creepy.)

If you want to talk about strange things people with money can do to campaigns, there's the whole "third-party campaign ad" thing to talk about. Whether you're doing it to support a candidate or to attack one.

Honestly curious here: Wouldn't that lead to a sort of "financial arms race"?

Even if you have enough money to buy a hourly running TV ad in Ohio, what if your opponent (who spends less time "working" and more time fundraising) is able to buy an ad that runs every ten minutes? So you shirk your duties to get enough money for a ten-minutely TV ad, but now your opponent is shirking even more and getting huge, well placed Billboards...

Not to mention that if the amount of money in politics increases, couldn't advertisers just increase the price of political ads to compensate?

Is there any evidence of political advertising helping the country in any way? I've had limited exposure, but every one I've seen is either content free (smiling face, vague promise), or sounds manipulative.

Why not completely ban political advertising, requiring information on the parties to be released via their own website plus a master list. As well as equal airtime on news channels if coverage is actually that important to have.

That'd also provide a slight chance of breaking this terrible 2 party system the US is stuck in, which seems to prevent any possibility of actual change.

You are the one proposing a restriction on a fundamental right, the burden of proof of necessity is on you.

This is how Meg Whitman tried to beat Jerry Brown in 2010 for California Governor. She outspent him 5 to 1¹, and her ads could be seen and heard everywhere. Brown won comfortably.

The research shows that a campaign needs enough money to get the message out to the voters. Once that is done, more money does not accomplish much.

¹ from memory

Great! We radically underspend on elections relative to their importance. We're talking about a $3T government running a $17T economy. Yet we spend roughly as much in the average election year as Apple's revenue from a week of selling iPhones.

and that makes the investment in politicians the most profitable investment available.

I believe that is how campaigns were financed originally more or less [1] and then it was reformed because it was causing problems. Let us not repeat history.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campaign_finance_reform_in_the...

Do you believe that a small number of individuals providing most of the campaign funding is the problem, or do you believe that a concentrated donor base creates worse outcomes in government? Your citation describes the concentrated donor base, but does not make any attempt to demonstrate that it has negative consequences (in addition to being of disputed factual accuracy).

If campaign spending was reduced, and this increased the effect of public opinion on the government, it is likely that government would be worse.[1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Myth_of_the_Rational_Voter

It isnt really about the amount of campaign spending for me. I would be okay with 10x more spending. I personally dont like that the majority of contributions come from a relatively small number of people or organizations. I would like the rules changed so that they are more egalitarian.

One possible solution is only individuals (no companies, PACs, organizations) can contribute up to $100 per candidate. And the money comes from federal taxes rather than people spending from their wallets directly. You could argue that whoever gets the most money in this system will also win the election because people are essentially voting with their wallets. And even poor people can participate which is the reason for the federal taxes.

As far as governing, if something like that was the system then politicians would hopefully feel more free to do what they think is right rather than what they think will appease their donors. Even if that doesn't turn out to be true, I still think it is a good thing to make campaign finance more egalitarian because it eliminates one potential source of corruption.

The first two of your paragraphs about your feelings are completely irrelevant to this policy discussion, though I understand they are of great importance to you.

Your last point is interesting because you seem to prioritize elimination of donor influence. I on the other hand, am ambivalent when it comes to the prevalence of donor influence, and would only be inclined to minimize donor influence if it had a negative impact on governance. Caplan makes the point that political 'shirking', and non-voting both improve governmental results. Do you prioritize involvement of the citizenry in poltics over governmental outcomes (i.e. the good of the people)?

> The first two of your paragraphs about your feelings are completely irrelevant to this policy discussion, though I understand they are of great importance to you.

What are you talking about? The second paragraph has no feelings whatsoever. I guess the first does, but I was responding to your "do you believe" questions. Belief is sort of a feeling. I am happy to debate, but please stop the personal attacks.

Your second paragraph is a description of how to implement a more "egalitarian" system, which you describe your preference for in the first paragraph. I agree that your second paragraph is one possible vision of a more egalitarian system, but you provided no non-normative reason to implement this system.

My reason for asking about your beliefs was to ascertain whether your preference for a more economically egalitarian system was positive or normative; your response made it clear that it is the latter.

In addition, I have made no "personal attacks"; I never impuned your motives or insulted you.

It's not often that we see straight up arguments that democracy is bad and we should return to kingdoms. Thanks for the laugh.

Behold, the neoreactionary movement:


I never said "we should return to kingdoms", I am merely making the case that more direct democracy will not lead to better results. Please avoid making a straw-man of my position.

Do you really think we're better off now than we were in the 1970s?

I dont know if we are or not, but that isnt the point. The point is that prior to the reforms, campaign finance was problematic. Since it is still a problem, I would say the reforms didnt fix the problem completely if at all. Therefore we need another, better reform rather than going backwards in my opinion.

If you don't know why reform didn't fix the problem, and you propose even more reform, that is very much to the point. We're deep in the hole already, and you're ordering more shovels.

Let us use a CS analogy. There is a critical bug A and solution B does not completely fix the problem. What do you do?

1. Throw your hands up and remove the imperfect solution.

2. Leave it alone because solution B partially fixes the problem.

3. Find solution C which completely solves the problem.

I hope you would pick #3 like all great engineers would.

At the risk of engaging in activity that Neal Stephenson would consider "undignified", I'm going to criticize this analogy, and offer a different one.

No government has ever had the command over its subjects that a programmer has over the components of a computer. Human societies are extremely nonlinear and resistant to arbitrary commands. Thus seemingly simple laws, like an alcohol prohibition, lead to wildly flawed results. Political advertising is even more closely coupled with other aspects of the system than is drinking alcohol. It's not a surprise that attempts to control political advertising of the naive, "we'll make a law against it" variety have failed to achieve their goals. They already tried using your analogy, and it didn't work.

