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Lawrence Lessig on Money, Corruption and Politics

How to fix American politics. Money out, people, up, and “lets get on it” says Harvard’s Lawrence Lessig.

A protest inside the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Protesters are demanding that the lawmakers represent the "99 percent" and not just the corporate lobbyist and and the richest. (AP)

A protest inside the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Protesters are demanding that the lawmakers represent the "99 percent" and not just the corporate lobbyist and and the richest. (AP)

A lot of people are afraid the country’s going to hell in a hand basket. Lawrence Lessig is afraid you’re right. Specifically, afraid that big money has corrupted our politics, our Congress, our democracy – and paralyzed us from acting to keep the country great. Lessig is a South Dakota-born, Pennsylvania-raised big thinker who first took on the Internet and intellectual freedom.

Now he’s turned big-time activist for the Republic itself, with a keen diagnosis, and a plan to set things right.

This hour, On Point, we start the New Year off with a plan to save the nation.

-Tom Ashbrook


Lawrence Lessig, Director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University, and a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He is the author of Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It.


“We’ve got to work on getting a representative democracy working,” said legal scholar turned political activist Lawrence Lessig. “We can do that by destroying this corrupting influence of money in our system.”

Lessig says that our political system is so corrupted by money that it hurts both causes on the left and the right. On the left, for instance, the failure to pass global warming legislation or universal healthcare, in the face of institutional inertia. While on the right, he says, issues like simplifying the tax code have fallen victim to the same forces resisting reform. “Our current tax system with all its complexities is in part designed to make it easier for candidates, in particular congressmen, to raise money to get back to congress,” Lessig said. “All sorts of special exceptions which expire after a limited period of time are just a reason to pick up the phone and call somebody and say ‘Your exception is about to expire, here’s a good reason for you to help us fight to get it to extend.’ And that gives them the opportunity to practice what is really a type of extortion – shaking the trees of money in the private sector into their campaign coffers so that they can run for congress again.”

Those giveaways, tax breaks, and subsidies all corrupt and distort the free market, which should anger both sides of the political spectrum, he said. “Businesses increasingly recognize that their highest return on investment comes not from inventing the next great widget, instead spending money on lobbyists who can get special deals built into the tax code or built into the government spending programs that give them a higher return than any of the investment that they would ever make by investing in genuine innovation.”

So, how can the system be saved? A system of publicly funded campaigns for starters. But getting Washington to sign-off on such a system, Lessig said: they’ve got too much money to lose.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times “In “Republic, Lost” Lawrence Lessig — a Harvard Law School professor and a leading advocate of applying the principles of open Web access to less technical forms of creative expression, like music, writing, and the visual arts — makes an extraordinary leap of faith.”

Boston Review “So we’re pretty good as a body politic in responding to a slap like 9/11, we’re pretty good as a body politic in responding to obvious moral wrong—Rod Blagojevich or Randy “Duke” Cunningham—but it turns out we’re not very good at responding to these invidious, systemic wrongs engaged in by people who seem to us to be decent people.”

Video Slideshow: Lessig On Money And Politics

Activist and legal scholar Lawrence Lessig’s 50-minute audio-slide show “Republic, Lost” on the corrupting power of money in politics, and what he thinks we should do about it. (Click on the photo below to access the video)


Harvard's Lawrence Lessig in the WBUR studios. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

Harvard's Lawrence Lessig in the WBUR studios. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

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  • http://twitter.com/LauraLongon Laura Longon

    Two words….BUDDY ROEMER.

    • T Baustian

      No one person can over come the corrupt system Lessig is describing.  Congress–endemically corrupt–will override anyone in the executive branch.  Hope Mr. Lessig has a workable solution—I’ll be listening.

  • Terry Tree Tree

    REAL prison sentences, in REAL prisons, NOT country-clubs, for multiples of years of the time lesser thefts!  Whistle-blower rewards,, and protections! 
       Real investigations into the public money-handling, and public trusts entrusted unto those that prove they have morals problems! 
       Federal Public Fraud trials, for ‘public servants’, and elected officials, that violate their Oath of public trust! 
       Prosecution of the HIGHEST persons that can be charged, with the highest charges and sentences going to them, instead of a sacriricial underling!
       Confiscation of ALL funds, properties, and assets involved in these frauds, thefts, and other crimes, to a FIVE-FOLD  multiple of the assets lost to the public through these crimes!
       More suggestions upon request.

       These are NOT victimless crimes!  We are ALL the victims.  Let the perpetrators of victimless crimes out, if necessary, to make room for REAL criminals!

  • Brian

    So Mr. Lessig, how do you propose money get taken out of politics? Every single player from corporations to lobbyists to the politicians have a very strong interest in keeping money IN politics. How does it get taken out when every person who is capable of effecting change, has an interest in the status quo?

    • Terry Tree Tree


  • http://www.joshuahendricksonnovelist.blogspot.com/ Joshua Hendrickson

    So long as we base society on a delusional foundation like money, there will be no improvement possible.


      Perfectly brilliant.

