IN THE ARENA

Why We Won’t Stop Fighting Corruption

Yes, the people pushing for more transparent elections took a drumming last week. But that’s just more reason to keep fighting back.

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This year, about $4 billion was spent on campaigns. That’s billion with a b. And much of that money was raised from anonymous, secret donors.

It’s not hard to figure out why voters feel so disenfranchised. They don’t think they have an equal voice against the corporate, union and billionaire interests. And, of course, they’re right to feel this way.

Voters hate big money in politics. But you know what? So do most politicians. They hate having to spend all the time they should be working on policy or talking to constituents, genuflecting before millionaires and billionaires.

The only people and interests who actually like and support this system are the consultants who profit from all the spending, and the special interests which can buy their agendas.

In an effort to take back our Republic from the consultants and special interests, some pro reform groups have been established, like Every Voice, Issue One, United Republic, CounterPAC—and Mayday PAC, an idea conceived by Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, and which I helped cofound.

Simply put, the effort was designed to raise money and target a handful of federal races where we would make the issue of money in politics an issue and try and demonstrate we could have an impact.

Sadly, especially for me, there just are not a lot of Republicans who support fundamental reforms when it comes to money in politics. Which I think hurts the GOP brand and is discordant with a free market philosophy because currently our public policy markets are not free—they are hostage to crony interests that pay for what they get. And they get a lot.

So, with the notable exception of North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones, who has long been a champion on the issue, and Jim Rubens, a former New Hampshire state representative who was running against former U.S. Senator Scott Brown in the primary, there just weren’t many Republicans who qualified for Mayday support. So, in six out of our eight races, we supported Democrats, and one independent, most of whom got swept under in the Republican wave.

While we have data that demonstrates voters in these races did care about the issue, it simply wasn’t enough—in an election of this kind of historic proportion—to make enough of a difference. But that doesn’t mean we can’t and won’t in the future. Those of us who are committed to this issue see it the same light you might if you got a fatal cancer diagnosis for your child. The stakes are just too important. So, despite the odds, you don’t give up.

Here’s what a typical consultant says, in this case the GOP’s Rick Wilson: “No one cares. They (voters) shrug. They already believe that all politicians are corrupt assholes. It’s baked in the cake. They get it.”

Yes, of course, voters get it. And they hate it. And as a result they are losing trust in our politics and in our government. Which has huge consequences for our country. Our mission is not to convince voters the system is screwed up, but rather to convince them there is a way to fix it, and that they shouldn’t stop fighting.

And we won’t. What particularly pains me in this instance, is not so much the electoral losses, but the apparent glee that some of Lessig’s detractors, and even some of his colleagues in the reform movement jealous of his attention, have expressed over the outcome. Having worked closely with Lessig and many others over the years on these issues, I say this confidently: There is no more passionate, committed, creative and articulate advocate on these issues than Larry Lessig.

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Yet, for all his effort in the last year, Lessig is now being criticized for getting a lot of good press (which, of course, we needed to do to raise money, and which brought badly needed attention to the issue generally), and for being an “ivory tower egghead trying to play political operative”.

Well, this egghead, more than any reformer or political operative, has figured out how to talk about these issues and connect with people more than anyone ever has, which is why two million people have viewed his Ted Talks.

Lessig gets in the arena. And we need his brain and his passion in the arena. He’s not, and we’re not, resigning. We’re reloading.