Instead, I'd suggest the process of A/B testing as a potentially insightful analogy. It's a bit of a dark art, but in general we can say that after injecting orange into the color scheme on the site, and finding that CTR drops 30% as a result, the next step is not to make the color scheme completely orange.

Lessig needs to go back to the drawing board. He wants to fight corruption, and on that point I agree with him. He fixates on overturning Citizens United, which had precisely nothing to do with corruption, and on that point I think he suffers a failure of imagination.

> At the risk of engaging in activity that Neal Stephenson would consider "undignified", I'm going to criticize this analogy, and offer a different one.

I dont understand the reference. Can you elaborate?

Long ago Neal Stephenson wrote a long rambling meditation on operating systems called In the Beginning Was the Command Line. At one point he compared Unix to the Hole Hawg by Milwaukee Tool, and found that other OSes were like Black & Decker toys in comparison. Nathan Myhrvold (later of Intellectual Ventures infamy, but then with M$) was moved to send him a different interpretation of the drill analogy. In the second edition of ItBWtCL (which edition it seems is not online in any form), Stephenson mentioned Myhrvold's disagreement, but declined to compare the analogies in any detailed way, considering such an exercise undignified.

I believe just about every programmer has fallen victim to this before. I have. But the fact that B does not fix the problem suggests that the programmer who wrote it didn't understand the problem. The most common, but very wrong, answer is to keep tinkering.

As Andrew Koenig says in C Traps and Pitfalls, "Fiddling with a program until it appears to work is a reliable way of obtaining a program that almost works." Campaign finance reform strikes me very much as a collection of ill-considered patches on top of other ill-considered patches.

Its been tried, and I don't think the evidence supports spending less in favors to secure the support of the wealthy interests that are needed to win campaigns with complete deregulation (perhaps less time, when its not uncommon for a politician to simply be a client of a particular wealthy sponsor.)

Where can I see this evidence?

This is right up there with abolishing all food safety regulations in the hopes that companies will try to be safe out of the goodness of their hearts.

How do you explain this study then that says the people's opinion has zero influence on Congress's decisions, while the influence of lobbyists matches how they vote much better?


Because who actually bothers to vote and what actually motivates whom they vote for bear only a tenuous relationship with public opinion surveys.

Great comment!

As someone who grew up in southern Illinois, I find the idea that we were an important demographic in a presidential election humorous and improbable. The state votes the way Chicago votes. I'd be interested to hear more about what makes you think winning central and southern Illinoisan votes was deemed important right then.

> everyone wants to get a fat adjustable-rate mortgage so they can buy a big suburban house.

I think yes and no. I have seen data suggesting that the "millennial" generation thinks this way far less than those prior to it, likely because the great recession affected their prospects disproportionately. I think a lot of the people complaining about fancy financial instruments are different than the people who still think adjustable-rate mortgages for houses they can't afford (further encouraged by tax incentives!) are a good thing.

But mostly, your point stands.

That just illustrates the incredibly unfair and outright bizarre voting system the US has. I don't understand why people put up with this. Why electoral votes aren't split between candidates seems perverse.

Yea, the coal issue was about Ohio and Pennsylvania voters, maybe Colorado and Nevada.

The "all of the above" was really more air cover for Democrats further down the ticket than for his election specifically. There are still, somehow, Democratic state reps in Springfield from Benton and whatnot.

* Carbondale represent.

Hey I'm from Marion!

Yeah, it does make sense that a Presidential debate is a major platform for affecting state and House elections. I just didn't see how it could possibly affect the Presidential election itself.

Wow, that was an eye-opening and interesting explanation of a different perspective than I usually read online, and I appreciate that

> We're a sprawling suburban nation addicted to cheap gasoline. Energy companies would have tremendous power even if they didn't spend a penny lobbying.

We're sprawling and addicted to cheap gasoline because of the lobbying energy companies have done up to this point. It was not by accident that, for example, Los Angeles became totally dependent on cars.

The political power of the fossil fuel industry over the last century shaped the world we live in to a large extent, and now that we all have to live in that world, that power is magnified.

Money buys the ability to bury you in the next primary cycle of you are even momentarily disloyal to the party.



I will be surprised if he doesn't reach his $1M goal, and much more surprised if anything substantive comes of the effort.

The "launch and resign" plan smells bad -- it seems like a hack to avoid having a complete platform, implying that the government will lack a leader during that interval, and using that as motivation to pass the act seems like a bad idea. It also raises the question of who the real VP would be.

Please be aware that the campaign only wants donations from US citizens. I do not know why, but according to https://lessigforpresident.com/donate/:

  By clicking “donate,” I certify that:
  1. I am a U.S. citizen or lawfully admitted permanent resident of the U.S.

Donations for U. S. elections cannot come from foreign nationals[0].

[0] http://www.fec.gov/pages/brochures/citizens.shtml#prohibited

"Lessig said he would serve as president only as long as it takes to pass a package of government reforms"

Well that will take longer than two terms. Congress doesn't even play along with the people who are incahoots in rigging the system. It's beyond ridiculous to believe they will play along with their own destruction.

> Well that will take longer than two terms.

That...depends. If Lessig could get elected President with a platform of very specific reforms of the type he is talking about and a pledge to resign in favor of his VP when that package was complete, it would almost certainly mean that his campaign was significant in mobilizing popular attention on those issues in a way which affect the composition of the next Congress and change the political prospects for those reforms. (Particularly in the House.

> Congress doesn't even play along with the people who are incahoots in rigging the system. It's beyond ridiculous to believe they will play along with their own destruction.

Lessig's proposed reforms won't destroy Congress (arguably, it would free Congress.)

I strongly agree with your point that pushing back against the kind of groundswell that would be necessary to get Lessig elected would be hard, and he thus stands quite substantially better odds of getting his agenda through (especially narrow as it is) than typical.

That said, I think you miss the parent's point in your last sentence. It would not destroy congress as an entity, but it would change the landscape sufficiently that it safe incumbents would be at risk of losing their seats. That is always what limits reforms of campaign process.

