MayOne: An effort to change politics Author: Will in ChicagoDate:2014-05-03 05:03:31
On Thursday, May 1st, Harvard Law Professor and campaign finance reform activist Lawrence Lessig announced a new political action committee meant to challenge campaign financing. MayOne, the MayDay SuperPAC that seeks to finance candidates who are committed to ending the role of big moneyin political campaigns.
According to the website, the MayOne SuperPac has a simple goal for this year as it seeks to raise $1 million.
If we raise our funding targets, in 2014, we will launch a small campaign in at least 5 congressional districts. Based on what we learn in those 5 districts, we will launch a much larger campaign to get us to 218 votes in the House, and 60 votes in the United States Senate.
As I writer this, the website shows that over 34 percent of the initial fundraising goal has been raised already in the 30 day campaign. Even MayOne admits the irony of fighting big money with a SuperPAC.
“Our democracy is held hostage by the funders of campaigns. We’re going to pay the ransom, and get it back,” Lessig said in the launch video. “We want to build a Super PAC big enough to end all Super PACs.”
I find myself taking issue with Lessig, First, I hate the use of the term ransom. Paying the ransom seems to indicate that we are coming from a position of weakness. I am also reminded of the old English saying "Pay the Danegeld, never get rid of the Dane."
I would prefer language of fighting fire with fire. That at least creates images of brave firefighters rather than someone stuck paying a ransom. (Why do I picture the criminals in a drawing based on Lessig's metaphor to look like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers, with maybe a version of the Joker looking like Mitt Romney?) I would rather see myself as working with people to solve a problem rather than someone digging into my wallet to pay a ransom.
ThinkProgress reports that Lessig has worked with SuperPacs before to combat campaign financing.
Mayday PAC is not Lessig’s first venture into campaign finance reform. In 2008 he founded Change Congress, a grassroots campaign finance reform movement that is now a part of United Republic, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. that supports anti-corruption laws. Lessig was also an avid supporter of the Occupy movement, saying it was “striking at the root” of the problems in our representative democracy. Post-occupation, Lessig is apparently now looking to bring down the system by working within it. The 2012 election broke records for outside spending on elections, with over $300 million spent by outside groups that do not have to disclose donor information. The 2014 election is likely to surpass even that sum. On 2014 Senate elections alone, advertising spending is already 45 percent higher than the previous cycle — and nearly 60 percent of ads are funded by outside groups, according to an analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project. Over two-thirds of ads supporting Republican candidates were bankrolled by outside groups. Democrats are not far behind, with outside groups funding almost half of pro-Democrat ads.
I am a great believer of having an inside strategy as well as an outside strategy to create political change. (For those who have yet to read it, I will again heartily recommend Sarah Robinson's 6 People You Need To Start A Revolution. We need political activists, communicators, and inside allies -- including politicians.)
I believe that Lessig's intentions are good, but I had hoped for more publicity on his efforts. Also, I find his website's use of color and some of the images a bit depressing. At times, I felt like I was attending a wake for democracy. I would suggest bolder colors and not so many images of urban decay.
This grim feeling I got from the site was not helped out by the recent study by Princeton professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern University professor Benjamin I. Page that the U.S. is now essentially an oligarchy, not a democracy as politicians tend to respond to monied interests. (Giles did an interview with Talking Points Memo where he discusses some of the facts that lead to the study's conclusions. Here is a link to the full study.)
The general presumption of most inequality researchers has been that earned income, usually salaries, is where all the action is, and that income from capital is neither important nor interesting. Piketty shows, however, that even today income from capital, not earnings, predominates at the top of the income distribution. He also shows that in the past—during Europe’s Belle Époque and, to a lesser extent, America’s Gilded Age—unequal ownership of assets, not unequal pay, was the prime driver of income disparities. And he argues that we’re on our way back to that kind of society. Nor is this casual speculation on his part. For all that Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a work of principled empiricism, it is very much driven by a theoretical frame that attempts to unify discussion of economic growth and the distribution of both income and wealth. Basically, Piketty sees economic history as the story of a race between capital accumulation and other factors driving growth, mainly population growth and technological progress.
To be sure, this is a race that can have no permanent victor: over the very long run, the stock of capital and total income must grow at roughly the same rate. But one side or the other can pull ahead for decades at a time. On the eve of World War I, Europe had accumulated capital worth six or seven times national income. Over the next four decades, however, a combination of physical destruction and the diversion of savings into war efforts cut that ratio in half. Capital accumulation resumed after World War II, but this was a period of spectacular economic growth—the Trente Glorieuses, or “Glorious Thirty” years; so the ratio of capital to income remained low. Since the 1970s, however, slowing growth has meant a rising capital ratio, so capital and wealth have been trending steadily back toward Belle Époque levels. And this accumulation of capital, says Piketty, will eventually recreate Belle Époque–style inequality unless opposed by progressive taxation.
Why? It’s all about r versus g—the rate of return on capital versus the rate of economic growth.
In the end, I am optimistic that America will move past this era where big money and big money backers like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson dominate politics like their predecessors did over 100 years ago. I support Lessig's efforts but wish that he was perhaps a bit more outwardly optimistic and bolder in his presentation. For an example of a site that has a similar goal in making America more democratic, let me recommend Empower Alabama, which also uses a brighter color palate than MayOne.
Also, I think we need national and local efforts to move our country forward to a more democratic era. It is high time that progressives are not afraid to use the flag and other national symbols. I am irked that a radio station in LA calls itself Patriot Radio and only airs right wing hosts. I know many people who are patriots who are liberal -- including a few who have served this country while in uniform. We must remember that we fiought the first Gilded Age by remembering the highest ideals of our country and working to ensure that America is a country with, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, a government of the people, by the people and for the people -- and not the corporations.