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Lawrence Lessig and Change Congress start constitutional convention movement (callaconvention.org)
38 points by dschobel 2458 days ago | hide | past | web | 19 comments | favorite

Like most people, I guess, my gut reaction to large powerful corporations making massive political expenditures is one of discomfort.

But, at the end of the day, aren't said expenditures just SPEECH? It's not like corporate entities have a vote (and while they can, now, post-Citizens-United, endorse a specific candidate, they still can't give money directly to a candidate). So, they are simply putting their point of there for those who actually can vote to consider.

I struggle to see what exactly is so wrong with that?

And, consideration #2: Wouldn't a better way to keep corporate/business influence out of Washington D.C. be to reign back in the overwhelming influence the Federal Gov't has? When you have FedEx and UPS jockeying over who can better us the government to screw the other over, something's gone awry, but it's not due to corporate speech.

And the final concern, what about small organized groups, that might, like, want to put together a movie about a candidate, which express some sort of opinnion about said candidate, and sell/distribute/advertise that movie 60 days before said candidate's election?

I think your analysis is right on and I think this case is very much a matter of principles vs pragmatics.

The symptom is plainly that people and groups of people (corporations) with very deep pockets have vast access to and influence on all levels of government, and influence is a zero sum game so that comes at the expense of the mythical "average" citizen.

The Fair Elections Now Act is the most direct and obvious way to mitigate that corporate influence.

I think that it also undermines the freedom of speech of those who have influence.

So, the extent of my understanding/analysis at this point is that essentially what we are looking at is a decision between the welfare of American democracy vs the principles upon which it was founded.

I know the hard-line libertarians will decry me for that sentiment claiming that the two never diverge, but I don't see how anyone can deny a) that the corporate influence is disproportionate to the numbers it represents b) rarely aligned with the interests of the population.

The major public choice critique of popular democracies is that they have the incentive to pass legislation with concentrated benefits and diffuse costs. This will be true as long as the people receiving concentrated benefits from legislation (corporations, unions, other interest groups) can come up with any way to influence decision makers.

The Fair Elections Now Act may make a little change at the margin, but something tells me it still won't produce 51 senators that will vote against billion dollar farm subsidies or more money for the public education monopoly. The big agricorps and unions have billions of dollars on the line. Greed will find a way.

As I've said elsewhere, there's a third way, and it's perhaps the most general and closest to realization:

The natural counterforce to corrupting influences, all of them rather than just campaign finance, is robust citizen accountability. Clearly this accountability has left something to be desired. I would argue this has largely to do with rational ignorance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rational_ignorance) on behalf of voters, that they, having so much to do, aren't willing to wade through the maze of political discourse in order to really know who is worth voting for.

But what if it was dead-simple to know where your rep stood, on every issue, not just the obvious ones, and on every level, not just congress?

I'd argue that with ease, you could convert a substantial number who currently don't case votes, or else default to simple heuristics in deciding who to vote for: e.g. party or incumbency.

To that end, I've started a site: http://votereports.org which aims to be something like the github of political accountability. A simple, decentralized group of folks generating, exchanging and refining politician report cards based on objective criteria such as votes.

The project is just 2 months old, and there's plenty to do, but it should be ready well before November.

For better governance, I'd stake my bet on this before I would on a constitutional amendment or change of heart for politicians. After all:

> "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." - Thomas Jefferson

Really, can we expect to do very much better, in a world where we collect, analyze, and share more data on baseball than on our own government? (http://radar.oreilly.com/2009/12/government-20-five-predicti...)

The most direct and obvious way is to cut the amount of money the government is spending.

I was going to ask whether annual expenditure has ever decreased year over year but I found the answer.


Looks like it's not unprecedented but debt over GDP hasn't decreased year-over-year since before Reagan, so it just hasn't happened in most of HN's visitors' lifetimes.

I strongly dissagree with your "[its] just SPEECH" notion. First off, who is a corporation? Seriously, who? Employees? Investors? Board? When the corporation speaks do they speak on behalf of all of the Who or just a minority?

Next, a corporation is an entity with limited liability, it is a way to protect people from getting in trouble for whatever. Why should such an entity have equal rights to speech (or anything for that matter)? I would think with limited liability comes limited rights. To put it another way: if corporations get to do the same exact stuff as people on the one side, they should get the same penalties and limitations on the other.