I appreciate the idea of going after a very strong mandate. If he runs that way, and wins, he has a very convincing case that the people want him to make the reforms he promised.

But, it also makes it very hard for him to win. He has to find a running mate willing to play second fiddle, but also strong enough to win on his (her) own, because everybody would know that voting Lessig-Foo really means voting Foo-for-President.

Sounds like a recipe for failure.

Yes, this is absurd. "I'll serve as president only until pigs fly."

agree, the message doesn't match reality on this one.

Hm, hopefully he won't act as a spoiler for Bernie. A Sanders-Lessig ticket would look pretty good if Bernie can't get Warren. Bit early in the game for that chatter, though.

Lessig still isn't a household name, so I think it's far too late for him to participate in this election cycle as a real candidate. That being said, he's also imperfect as a candidate for a few reasons. Lessig is really good at presentations and speaking eloquently, but he still doesn't quite rile people up in the way that is needed for his kind of insurgent campaign (against who, exactly?). Lessig also doesn't have the cash to get noticed nationwide. He's setting goals to raise a million, whereas Hillary is planning a billion dollar campaign, and the Republicans are likely planning a several billion dollar campaign for whoever they pick.

Also, an elephant in the room: the issues Lessig is running on (campaign finance reform, voting reform, ending gerrymandering) are not actually non-partisan in the way that he is trying to market them. Everyone (everyone!) knows that campaign finance reform, gerrymandering, and voter reform are the left's issues.

Why? Because the right in the USA needs voter exclusion and balkanization(via the false issue of voter fraud aimed at poor populations) in order to win elections. Campaign finance reform is similar; big money influences both sides heavily, but they favor the right for their business-friendly disposition. Big money favoring the right wing means that prospective candidates from the left are also vetted against how business friendly they are, pulling the mainstream left wing toward the right wing, assuming that candidates act rationally and take the money for grabs.

This series of behaviors ultimately results in the far-right wing business cartel promoters that currently comprise Congress. Claiming that Lessig isn't some kind of far-left (for the US) candidate is a tad disingenuous, even if he actually believes it. A popular and well-moneyed Lessig would be a huge threat to big money's influence on politics, to be sure-- in the way that Sanders is currently.

Because the right in the USA needs voter exclusion and balkanization(via the false issue of voter fraud aimed at poor populations) in order to win elections.

I like your comment overall, but there's no evidence I'm aware of that this is true. Massachusetts didn't elect a Republican governor in 2014 because otherwise Democratic voters there are balkanized or intimidated. Don't like that specific example? Choose another.

Besides, gerrymandering doesn't help the GOP that much. If anything, it's the opposite[1]. If the Democrats want the composition of the House to reflect their national vote totals, they'd need to draw some pretty nonsensical districts to "dilute" their highly concentrated urban votes into suburban areas where they could help swing more seats. This appears to be one reason why Lessig is arguing for larger, multi-member Congressional districts.


It's math and realpolitik. The US is set to have a majority of minorities relatively soon after a long period of time on the horizon. Minorities are poorer, and don't vote for Republicans when they do vote, which isn't that frequently. Thus, they need to be prevented from voting if they seem as though they are inclined to vote, because they will not vote for right wing candidates in the way that poor whites will. The Hispanic population inclined to vote Republican due to religion does defy the paradigm I outlined, but they're an outlier. This is why we see all sorts of "Voter ID" initiatives coming out of red states. Getting an ID that costs $25 is easy for whites, who are more likely to have the money to do so, and more likely to vote Republican as well.

You say gerrymandering doesn't help the GOP, then link an article which describes how gerrymandering has allowed for the complete and uncontested domination of half of the legislature by the GOP for over a decade. There's only two houses in Congress, and three presidential elections and numerous mid-terms is a long time for half of congress to be safely locked down. Then there's the fact that the lockdown of the House has occurred during a very protracted time of endless GOP fumblings, failings, catastrophes, and unprecedented low approval ratings. Without gerrymandering, the House GOP would have been ghosts in 2008, then again in 2012, then again in 2014...

As far as Massachusetts goes, we have a history of picking centrists when the left's candidate is weak. This happened in recent memory with Baker, Romney, and also Scott Brown. That being said, MA is also strongly left/European, so you wouldn't even see the start of anti-voter campaigns against either side here.

> You say gerrymandering doesn't help the GOP, then link an article which describes how gerrymandering has allowed for the complete and uncontested domination of half of the legislature by the GOP for over a decade.

Single member districts and the concentration of liberals in urban enclaves helps the GOP, but very few sane districting systems (using single member districts) would fail to produce the same outcome -- you'd have to actively gerrymander in a way that breaks up communities with similar demographics to get a near-proportional representation out of the existing population distribution.

While gerrymandering may help the GOP in some cases, the big thing that helps the GOP isn't gerrymandering so much as the basic structure of the electoral system (which also makes gerrymandering a high-stakes game.)

Which is why Lessig proposed ranked-choice voting in multimember districts. Multimember districts with proportional representation within districts eliminates the high-stakes districting decisions that make gerrymandering possible (there are still district lines that need drawn, except in small states, but the details of where they are drawn has much smaller impact on outcomes), and also eliminates the natural advantage that a group whose support is a small majority over a wide area has over one that is supermajority in a concentrated area, tending to produce results in the legislature that are overall more proportional to those in the electorate.

You say gerrymandering doesn't help the GOP, then link an article which describes how gerrymandering has allowed for the complete and uncontested domination of half of the legislature by the GOP for over a decade.

That's not what the article says. At one point it suggests gerrymandering is good for maybe 6-8 GOP seats (and it's not clear that counts any offsetting gerrymandering in Democratically controlled states).

Much of the rest of the GOP "lock" on the House is described thusly:

Even so, “by far the most important factor contributing to the Republican advantage,” Mr. Chen says, “is the natural geographic factor of Democrats’ being overwhelmingly concentrated in these urban districts, especially in states like Michigan and Florida.”