  • Terry Tree Tree

    5 Corrupt, or senile ‘Justices’ on the Supreme Court cannot tell the difference between a foreign corporation and a U.S. Citizen? 
       How corrupt is it to give SUPER-CITIZENSHIP to corrupt corporations, that already have a LOT more influence than the individual citizens that they can abuse, or defraud?

    • Eab1962

      Include corporations like NPR, NYT and most media there please

      • Anonymous

        That clearly doesn’t include Fox News, since that is a pure propaganda machine.

        • William

          Unlike MSNBC/CBS/ABC/PBS/NBC/CNN which are pure leftwing.

          • Anonymous

            Actually, they may emphasize the liberal interpretation, but they do NOT just MAKE UP facts to give their case (false) credence. And they DO acknowledge when they got the facts wrong (which is not that often).

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Didn’t I say corporations?  Did I make a distinction, other than corrupt?

  • Anonymous

    I’d always thought money was property. A corporation a legal fiction.
      I cannot imagine why the monied interests and their judges and representatives would change a system to their corrupt disadvantage.
      Maybe if 100,000s of citizens mobbed their Capitols and threatened to raze them, brick by brick…


  • Sara in VT

    What does your guest think about changing the law so corporations cannot be considered people?  I am learning more about this and it doesn’t just touch money in politics but obviously the connection is clear.

    • Anonymous

      Because of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of several laws, the “peopleness” of corporations is now built into the Constitution. Therefore it will take a Constitutional Amendment to extract that interpretation.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    Our current system is one where the left and right neutralize one another, leaving the 1% to manipulate Washington as it chooses.

    • nj

      Ha! The right has been ascendent for the last 40 years or so. The left is mostly marginalized. Obama is not “the left.” 

  • Dingiling

    #1 Thing we should do:

    Declare AIPAC and J-Street as a “foreign” Lobby Oranizations

  • Ellen Dibble

    Yes, yes, I’m waiting to hear the solution.

  • Dingiling

    #2 Thing we should do:

    Every two years, whoever votes gets $1000 bonus at the IRS next to their Social Security Number.

    $2500 trillion was given to Banks in 3 years. 
    Stimilus to voting citizens $200 billion every other year.

  • Bob from Vermont

    Another systems thinker, Peter Senge of MIT, once said if the solutions to problems were that simple, someone would have thought of the solutions long ago. I’m afraid our “sound-bite” society wants simple solutions from its politicians.

  • Lars

    People should start to check that box on their taxes that lets $1 of there taxes go to political campaigns, and let the candidates split that up. That would give, potentially, millions. Politics should be about facts, not about who can pay for the slickest advertising or the most clever spin doctors.

  • Andrew E Page

    The corrupting source being ‘tax breaks’ granted via lobbyists.  Isn’t this what a Flat Tax can address?  Won’t a tax code that is kept as simple as possible remove the source of this corruption?    

    • Andrew E Page

      How about a constitutional amendment that says, “Tax code shall be no longer than 300 words.”

    • Oliver Jones

      Read Dr. Lessig’s book.  There is simply no way the present kind of congress will pass any law that takes them out of the yearly taxation loop.  They get big money from being the grantors or withholders of tax benefits.

  • Paul

    I agree with with Mr. Lessig about the root problems of our country being money. But, within the first two sentences of his defense of his thesis is to defend Obama. Obama is as guilty as any Republican. Examples: He fought to keep us in Iraq before being forced by Iraq to leave, he dropped the public option despite polls showing a majority of Americans support it, he surrounded himself with the same Wall Street/Big Banking cabal as Bush, he has been unprecedented in attacks on civil liberties and whistleblowers, has waged war on multiple middle east and african countries and on and on …. Not the fault of Republicans 

    • Anonymous

      We will have some 15,000 “civilians” in Iraq providing “security” for the State Department, etc. But the Iraqi government “forced” us out because Maliki is making moves to make Iraq a “permanent” one-party state and the presence of U.S. troops would be a hindrance. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    Give anyone elected to Congress a livable wage for life, and a life sentence in jail if they receive any sort of outside compensation beyond that. I work in finance, the SEC wants to know if I receive so much as a tshirt – Congress should be held to the same standards.

    • Anonymous

      Good — except the reference to the SEC which doesn’t hand out anything like the kind of punishment that’s needed to stop this.  Slap on the wrist at most. 

      A hearty “like” in response to your first sentence … once we clean up the courts.  Our judicial system, thanks to lousy appointments over the past decade, is so politicized that I wouldn’t trust ‘em to sentence a member of Congress fairly, even if that were do-able.

      • Anonymous

        We would get the same results were we to toss a coin to determine the outcomes of legal cases!

        • Terry Tree Tree

          A coin-toss gives BETTER justice outcomes than ‘arbitration’!

    • Anonymous

      The work of Congressmen and women is immensely important and therefore puts a great toll on a human individual. That’s if they conduct it in the proper fashion where they take their responsibilities seriously. The current line up has no “skin in the game” as they avoid most of the consequences of their own policies. Therefore to do the job conscientiously and well, all lawmakers need to be bound by term limits (including justices on the Supreme Court, though their terms should be longer than Congress’s). The cost of term limits may be experience but that is a small price to pay to inoculate the system against complacency and corruption.