Finally as a shareholder, I am in it because I think that there is good business. I don't want that business to become illegal or over-regulated, and as such I will support the appropriate government moves on my own. I don't want to worry about whether or not the company I have stock in supports/opposes my views on gun-control or roe v wade or whatever. I am in it for a limited purpose, the buying and selling of various widgets and services. Not for a political stance. In fact I would like as much separation from my money and politics as possible, same as politics and religion are separate.

A thornier problem, which seems to be overlooked: can a corporation really choose its point of view, or is its point of view dictated to it by laws and obligations? What happens if a corporation endorses a candidate who enacts policies which decrease shareholder value?

Ultimately, I think we'll end up with a body of case law which eliminates any idea of "freedom" from the process and either forbids corporations from endorsing candidates (since it's too risky trying to predict the result) or forcing them to endorse only candidates who adopt specific positions.

It's worth noting that your final concern doesn't apply to this proposed amendment. That would in no way be a financial contribution. The linked site itself asserts that restrictions on corporate speech are unnecessary. The proposal isn't intended to prevent corporate speech(although I support it doesn't exactly prohibit restricting it in the last 60 days), but rather to reduce the importance of campaign fundraising for politicians.

Related discussion here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1101508

(And my comment which probably is more salient here: from Reason.com - "Stop the Car, Larry. I Want to Get Out", excerpt: "While the folks at Cato would respond to special-interest lobbying by reducing the size and scope of government so less of life is politicized and there is less to lobby about, Lessig would respond by amending the Constitution to restrict freedom of speech.")

Agreed, I spent some time talking to some of the people @ the Change Congress group when they first started. I told them the problem wasn't speech or lobbying it was the amount of money that was being spent by congress, and that if they instead spent their efforts having legislation moved from federal to state they would succeed in making lobbying to expensive to be worth it. They told me I was pushing my own agenda and that I didn't care about corruption.

You have to ask yourself are you looking at fixing systemic causes or merely putting a bandaid on a flawed system.

I think increased Federalism is really our only hope. Increased centralization, or even our current level of centralization, simply makes the central control construct too rich a target to pass up, and too easy a target to capture. This is the 21st century, and everything else is decentralizing; why isn't governance?

We shouldn't be arguing about which one-size-fits-all health care plan should be enacted at the national level (and it's extremely hazardous for an entity which can print money to be doing anything of that nature anyhow); we should be letting the lower jurisdictions work it out. (If you don't think states are large enough to do that, go look at actual stats; many states are larger than entire major European countries and nothing would prevent states from banding together or adopting each other's systems once proved, it's not like poor Rhode Island would have to come up with their own de novo plan. In fact such sharing mechanisms already exist to some extent.)

It is also a trivial exercise to show this permits a much larger set of people to get the much more of the things they desire out of their government, whatever those things may be (including "less things" if that's what the people want).

In fact, you can see in MA we have a universal healthcare bill much like the one being proposed and let me tell you it's causing all sorts of problems.


I can shoehorn a loaded point of view into this, too:

The folks at Cato believe that corruption is a Constitutional right. Lessig believes it should be a crime. Of course, this is yet another application of the libertarian golden rule: he who has the gold gets to take the liberties.

I support Lessig

I support him because what he is trying to do is MONUMENTAL. When laws are purchased by the highest bidder they allow people to subvert the free market. When laws are purchased then the democratic voice of the people has no chance! Lessig is trying to bring free speech, and free markets, to the US. I support Lessig!

Here's what puzzles me a bit- if you believe legislation and legislators are up for sale to the highest bidder...then why do believe a constitutional convention would not be the same, with much more serious consequences?

I think it's incredibly dangerous to imagine that a con-con would not be the target of truly massive amounts of influence peddling. And you can't limit the scope of a con-con either, so EVERYTHING is up for grabs.

Is corporate campaign spending a big deal? One way to tell is to look at state laws. Some states do not restrict corporate expenditures on political speech, and others do. Can anybody tell the difference? If not, then who cares?

The point of corporate campaign finance is not to persuade the existing officials. It is to select for officials who already support your views. They are morally rightous crusaders on your behalf.

The fact that lobbying access does in fact also bring influence is also true, of course, but don't confuse the two issues.

A constitutional convention would massively disruptive, and would almost certainly lead to things the people who called for it would not want.

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