Which is exactly what I said.

> The Hispanic population inclined to vote Republican due to religion does defy the paradigm I outlined, but they're an outlier.

You have this backward. The Hispanic population tends to be naturally left leaning (immigration reform, worker's rights, protection from the police, etc.), but can be convinced to go somewhat to the right with enough bashing from the Pope/pulpit.

Marijuana legalization in California was a good example the last time it popped up.

Texas went minority-majority in 2011 yet voted resoundingly Republican in the 2012 presidential and 2014 gubernatorial elections—Davis lost by 20 points in November.

Any woman in Texas is starting from an in-built 10 point disadvantage. Ann Richards was damn near legendary genius levels of campaign competent, and she still needed the opposing side to basically self-destruct to barely squeak by to win the governorship.

So, if you combine the fact that Wendy Davis was female and was facing a very competent political opponent, 20 points isn't really surprising. Her distribution was exactly what you would expect (check the county results map on the right hand side): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_gubernatorial_election,_...

Now, compare that to Ann Richards win and loss: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_gubernatorial_election,_... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_gubernatorial_election,_...

So, Wendy Davis took the districts she was expected to take (possible exception being San Antonio), and nothing more.

This may sadly pull some critical primary voters from Sanders, who stands in an ideologically similar area, assuming Lessig picks up any steam at all.

Yeah, I don't want Lessig to accidentally split the vote. Lessig might want to run with Sanders instead of against him

I think this is a valid concern. Perhaps an option is to pool their efforts together while capitalizing on Sanders momentum.

If only the US had a STV system where I could satisfy both my idealism and my pragmatism, in order.

I made 500 phone calls for Mayday last year on their behalf.

This is not Win / Lose or Patriots vs Seahawks.

This is forcing the most important issue to be confronted on the big stage.


> "We have this fantasy politics right now where people are talking about all the wonderful things they’re going to do while we know these things can’t happen inside the rigged system.”

Followed by:

> Lessig said he would serve as president only as long as it takes to pass a package of government reforms and then resign the office and turn the reins over to his vice president. He said he would pick a vice president "who is really, clearly, strongly identified with the ideals of the Democratic Party right now,"

So, wait. You don't want the "System", yet your Vice President is basically a member of the Democratic Party which is part of the precisely bi-party, rigged System right now ?

Makes a lot of sense if you want to perpetuate the said rigged System.

There may be a disconnect between the ideas of the democratic party and what can be realistically achieved within the current rigged political system.

So I think what Lessig may be saying here is that he would pass government reforms that would make it possible to do "all those wonderful things" that can't happen inside this "rigged system", but then turn it over to someone whose ideals he agrees with once that is accomplished.

Fair to disagree with those ideals, but it's pretty clear to me that there is a difference between this and perpetuating a rigged system. It could also be reasonably argued that this would, in practice and outcome, not be any different from perpetuating the rigged system.

However, I disagree that this contradiction is inherent in what Lessig has said.

  So, wait. You don't want the "System"
That's not what is said. They are against "rigged system" which from their stand [0] and their previous attempt [1] implies getting rid of corrupting influence of big money.

  yet your Vice President is basically a member of the Democratic Party which 
  is part of the precisely bi-party, rigged System right now
That is an umbrella statement which doesn't hold the ground as there are certain people in the party who are fighting against the rigged system currently.


  The singular focus of Lessig's campaign would be passing the Citizens 
  Equality Act, a package of reforms that would guarantee the freedom 
  to vote with automatic registration, end partisan gerrymandering and 
  fund campaigns with a mix of small-dollar donations and public funds.

  He launched Mayday PAC to much fanfare in the spring of 2014, billing 
  it as the "super PAC to end super PACs." But it failed to play a 
  decisive role in any race that year. The group spent more than $10 
  million going after candidates opposed to measures that would lessen 
  the impact of wealthy donors

I think the idea is that if you can pass the election reform, then anything that comes afterwards - republican or democrat would be better than what would have come otherwise. The VP doesn't matter at all. Break the rigged system and all else will follow - even if it takes a few more election cycles to get there.

But Lessig was quite emphatic about his intent to select his successor (the VP) based on Party principles - no discussion on Constitutional principles at all in his platform. Why would Sanders or Warren want to be his VP? If they knew they would become President as soon as Lessig enacted his own brand of mandates, and that those mandates were important enough to get him elected, then why wouldn't they take up the mantle of proposing those mandates in the first place?

I agree--I think that there are problems deeper than special interests. It would take many years and many people in different parts of government, but I think the real solution is a movement to a multi-party system. One person elected as president can't turn the ship around.

Who in this "rigged system" wanted to have marijuana legalized? It is more convenient to believe that a secret cabal is ruining everything than to accept messy reality.

If the problem is that monied interest control policy, "getting money out of politics" doesn't solve the problem.

Look as Israel as a cautionary tale of a country that did everything right according to the liberal prescriptions. Regardless of implementing everything that Lessig calls for, monied interests still control the political system.

How does it work?

Well, take a look at Sheldon Adelson's actions. In the US, he buys his influence by being one of the biggest GOP donors. In Israel, he buys his influence by operating the largest daily newspaper (Israel Hoyim), which he runs at a loss of 20+ million a year. Israel Hoyim is the mouthpiece of the Netanyahu government. The paper never strays from the party line, in the same way that Granma never strays from party line in Cuba. This gives Adelson a tremendous amount of influence over the government. Even moreso than he's able to buy in the US. Billionaires will always find creative ways skirt the rules and buy their influence.

"by operating the largest daily newspaper"

Cough, I lived in Israel for many years... the biggest daily papers are

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yedioth_Ahronoth (centralist)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maariv_(newspaper) (centralist)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haaretz (Leftish)

Also the argument is kind of weird, "don't ban rape, people will still figure out a way to hurt other people, so ... no point"

Israel Hayom is indeed the largest paper daily in Israel. There's really no other paper that's even close at this point. Yediot Ahronot was a long-time incumbent, but they simply can't compete.