      • Anonymous

        Today, members of Congress spend an immense amount of time raising funds for their next campaign. The ideologues probably spend the least since the only way they got to Congress was that their constituents are equally biased. But they do not have to spend much time studying a bill for its full effects as they can decide just based on their ideology (and their ideological leaders). But the moderates cannot spend the time studying the bill because they are in deep fear of being “Tea Partied,” so they spend the most time fund-raising, often 60% to 70% rather than the lower numbers of at least 40%.

  • Alex Lessin

    How does Elizabeth Warren fit into this conversation, Dr. Lessig? Will you endorse her philosophy?

  • Truth

    Tom, you’re great, you interview to bring the relevant element into relief, thank you… I appreciate how you moving it forward, Being aware of the political sways and how money can, as an instrument could play a corruptive role, while remembering the 90% being the real protagonists.

    -thank you

  • Laura from VT

    Does this explain why a 3rd party will never work in this country?

  • steve

    i also agree with mr lessig. that is why rep ron paul is correct. the fed govt should not be involved in our economy-why do we subsidize corn or oil or wall st? these large oligarths contro our tax codes our laws all influence. they control congress.

    • Anonymous

      The government does have a role in the economy, just not the role the Republicans would have it take. From before Abraham Lincoln’s administration, where the federal government gave incentives for railroads, particularly those crossing the country from West Coast to the Mississippi River and east, and the Land Grant Colleges, to development of transistors, lasers and the computer chip through the development of the Internet (DARPA).

      The government is the entity which determines the need and pays for infrastructure which facilitates the commerce necessary for businesses to prosper.

      Government also needs to make sure the marketplace is level for all potential entrants, which means that an industry like the extraction and refinement and use of fossil fuels, which have great external costs (destruction of the physical landscape — mountaintop removal coal mining, biologically destructive oil spills, and emission of greenhouse gases which will destroy the climate as it is and has for 10,000 years, been known).

      There are a lot of functions which the individual can best accomplish on their own; but there are some where that is the most expensive and inefficient way to provide that function for everyone. These include armed forces for defense of the nation, police and firefighters for maintaining order and security internally. And just as having individual building owners hire private firefighters to protect their homes did not work out, having individuals hire private insurance companies to pay for their medical treatment does not work either. That is why, for all its deficiencies, Medicare is widely approved of by patients and doctors alike.

      • Terry Tree Tree

        ACCURATE Perception!!
           Those wishing for NO governmet, can just go to Somalia, or any  other country that basically has none!

  • Johns123

    Change to a federal national sales tax and all the issues you describe go away.



  • Johnjwinters

    Problem: those with the power to take the money out of the system ARE the system. This conflict of interest will doom any attempts at reform.
    John in Raynham

  • L R Dunn

    When the Supreme Court pulled off a ‘Soft Coup’ in 2000, installing Bush as President, Americans did not protest at all, much less take to the streets. Ironically, I thought of that lack of response as the mortgage effect; people had jobs and homes to protect, therefore could nor risk their homes and family. In light of that complete lack of Public response, the Supreme Court became empowered to gather BIG MONEY cases for which an advantageous finding in favor of BIG MONEY could be rendered. 
    In fact corporations are not money.
    I fear it will take impeachment of Supreme Court Justices if there is any hopeof restoring any credibility to the that branch of government.

    • Anonymous

      You are right that the “United” decision, while a highlight, is just ONE step along a path the Supreme Court (using judge appointments blessed by the Federalist Society) has taken this country. Read Dahlia Lithwick:

        OSCOTUS: What OWS protesters should focus on at the Supreme Court. – Slate Magazine

      This might be eye-opening to many.

  • Gilbert

    A very real problem w/ manifold consequences, indeed. But this morning’s paper tells us we (on social media) are talking about Bin Laden, the Packers, Charlie Sheen, the Kardashians (sp?) and anything but this – which REALLY touches our lives each and every day – so how to get Americans  – us – to wake up to this reality? The stats continue to show that we hate Congress – but overwhelmingly re-elect “our” representative because they are the exception – or so we believe. Because, short of serious and consistent awareness and mobilization, the fraction of one percent and the Congress which responds to them will continue laughing all the way to the bank…

    • Anonymous

      We can start by bringing up this subject within our circle of friends and start turning it into a national conversation. Many people are too distracted but they will talk with a trusted friend or relative. We can all play a part in raising this awareness.

  • Johns123

    I mean replace the current federal income tax system to a sales tax.

  • Hank

    This is Hank-in-Boston, the anti-insider trading Finance Professor at BU, who was on Wall Street and in Private Equity for 25+ years and who is married to a Professor at Harvard Medical School.
    Lawrence, isn’t this really a more devastating and less-changeable cultural rather than structural issue?
    Aren’t you also masking the problem behind differences between right and left political leanings while giving lip service to “America” as the common ground? Can’t we get away from the constant template of divide and confuse by calling this a Republican/Democrat problem? I think you are making the problem even worse by your approach.
    DC won’t do away with the culture or the structure… they make too much money and have too much power. The de-fund anyone e.g. the SEC if they seek to enforce the laws to benefit the country. Shouldn’t there be state-driven anti-corruption laws controlling the elected representatives?

    How about doing away entirely with large campaign contributions and PAC’s?

    • Anonymous

      It may well be a step too far to outlaw large contributions and PACs, at least initially. However, if each voter in the previous election received a $50 bank account for use only as campaign donations, the need for the corrupting contributions may disappear, especially if the $50 amount is increased so that the total is at least twice the total private contributions in the previous election. Then those donations could drop as their effectiveness drops.

  • Scott B, Jamestown NY

    Our Congress is full of millionaires and soon-to-be-millionaires that live in their little bubble of the Beltway.  Until Congress, and the political party system, has to obey the same laws we do, and walk the same streets the other 99% of Americans do, nothing will change.

    I can’t get my house to walk into a voting booth, or write a check to a PAC that will kept anonymous, but big business can.

    No one can get the investment return Congress men get, at least without ending up in jail for insider trading and a host of the SEC violations, but those in Congress can.

    Congress people would be better served by having to work for minimum wage for a month and try to feed mouths, pay for housing and heat, and find medical insurance, than go  through freshman orientation. 

    To those on the Right in particular, how can you expect the Republicans to face facts when they’re so obsessed with denial of facts. From denying science, and blocking and defunding satellites and weather warning systems vitally needed to save lives and aid business and the defense department; to having 30 years of proof that “trickle-down economics” doesn’t work; to making teachers and public employees the scapegoats for the economic debacle, when it was the banking deregulation that turned Wall St into Vegas that did it.

    • Anonymous

      I tended to blame Republicans because rarely do they even speak of sensible policies, however because of the corrupting influence of money in politics, that excuse has been consistently used as a crutch by Democrats for their own lameness. Why is it that Democrats don’t speak up with conviction? There has been plenty of opportunity to do so. When they do object it is in such a tepid manner that it doesn’t ring out, it’s too feeble to receive any attention by the press or otherwise. It’s a constant disappointment. Why? Because they too have to stroke the hand that feeds them.

  • Spoke

    Let’s not forget the corrupting influence of insider legislation around politician’s investment portfolios. This explains wealth that expands exponentially in most elected representatives.

  • Oliver Jones

    I’m a pastor, and I know about dual (earthly) dependence: we need to do what we can to fill up the seats in our church, AND we need to persuade people to donate enough money to keep the heat and lights on and pay our wages.

    These two imperatives are like votes and campaign donations.  We call the second one “stewardship.”  Like most non-profit organizations, the lion’s share of our money comes from a minority of supporters.

    There’s a lot of ethical thinking around this dichotomy in American, voluntarily supported, houses of worship.  There are lots of ethical questions raised by this.

    But the biggest ethical issue is this:  everybody who pays attention in a congregation knows that it’s important to both SHOW UP (analogy: vote) and GIVE (analogy: support campaigns).  

    Dr. Lessig’s point is this: A change in the ethical, stewardship, thinking of the 99% (or the 99.99%) is necessary in civil life as well.  We want good government? We need to shell out, at least a little, campaign money.

    The difference is this.  If church donations dry up, the congregation eventually becomes irrelevant and closes.  That won’t happen in Congress. So we have to force the ethical issue somehow, or put up with the current system.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Pastors campaigned from the pulpit for a ‘born-again’ AWOL, and apparent deserter, that was a FAILURE at businesses that he was highly paid to doom! 
         Can these churches or pastors teach ethics, any better than the Roman Child-Molesting church, that preaches that consentual adult homosexuality is an abomination, while protecting their child-molesters and abusers?

      • Anonymous

        I think Mr. Jones’s point should be judged based on its merits, not necessarily the source. His analogy that parishioners need to take an interest in the Church’s affairs at all levels just as Americans need to follow and think deeper about the government’s actions. Clearly both can go wrong when their constituents too readily accept the actions of their leaders. And he makes a good point about both institutions needing to ensure it has enough revenue to meet its obligations to ALL those constituents.

  • Barry

    I believe the problem isn’t so much with money, but with congress’ current operational procedures. Get rid of the filibuster.  The founders never intended a 60% majority for every piece of legislation.  Introduce congressional term limits.  For at least their lame duck session, congress members might be motivated to put the country first. Lastly. institute a rule that all amendments to a bill be directly related to the thrust of that bill.  Any obvious pork barrel amendments would have to be submitted and approved as aney bills.  That will increase transparency

    • Spoke

      The threat of filibuster itself isn’t the problem, this tool had value when it was considered an extreme measure. Now we have extremists using the power as a matter of routine. If the filibuster is remove, it will just get replaced by something else.

  • David

    As obvious a problem of how money corrpts the republic, WHY has this issue received so little attention recently? Where is the groundswell of outrage?