I'm not arguing that we shouldn't take steps to take money out of politics. My argument is yes, let's do this, but let's be realistic about what it will achieve. At the same time, if we really care about eliminating the role money plays in politics, then we need to work towards a system with an equitable distribution of wealth.

It would be nice if the article articulated his ideas for change, other than just overturning the Citizens United decision. For decades the public who haven't been lulled to sleep have clamored for Campaign Finance Reform, increased Limits On Lobbyist, and Transparency.

What did we get. Citizens United, lobbyists writing 10,000 page laws riddled with loopholes, and Bills and Administrations which do the exact opposite of what they say.

It's curious, because he's actually (unusually) explicit about what this referendum would be for.[1]

1) 'Equal Right to Vote' - "...automatic registration, and shift election day to a national holiday."

2) 'Equal Representation' - "ranked choice voting" & degerrymandering

3) 'Citizen Funded Elections' - to align, [money = citizen] rather than [money = moneyed citizen]

[1] https://lessigforpresident.com/the-act/

Unfortunately, the second seems to be implemented via a site that promotes Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), which is one of the only voting systems that manages the impressive feat of being worse than first-past-the-post voting (our current system). Not least of which because IRV is one of the few systems where voting for someone can make them lose. IRV encourages people to list their full preferences, but then completely ignores all rankings except the first until the first loses. So if you vote A>B>C, your vote does absolutely nothing to help B win unless A loses first.

There are several different systems that are quite a bit better, including approval voting (simpler) and Condorcet (closest to ideal, still easy to explain until someone asks what happens with a tie, which rarely happens anyway).

As for #3, sure, I'd love to see candidates' election campaigns funded primarily by citizens, at the option of those citizens. That doesn't mean I want to see them funded by mandatory taxes. Where can I cash in my voucher for an "all of these candidates suck" refund, for instance?

#1, on the other hand, seems like a great idea. Could go hand-in-hand with making sure it's a severe crime to deprive anyone or any group of their ability to vote (such as the various stunts that have occurred in past elections where certain districts "mysteriously" had malfunctions).

According to the world's most robust Bayesian regret calculations, IRV is actually significantly better than Plurality Voting. Although it's roughly equivalent in quality to the top-two runoff (TTR) system.

Condorcet methods are typically even better, but NOT "closest to ideal". The best system (if we exclude "exotic" varieties that are too complex to be practical) is Score Voting aka Range Voting.


It's also plausible that Score Voting and Approval Voting are, in practice, better Condorcet methods than real Condorcet methods.


Clay Shentrup Co-founder, The Center for Election Science

I don't think IRV is worse than first-past-the-post (FPTP) at all. IRV eliminates vote splitting, reduces strategic voting, and results in fewer wasted votes. Also, the fact that IRV ignores all rankings except the first until the first is eliminated means that you won't hurt your most preferred candidate by changing the order of your other preferences. If you're voting A>B>C, then if A wins, then you wouldn't really care whether you helped B win or not.

Approval voting has the problem of electing a candidate that's acceptable instead of one who the majority actually likes.

Also, IRV has a greater tendency to elect the Condorcet winner when compared to FPTP.

Every voting system has its problems but IRV is still a lot better than FPTP.

> I don't think IRV is worse than first-past-the-post (FPTP) at all. IRV eliminates vote splitting, reduces strategic voting, and results in fewer wasted votes. Also, the fact that IRV ignores all rankings except the first until the first is eliminated means that you won't hurt your most preferred candidate by changing the order of your other preferences. If you're voting A>B>C, then if A wins, then you wouldn't really care whether you helped B win or not.

IRV doesn't eliminate strategic voting. Yes, if A is going to win, then A>B>C is great. However, voting A>B>C rather than B>A>C can cause C to win instead of B. It doesn't "eliminate vote splitting" except in the case where a third-party candidate has no chance; in the case where the third-party candidate actually has a chance, IRV can break horribly.

See http://minguo.info/election_methods/irv and http://minguo.info/election_methods/evaluation .

> Approval voting has the problem of electing a candidate that's acceptable instead of one who the majority actually likes.

And that's a bug? Approval tends to find satisficing solutions, yes. Condorcet does better, though; it's just harder to deploy (but no harder than IRV).

Condorcet is better?


I assume that in a voucher-funded campaign system, if you don't give your voucher to any particular campaign, it would expire and go back into the general fund.

I really like the voucher idea because it solves the issue of "I don't want my tax money being spent on candidates I don't agree with".

> I assume that in a voucher-funded campaign system, if you don't give your voucher to any particular campaign, it would expire and go back into the general fund.

One would hope, though that's still wasteful. And without seeing a particular proposal, I don't know whether it would think to include such a provision or whether it would simply decide it knows better how to allocate those funds towards election campaigns based on the people who do use their "vouchers".

> I really like the voucher idea because it solves the issue of "I don't want my tax money being spent on candidates I don't agree with".

There's a much easier way to solve that issue: don't give tax money to candidates.

# 3 Sounds great

# 2 Sounds like a move to a Parliamentary System which I'm for.

#1 Well, Unfortunately I'd be more in favor of ensuring voters actually know who and what they're about to cast a vote for. Our Nation was Founded as and is a Republic, The Average American Citizen is not informed enough for us to live in a true Democracy

I don't think #1 is as bad as you think. It works if you make it easier for people to vote, but don't force them to vote. Additionally, emphasizing that citizens have a right to vote and giving them more time to do so can lead more a more engaged population and voters that are more informed.

We'll have to agree to disagree and use for example cities and rural areas where literacy rates hover around 50%, see Detroit. Do you honestly believe these people have an accurate grasp on the civics of the nation, or the logic and understanding necessary to come to an informed decision?

Do you honestly believe we should restrict their ability to vote based on your preconceptions about their understanding of the world?

Edit: I do agree that lots of people don't posses the quality of information to make good voting choices. I just think that isn't a good justification for disenfranchising people.