    • Anonymous

      I think not adopting this issue is the major gaff of the OWS movement. One reason for that may be that they feel it will take too long to achieve their goals, and given that they are young and need jobs right now, a ten to twenty year battle (though the coming crisis because of continuing economic woes and the increasing devastation from the effects of climate change may speed that up) may seem as unresponsive as the current Congress.

  • audrey

    Tom and Lawrence,
    A million thanks for tackling this issue. Great way to start the New Year.
    We need to be aware of the sophisticated marketing of news and politics. Those who benefit from the status quo want the left and right split and polarized. I love your approach of finding the ‘common enemy’ to rally the 99.95%.
    We need our government to function for ‘the people’, not just the powerful few.
    Bless you both, and let’s get going!

  • Potter

    In addition to individuals being empowered with tax money –we need a complete reverse of the United decision whereby corporations are FORBIDDEN to give money to our legislators AT ALL. 

  • Ralph

    How about not allowing a candidate to run for an office they are currently in?

    • Anonymous

      It takes a few years in office, particularly Congressional ones,, to become knowledgable enough to be effective. What is necessary is for better transparency of what the members are doing and what and why Congress is doing to improve their constituents’ lives.

  • Sara in VT

    So if one candidate used a democracy voucher and the other didn’t, wouldn’t the other still have much more money than the first?  Isn’t this a large part of the problem?

  • Don G.

    Dr. Lessig- Would you care to comment on if you agree / disagree with Dr. Angelo Codevilla’s feature piece in the 2010 American Spectator, “America’s Ruling Class…”, wherein he discussed America’s “ruling class” of elites and how they are so distant from the so-called “country class” of average Americans? -Don G., Franklin, TN

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UGF2Z7JZYQN5WNQ625VAQILVSQ Peter

    Maine has a public campaign finance system. Could this model work nationally?  

  • Kevin

    While I understand the frustration of those who wish to see “policy by public referendum” or ” Internet voting” on issues, I would urge caution. A pure democracy is exactly what the founders feared most and set up the Constitution to avoid. Don’t forget that every lynch mob that ever walked was 100% democratic.

    • Roy-in-Boise

      The lynch mob comment is spot on. Pure democracy never works.

      • Anonymous

        Want to see what ‘public referendum’ looks like? Go to any comment thread on Yahoo or elsewhere to see all the angry yahoos (original meaning)spewing out their limpnuts/Beck/Hannity/Jones nonsense….these are the ones who dominate conversations and will dominate electronic referendums.

      • Artisansworks

        We are surrounded by complaints and division.  What we need is dialogue on what WILL work.  This program presents a place to start.  If you can improve on that….. we’re all listening.

        • Not For Sale

          More “DIALOGUE” isn’t going to fix this. WE ALL KNOW the problems and the solutions. What we NEED is ACTION! We need a way to FORSE our representitives to do the will of the people at large. A way to hold them directly accountable to “WE THE PEOPLE” (The true masters)rather than there corprate masters.

          • Anonymous

            We do need a bit more thoughtful dialogue on the methods to get better representation and we need a LOT more dialogue to bring the people who are not yet listening to Professor Lessig about the need to have public financing. Republicans have been opposed to public financing since it was first proposed because they KNOW that their approaches are not to the benefit of the majority of the U.S. population.

    • Eab1962

      I remember a British “B” movie from the late 60s where this was the premise, no one was able to leave home because they had to vote on how many pencils to allocate to a school…..so they became a dictatorship when they were asked to vote on whether they would like not to be bothered anymore

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paolo-Caruso/1778940602 Paolo Caruso

    Great call from the woman suggesting DIRECT DEMOCRACY and REFERENDUM as practiced in Italy.    I disagree with Lessig’s response. Its insulting.  I would suggest that the correlation between people who would access a computer to vote on a referendum, are the same people that would research an issue before voting.  The solutions that Lessig is suggesting will also be easily hyjacked by the media and the interests that own the media.

    Representative democracy is too corruptible.  People in America should have learned that lesson by now.    This is the computer age,  no need for the clowns in Congress.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      People DON’T vote NOW!  How many have read the Patriot Act?   How many have easy access to read it? 
          Have you not heard, read, or experienced computer hacking?  China and Iran have been indicated in serious hacking against U.S. interests!  Make it EASY that they can cast the majority of votes?

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paolo-Caruso/1778940602 Paolo Caruso

        Have you not heard of Diebold ??

        • Terry Tree Tree

          Yes, I have heard of the corrupted, and corruptable voting machines.
             Paper ballots, with an Optical Scan Reader, for a quick vote tally, followed by a hand-counted paper ballot, would be a MUCH better answer!

  • Astig

    I like the way things are in America. My friends and I will continue to devote our considerable resourses to insure that the system does not change.

    • audrey

      Clarify, please?
      Is it the increased demand for food stamps or increased percentage of child hunger that you like best?

  • Barry

    Sorry, my last two sentences should have read:  “Any obvious pork barrel amendments would have to be submitted and approved as THEIR OWN BILLS.  That would increase transparency.”