No I would not do it on my preconception of their understanding, that is what a civics test would confirm or deny. If its required to gain citizenship why should it not be a requirement of voting? LowInformation voters have not been a benefit to this country.

Re #1, thankfully we live in a republic, so your fears about the ignorant masses won't come true.

Unfortunately the ignorant masses, continue to reelect the problem at a 95% rate

Most people don't care enough to care about or understand how important campaign finance is, so it's unlikely he'd even win the nomination, but hopefully he can get enough support to at least get into the debate and bring the issue to a wider audience.

But they care about more days off. In one of his videos he says voting day must be on a national holiday. He should really lead with this.

Wouldn't that be as likely to decrease turnout? Who wants to line up at the senior center on their day off?

Who wants to line up at the senior center at all? But you're more likely to do it on a day when you have free time than a day when you're harried and exhausted.

"I will be leader just long enough to institute the necessary reforms" has led to lifelong dictatorships in other countries. Lessig doesn't seem the dictator type, but that particular promise should scare students of history.

That would matter if the US had unlimited presidency terms but it doesn't and there's 0 threat of that happening.

The only prior example of this in America is when George Washington stepped down as Commander and Chief when he felt his service was finished.

Nothing against Lessig, but he has about as much chance of becoming President as I do, and I'm not even forming an exploratory committee.

The American electorate has been conditioned to vote for Team Red or Team Blue, and within those increasingly-similar teams their preferred standard-bearers will be chosen by a consensus of large donors in a series of luncheons and closed-door meetings, primaries be damned. It's not so much a sinister New World Order conspiracy as it is a general desire by the elite to influence future governance to secure their wealth.

If this weren't the case, then Sanders' standing wouldn't be so noteworthy, and O'Malley wouldn't be concerned about his party's nebulous debate schedule. Likewise, we wouldn't be hearing as much about Jeb Bush.

I'm not saying that third-party disruption can't take place, but the time to be forming exploratory committees was months and months ago, if not years. The 2016 Presidential race is well underway, and Lessig hasn't even stepped up to the starting line.

For this election, you're right. It's possible that Lessig is actually trying to posture for a 2020 run that will have a real chance of winning.

I highly doubt that Lessig will get the percentage of the vote required for public funding, though. I don't see this campaign as anything other than laying groundwork for future campaigns.

What if one likes the ideas (possibly?), but isn't a Democrat?

Makes it difficult when one doesn't like the VP.

Give him his 2 minutes to pitch his idea. The thought is that no matter what your political ideals are, you're better off fixing voting reform first. Whatever issues you care about, you can't actually properly vote them into place. Pick your political goal - whatever it is - it can't effectively be voted upon right now unless you have significant cash.

Your primary issue right now as a US voter (Lessig says), be you Republican, Democrat, or anything else, is actually voting reform. Fix that and then you can go back to voting - and this time effectively. It shouldn't matter what other political issues drive you - you can't get any until you fix how voting itself works.

So what you're saying is that Lessig's candidacy is like regular expressions.

If a Republican's primary problem is voting reform, and the way he goes about fixing that problem is to ensure that a solid Democrat gets elected president ... well, now he's got two problems.

Except it's delayed in action - there are already other threads running that'll still be running by the time the expression completes. So it's okay if you've got zombie threads running until the entire process is upgraded. It gives you time to initialize a clean object before its effective.

You won't get immediate (2-4) year change to effectiveness. But during the subsequent election cycles you will. So it'll take at least 6 years following the passing of the act to upgrade the process entirely.

Probably not politically feasible, but could help if he picks someone as politically neutral as possible.

> It shouldn't matter what other political issues drive you...

But that's the problem; it does matter.

I think you would need to take a longer view than the remainder of the term that is filled out by the VP, and remember also that you will still vote for your representatives however you wish.

For those, that do not yet know "Lesterland", should get to know it:

http://lesterland.lessig.org/ (there is a great video talk of Lessig on the page)

BTW: Lessig is great!

What't the advantage of Lessig's win-reform-resign approach rather than convincing a more electable candidate to commit to the same reform? If there is enough public support for Lessig to win the election, presumably there would be enough support for another candidate with more outside support (such as his designated successor) to win with the same platform.

The main reason I can see is that Lessig himself views his promise of reform to be more reliable than any another candidate's promise. True or not, I think it would be difficult to convince the general electorate that he should be trusted more than any other candidate.

From his FAQ:

> But if the major candidates in the Democratic Primary all credibly commit to making this same type of reform the first priority of the next administration, I have promised to step aside. This campaign is about a principle, not a person.

He's not claiming it needs to be him, just that it needs to be someone

>What't the advantage of Lessig's win-reform-resign

Howard Stern did it in the run for Governor of New York in 1994. It wasn't successful:


He doesn't even have to convince one about it - there already is a candidate that supports such reforms and that's Bernie Sanders. Is he guaranteed to win? No. But he sure as hell has a much better chance of winning than Lessig. He should use his crowdfunds to support him.

Yeah, but wouldn't it get people's attention if two candidates on stage at the debate spoke to the same issue? I imagine that will have a much bigger impact than one candidate who people already are inclined to dismiss as too far left. Safety in numbers.

The entire point is that if you are an absolute ONE ISSUE candidate, then nobody can claim that your one issue isn't the real reason people elected you. Whereas Sanders could get elected and people could debate which of his policies the public really cares about…

This is interesting, but I have a hard time seeing how being a transparent office holder (through voter referendums) would work for the office of POTUS. I can see it working well as a legislator and would prefer a system where one of the houses of Congress is direct referendum.

I think it would be far more interesting to completely "vacate" the office and do nothing, without formally resigning. The point being that elected officials have far less power than people think. I think the executive would function largely the same without a president or vice.

I'm having trouble imagining any outcome other than drawing votes away from Sanders. Even if he were to win the primary and the general election, congress is very unlikely to budge.