  • Anonymous

    I have to admit that I don’t think ending corruption starts with Obama (or Bush) or a Republican (or Democratic) Congress.  We find it difficult to point a finger at, yes, ourselves, for allowing corporations to buy our votes and to go unpunished for it. We keep expecting someone or something else to step in on our behalf. 

    We want to continue to enjoy our consumer culture while trying to change the effect the corporate sponsors of that consumer culture have on our lives and our government.  Time to make some choices.  Or, time to sit back again and watch the corruption spread…

  • Ellen Dibble

    Lessig says grassroots organization will get us there.  I think grassroots ideology matters too.  I heard I believe it was George Will saying a couple weeks ago that the vast majority of Americans still WANT to be among the top 1 percent, and therefore they are voting in favor of the interests of the movers and shakers in that tiny slice of the top.
        I BEG to differ.  I really beg to differ.  To me, it looks highly questionable to even BE in that category.  I’d like to be secure enough to be able to maneuver without compromising my values, to be able to be a lady (or a gentleman, if I were a man).  And to be civilized, I need a civilization.  But I don’t want to be so rich that I can’t afford to be moral.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      GREAT way to put it, Lady!

  • Tom

    History tells us that great powers rise and then they fall.  While the final death blow is often administered from the outside, the initial mortal wound is almost always self-inflicted.  This is the natural order.  Why should America be any different?  And why should we wring our hands over this inevitability?

  • Evan

    Thank you for your book; but even more crucial is your publicly tracking the efforts of the “!%” the block/negate our trying to implement your ideas.  Efforts will be made to keep most of us asleep. 
    Please report at least quarterly why your ideas are not catching on in any effective sense.

  • Kathryn Tornquist

    How do we choose candidates that are likely to support your proposal – or comparable plan?  How do we dig through the rhetoric and know, for instance, would Dick Durbin, or President Obama, for that matter, support this?

  • Gary

    Are there any examples of democracies in the world which are not corrupted by money?

    • http://www.facebook.com/isafakir Isa Kocher


    • http://www.facebook.com/isafakir Isa Kocher


      • Eab1962

        Would not include them after their financial shenanigans. The vikings raided us again !!

        • Anonymous

          Actually, the Icelandic government refused to “bail out” the banks that had over-leveraged themselves with loans from European banks. Thus the banks all around took the deserved haircut for their shenanigans. Because the (three) banks of Iceland took the hit, the Iceland economy also took a hit, but the country did not pursue “austerity” and is, while still down, doing much better than, say, Ireland.

    • http://www.facebook.com/isafakir Isa Kocher


  • Al

    I agree this is the greatest obstruction to solving our problems. We need to , as you are saying, make this the number one issue.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Lessig – Despite the Occupy movement’s determination not to allow their complaint or agenda to be boiled down to a single plank, your theme seems to encapsulate with clarity and directness the primary discontent of the 99.74%: special interests have commandeered our representative political system like a hijacked airliner.  And now I hear you observing that this is also the principal complaint of the Tea Party movement.  So I wonder: have you established contact with spokespersons or leaders of those movements to seed their activism with some ideas for directed action?  Can the pent-up and frustrated energy of the movement help alert citizens begin to press for the kinds of change you propose?

  • Potter

    How about getting the main stream media on board? They should blow this issue up, as they are so good at about such trivia.

    • Eab1962

      They will not participate because then their own undue influence in politics will be even more evident. They are silent because they are a party involved

      • Potter

        unfortunately, you have a point.

        • Eab1962


  • Don Pratt

    After running for office locally, I wrote this oped piece.
    Funding bad campaign form is bad as well.  Please note, I am a Vietnam era war resister, 2 years incarcerated in KENTUCKY which elected Rand Paul.
    My opponents only beat me by a couple 1000 votes, the third place winner spending $78,000

    “I also want to thank all that voted for and supported my election – 19,400 or so.
    I still hope the principles I stood for become policy.  However, I fear the financially “selected ones” now holding office do not have the intellect, courage or desire to change elections, or much else, for the general public’s benefit.I spent only $950. 
    Candidates should not “buy” elected office regardless of their sources!We must change our campaign methods with publicly financed elections.  Not money directly to the candidates but WITH:1) VOTER GUIDES to ALL the voters (something better than Oregon’s) with equal information from all the candidates, and references to more info about the election.  Maybe send out more than one voter guide to all voters before elections.2) Publicly financed web pages for candidates to answer important questions from the general public, from organizations and groups that currently send questions since their web pages get limited attention.3) Publicly financed web pages providing biographies and endorsements.4) Instant Runoff Voting (I have leaflets on this method and its benefits.)5) Voting by mail to increase public participation and cut down on costs (Oregon does this).6) Absolute cut off of donations to candidates two weeks before the election date, with a listing of all contributions available immediately for the public via the media or the internet.7) Printed material of the above (where applicable) to read at public places (libraries, court houses, schools, etc.) for those that are not internet active.8) Televised forums/debates and radio show of candidates on public access channels as well as purchased on commercial TV for regional campaigns. Let’s be leaders in the state and/or nation, and internationally, to prove democracy is participatory and NOT bought by corporations or the rich. Don PrattFormer candidate for Council at Large, Lexington, KY

  • Spoke

    Removing “personhood” from corporations is a necessary long term requirement for reform. It isn’t sufficient, but it is part of a systemic solution.