> "Even if she did say exactly the right things, I don’t think it’s credible that she could achieve it because she – and the same thing with Bernie – would be coming to office with a mandate that’s divided among five or six different issues," Lessig said. "The plausibility of creating the kind of mandate necessary to take on the most powerful forces inside of Washington is zero. This is what led me to recognize that we have to find a different way of doing this.”

I don't agree with this logic, that "policital capitol" is split among multiple mandates, and that having more mandates makes you less likely to achieve any of them. Having a position on many issues just means that more voters have a reason to vote for (or against) you. Many of those positions are expected of someone running for office under a certain party, and not stating a clear policy preference doesn't usually win you votes from the other party, it loses you votes from your own party.

I think Lessig's efforts are better spent continuing to advocate for an article V convention and influencing congressional elections via the Mayday PAC.

It's a interesting idea, but hopelessly doomed. A viable candidate needs to articulate on many issues, as The President doesn't have the luxury of only focusing on a single issue. There's a whole cabinet full of people who run departments that he needs to have potential policies to put in place.

As a potential spoiler candidate, it might work by forcing more attention to campaign financing reform, but it's hard to take him seriously beyond that.

Registered Independent voter here, he's got my vote.

I wish he would just run conventionally.

Depressing. The whole project basically ensures he won't be elected (who wants to vote for a President who will not rule?), he's just looking for some quick exposure.

It would have been more intellectually honest to do what Jeremy Corbyn has done in the UK: running wholeheartedly, albeit assuming he won't be elected, just to inject a range of ideas in the debate.

It's not about quick exposure - he's written about this idea in "republic lost" - it's an intellectually honest attempt to fix the corrupting influence of campaign financing not being dependent on the people alone. Currently politicians are dependent on the funders and the funders are not the people.

You would effectively be voting for two Presidents at once, since you'd be voting for his VP as part of the package, and it's guaranteed (unless they resign or die first) that the VP will become President once the first one quits.

So, what Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are doing?

Elizabeth Warren isn't running for president, and you are assuming that Sanders doesn't believe he will win. Why do you assume such a thing?

Corbyn has the advantage of having extremely weak competition, whereas Clinton and Sanders are actually mildly personable.

If it wasn't so frowned upon for Electoral College electors to "change" their vote, wouldn't that enable more "third party" runs (which would be "a good thing")?

I'd actually like to see Trump or Lessig run but people are so worried about a like-minded candidate leading to their party's loss.

I admire Larry Lessig's ideals and motivations, but I feel like he consistently undermines his own efforts because of the small problem that he doesn't understand how American politics actually works and seems to have no desire to learn.

That's nothing: he's a law professor at Harvard who doesn't seem to understand how American law works. He was genuinely surprised by the Eldred verdict, and his proposals consistently display little understanding of (or regard for) the First Amendment.

EDIT: http://www.legalaffairs.org/issues/March-April-2004/story_le...

That might be the dumbest thing I've ever read on HN.

Are you aware that Larry Lessig was Eldred's lead counsel, and argued the case before the Supreme Court?

Are you aware that he was arguing in support of the First Amendment in that case, and his opponents were arguing against it?

Are you aware that Lessig lost that case? Why don't you read that link I provided? Doesn't Lessig seem to agree with me when he notes, "I had let a view of the law that I liked interfere with my view of the law as it is."

His attacks on Citizens United are just another example of this. A pragmatic legal mind would see that there is nothing corrupt about a couple of amateur filmmakers making and advertising an amateur film about a politician. A creative legal mind would find a way to fight corruption without fighting the First Amendment rights of amateur filmmakers.

I guess we've now discovered our generation's Ralph Nader.

"Lessig said he would serve as president only as long as it takes to pass a package of government reforms"

So in other words four years, eight if he gets re-elected.

Awfully roundabout way of saying that....

He lost me at Sanders.


Because, as an entrepreneur, the absolute last person on earth who I trust to understand the importance of startup investment or innovation is Bernie Sanders. From what I can tell, he's basically a 1960s liberal/socialist. He wants to bring back unions and make them strong, increased government regulation on just about everything, and I'd be very surprised if he was pleasantly disposed to anything in the sharing economy.

Having done a startup myself, and now as an investor, taxes have already gone up from 15% to 23.8%. It appears to me that Sanders' solution to everything is higher taxes on the rich (investors). He wants to raise the capital gains tax, he wants to raise the estate tax, and he wants to eliminate the cap on the payroll tax so that rich people pay an extra 12 or so percent on top of the combined ~40-50% of taxes they already paid, combined state and federal.

As a fellow entrepreneur from a long line of entrepreneurs, I couldn't disagree with you more.

Unions can have...problems, but fundamentally they are just people banding together to leverage the only capital they have. They can be frustrating (much of my family is in mining and mineral extraction on the ownership side so unions are a long standing fact of life in that sector) but the idea is not, at its heart, terrible.

Government regulation is necessary as a counterbalance to the vast power of the market (and market players). The market, even when left alone, is subject to distortions and issues -- some of which cannot be fixed from within that same system. There needs to be checks and balances between the market and government, but each needs the other IMO. Ideally, the government has a light touch and represents encoded hard earned wisdom protecting the public from things like hard to trace externalities etc. and fending off nasty things like monopoly and acting as a hierarchical repository for information the public may need. Of course, it takes constant vigilance to maintain a balance, but that is life.

I think each of us gets far more value from our taxes than what we pay, for the most part. I'm sure it could be better but, with all human built systems, some inefficiency should not be a surprise.

I don't know if I agree with all of Sanders' policies, but I am a bit of a demand side person. Helping alleviate some of the egregious distortions of the market we've allowed to come about and accept as normal, especially on the lower end of our socioeconomic spectrum, would likely create more value for everyone starting from the demand side, so, overall I support his candidacy.

While I think it's unlikely you're going to convert me, I do appreciate your points.

I'm not so much against private-sector unions, I just don't think people should be forced to join the union when they don't want to. And I don't believe that unions are net plus for technological or economic progress.