    • Eab1962

      Including corporations like NPR and the NYT ?

  • Hank

    Lawrence your “convention” idea may play right into the hands of the bad guys: why do you disagree with this statement?

  • Shantifry

     Dear Tom and Larry,

    Brilliant show. Please replay it at every opportunity until voters wake up to the danger that our hard won and precious  democracy faces.

    I say this as a volunteer political fundraiser for the past twenty-five years.  Our country has never been in more peril because of Citizens United.

    Shanti Fry

  • JonS

    I agree that our politics has been corrupted by money. But one positive by-product of “money in politics” is that it’s enabled candidates to overcome the advantage of incumbency. It wasn’t too long ago when you could never vote out a House member or Senator. Possibly the significant turnover we’ve had in Washington is due to the leveling of the playing field caused by money.

  • JoeA

    Hasn’t it always been the case that money influences US legislators and big money is the biggest influence?  Why wouldn’t a constitutional convention (or any other process for that matter) be susceptible to the same corrupting influence?  Maybe the best we can hope for is complete transparency (i.e. disclosure) and intense probing and exposure by the press and other “3rd parties” of the corrupting behavior?

  • Ben

    One of my take-aways from this show: In the 1990′s Gingrich and the Republicans stole democracy away from us.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Given the long, long road that Lessig outlines, continuous urgency needs to be made evident.  Unfortunately, those most afflicted by the current system are likely least able to make that case.  Health costs, people living with health seriously vitiated by the kinds of pollution that BigMoney likes to overlook, and where the health system kind of profits by ongoing chronic disability among the ranks.  Try getting the insurers to actually help people get well.  Try to even get some things On the RADAR.  The politicians tell you, “That’s a good idea; get a lobbyist and a group to fund you, and we’ll talk.”  Well.  It was my last penny to get myself here to point this out to you.  Sorry.

  • JC

    Marjorie Kelly’s book, “The Divine Right of Capital” is a book well worth reading when it comes to Corporate Charters and the control of Corporate Money in Politics. Although an older book, it has been prescient in describing the problems of money in corporate money influence on all levels of politics

  • Kenkneram

    If our Government doesn’t start representing US we need to stop paying them. IE/ Stop paying taxes. The corperations can’t foot the whole bill. LET THEM TRY. We will see how long they can ignore the people then.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Good Luck with that! 

  • Fred Publicmail

    This is a very motivating discussion. If it must begin at the state level, where is the organization to pull that together? Is there one I can talk to?

    • Ben

      Yes.  See  Public Citizen at citizen.org  They’ve been fighting for the values Lessig is talking about.

  • Potter

    We need a representative democracy true- our reps have to work for us, BUT I disagree that people, citizens, are excused from educating themselves on the issues. Lessig sounds like he is excusing busy people. It’s this reason that THIS issue is not so paramount and why people get distracted by lesser divisive issues. 

  • Anonymous

    This comes down to the fact that, in today’s world, too many people do not try to find the time to really investigate the issues. And the politicians, today mainly Republicans, encourage the cynicism that feeds that attitude.

    But finding the solutions to today’s problems is hard: macroeconomics is HARD. To understand the difference between the average household finances and government finances is really difficult, particularly if you have not had to deal with aspects of the world where the way things work is radically different than in normal life. A big example is the quantum world, where the constituents of the atom have both particle and wave properties, and which one “takes charge” depends on what and how it is being measured.

    But people (except some more diligent economists) never take the time to think things through.

    An example would be a large business with a lot of divisions. If the business can only buy and sell between divisions, how does the total business grow if each division is required to cut its spending?

    But name me any large group, even Democrats, who even look at that problem as being relevant to a large country with relatively small trade with external entities?

  • Eab1962

    So,the guest is for limiting the influence of corporations and the wealthy. How about media, unions and academics ??

    • nj

      It’s about money, no matter what the source. 

      Obviously, though, those massively funded academic lobbies are a real problem.

      • Eab1962

        Ok how about the media-academic complex then?
        Although I would not mind the grants and endowments form the academic world….

    • http://www.facebook.com/isafakir Isa Kocher

      the corporations represent less than 1% of the people and are running 100% of the government through lobbies wholey owned by less than the 1%. academics have zero say in nothing. media are owned by the same corporations that own 100%of government and 50% of the economy. corporations pay a fraction of taxes. 800 of the wealthiest corporations pay zero taxes. unions represent millions of working families. corporations represent about 140 families. less than 200 families in the usa.

      • Eab1962

        They represent much more than 1% as ownership of shares ( directly or indirectly) is now widely distributed 

        • Not For Sale

          lol. Who has “Controling interest?” Just because you own a share of stock doesn’t mean you have any real say in how things are done.