Your paragraph about government regulation is hard to disagree with because it is so broad. Of course, I think everyone would agree that sometimes light touch regulation is necessary, but it's the "sometimes" and the "light touch" that becomes a problem. I'm honestly not sure what kind of point you're making here. I'm certainly not arguing for no regulation.

And as for getting far more value from taxes than what we pay, I guess that depends on what we pay. I guess I would disagree generally, but anyone making the claim that I, personally, will get more value from my taxes than what I pay is kind of laughable.

Certainly entitled to your opinions, but frankly what you've written just sounds like "Nothing's perfect, whatyagonnadoo?" I feel like I can do better.

> I guess that depends on what we pay.

Everyone gets more value than what they pay, from Bill Gates (Insert the US's largest tax payer here) on down. I can safely say that I get more than my money's worth and so do you. That doesn't make it any more fun to pay taxes but it helps ease my pain a bit...YMMV.

And, while nothing is perfect, there are some Really Bad Problems that we need to address.

Overreaching government regulation doesn't even hold a candle to having so many people living in poverty -- even people who work full time. Nor does the tax burden register on the scales compared to the shoddy state of our health care system. That's what I meant to say -- that, while your concerns are valid and I am not advocating ignoring them or letting things tilt out of control, we've got much bigger fish to fry.

>I don't believe that unions are net plus for ... economic progress

Please cite an example where workers are better off having lost the right to unionize, or one where they are worse off for having gained it.

Just compare a heavily unionized US car manufacturer with one that isn't (GM vs. Honda plants in the US). GM is so utterly saddled with pension and healthcare obligations that it's practically doomed.

What's so bad about the estate tax? Afraid your sheltered little brats can't hack it with only $5M?

I'm actually opposed to repealing the estate tax (And if it were up to me, the estate tax would be 100%), but it goes to my point that he just wants to raise taxes on everything. I actually forgot to mention that he wants a carbon tax, too.

/edit typed the exact opposite of what I meant

Climate issues are so real and serious that a carbon tax which seriously hurt the economy short-term would directly result in massively greater prosperity long-term.

You know the standard thing: tax stuff if you want less of it.

A carbon tax is much more about last-ditch attempts to avoid total climate mayhem than about raising taxes.

Incidentally, universal healthcare is the sort of thing that lowers overall costs for society by treating people before they spread disease and end up in emergency rooms…

Bernie Sanders is not interested in taxes, they are a means to various ends. He wants to use whatever tools will achieve the goals of having a healthy, just society.

I think it's just dogmatic to be fundamentally worried about taxes one way or the other. The question is what we use the money for. Raising taxes could be terrible or could be great, all depends on each case, what and who are taxed, why, and what do we do with the revenue.

Incidentally, universal healthcare is the sort of thing that lowers overall costs for society by treating people before they spread disease and end up in emergency rooms…

Not really. Check out the Oregon Medicaid study. Higher costs with universal coverage, but no better outcome.

Medicaid in Oregon ≠ universal healthcare.

Real universal healthcare is what you see in other countries: Canada, Japan, U.K., Denmark, Costa Rica, Cuba…

And you'll find enough variation among those to acknowledge that the devil is in the details still. Interesting stuff though… despite being poorer and spending far less on healthcare, Cuba and Costa Rica have the same life expectancy as the U.S.

Read the Oregon study. It's a great piece of work. They took two sets of randomly aelected folks. Half got Medicaid coverage, the other remained uninsured. No difference in health outcomes only higher costs. It's a pretty powerful statement about the powers of preventative healthcare.

And life expectancy is a terrible measure of the quality of healthcare. It's been rehashed plenty of times on HN. Too many confounding factors.

I'm opposed to the estate tax because at some point in time the money is mine. If I've paid all my taxes, why should I have to give up more just because I've died?

And unless an estate tax is 100%, you're not going to change how wealth is passed down. Bill Gates could pay a 50% estate tax when he dies and still leave every offspring a "sheltered brat" as you put it.

You don't actually get to own anything after you're dead, you know. There isn't a "you" there to do the owning.

Now you're just being pedantic.

I should be able to give what I own when I'm alive to whomever I please once I die. That is, unless you believe I never owned it in the first place.

You can, of course, but it's taxed, just like lots and lots of transactions are taxed. I don't see why a death should somehow be exempt from the class of "events that are taxed," especially when there's all kinds of good reasons for not encouraging dynastic wealth from generation to generation.

I'd ask the opposite question: why should any of your property go to your children when you die?

I think the simple answer is "because it's mine."

I guess I am just completely opposed to the idea that what I own, I own just because the government lets me. I'm fine with paying taxes on my income, but at some point it becomes my income and I should be able to do with it as I please.

But after you die, there's no "you" to own it anymore.

See my reply above. It's mine if i have a say as to what happens to it when i die.

The other point is that many left leaning countries have no death tax (Canada). They seem to get along fine.

Would Lessig be an ideal "hackers' candidate"? Hypothetically, would he pardon Snowden and go after the NSA?

Absolutely not. As he's said, he's a one-issue candidate: anything else would be up to whoever the democrats pick for VP.

Warren or Sanders? That's a non-starter. Those two are outlandish even to this progressive.

He'd never win. But he's got my vote anyway.

The problem isn't money in politics, the problem is government. Nearly all taxes that don't fund a very limited set of government functions should be completely eliminated.

Your tax money is what gives politicians power. Leftists want more government, more taxes, and centralization of power into the hands of even fewer politicians and yet are puzzled - dumbfounded even - why things are "working". Bernie Sanders is a Hugo Chavez, a fool.

Yeah, really the only way to get money out of politics is to make political contributions less profitable. And, frankly, I don't see that happening.

Where do you get off telling other people what they want?

Sanders / Lessig 2016 ?

Warren in the Senate. Sounds like the formation of a dream team

That combination of sincerity and intellect would put our nation two decades ahead of its own time.

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