          • Eab1962

            Right, but institutional investors do,and pension funds are among the largest. In my experience so few people voice their issues that the few that do get attention

          • Not For Sale

            “Institutional Investors?” Ohh you mean the smaller Corperations that pay homage and tribute to the larger right. Or do you mean the Government Employes Benifit packages? All of these “Retirement Plans” are chosen by the handelers and the individual emploies have little chouce or control over where the money gets put or enen know.

            Also it looks like plenty of people are “Voiceing there Issues” here. Why? Because our “Elected Officals” don’t give a damb. NONE of them have a site or foram for the people to tell them how we feel about the issues. So we all come here to complain and hope that someone in washington will take notice and do the right thing.

          • Terry Tree Tree

            From what I gather, the pension funds are invested by one or two people, and the hope-to-be-pensioners don’t even know who their pensions are invested in, until some scam artist is exposed for being a bad investment!

  • Scott B, Jamestown NY

    Cap the amount that can be spent by a candidate, including the PACs. Make them all work within a set amount of money and it would force them spend it more wisely. We’d see more talk about actual issues, and less talk about fringe issues, social distractions,and  less mud-slinging, not to mention reducing dawn-to-dusk commercials.  I don’t know that it could be done, especially if money is speech, but it’s a thought.

    Enforce equal air time. If no one candidate can buy more time than another, media won’t want to give away free air time to the other candidates.  The candidates with more money would have to limit their spending or effectively buy time, or space,for the other candidates.

    • http://www.facebook.com/isafakir Isa Kocher

      nobody is going to enforce anything until corporations don’t own the government any more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/isafakir Isa Kocher

    occupy wall street is and has been exactly 100% about this exact issue. you keep repeating how #OWS has no agenda. where are you? asleep. this is the core OWS issue. Gov Dean solved this issue and Obama coopted it. OWS is part of the answer,

    • Ben

      OWS is part of the answer…. agree!  OWS deserves credit for amplifying the discussion of money in politics, and helped to make people unafraid of being labeled ‘class warrior.’   

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paolo-Caruso/1778940602 Paolo Caruso

    Interesting how Lessig is ignoring the influence of the MEDIA, and how their owners, pundits and experts have on an election.


    issue Pink Slips to all in D.C. , NOW !!!!

  • March

    Thank you so much Tom, great show. And please have this smart man on as often as he can make himself available! Inspirational! Please thank Dr. Lessig for the work he is doing.

  • http://clancydesigns.com/ david

    something needs to change NOW – this sounds like the most sane first step- everyone must confront their own representative, NOW!!! David -Rhode Island

  • Not For Sale

    The corperations have people working 60 hours a week just so they can aford to pay for basic food, clothing and shelter; because they have so overinflated the prices of the products that they produce. Tell me just when do you think people are going to find the time OR the ENERGY to educate themselves? This is the other part of the plan… to keep people too busy and too exausted to pay verry close attention.

  • Banicki

    Lessig’s ideas are good; however, he needs the marketing expertise of OWS to get is points to become reality. OWS needs to recruit Alan Simpson as their spokesperson and have him push the following objectives.

    1. Prohibit Corporations and Unions From Financing Political Campaigns by Amending The Constitution 
    2. Enforce Anti-Trust Laws against Oligopolies & Monopolies!
    3. Bring Our Deficit Under Control and amend tax code! 

    The above are long term goals that will eventually bring more equally to the economy. The above goals will not be accomplished overnight and we need to do something that will bring the unemployment rate down now. A good start is President Obama’s jobs bill with some modifications brought about by sound ideas brought about by members of Congress and the Senate.
    The purpose of a jobs bill, or any stimulus package, is not to directly create jobs that will be long lasting. Instead, its purpose is to  create temporary jobs that will increase demand for goods and services. This in turn will create an atmosphere where the private sector will create jobs to meet the new demand created by the stimulus. Businesses will add to their work force because their profits will increase because they can sell more products.  More: http://goo.gl/yFYDb

    • Not For Sale

      And just how do we do this. The corperations now OWN our Government. As a result our Government is not likely to cooperate with the reforms. THAT IS THE PROBLEM! In order to use the system as it exisits to fix the system that exisists we need the system to work as if the reforms have alredy taken place and since the system is broken it doesn’t work and if it did we wouldn’t need reform.

      It’s a visious cycle. It will eventually leed to civel war. :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/isafakir Isa Kocher

    the only way you can fix this is how dean as chair of DNC did: every precinct gets professional party organizing. he did it got nancy pelosi and obama elected. we as americans have to be involved but the obamas aren’t listening. OWS got him to listen. we need a new revolution, just like the tea party people say but they want a white america. OWS wants a people America so why every damned time you open your mouth you bad mouth OWS. OWS got Obama to listen. Gov Dean got Americans to listen. answer #OWS. people. velvet revolution.

  • Glenn Koenig

    Even if you limit the money for campaigns, you have not solved the core problem.  The constitution was based on a face to face village based, primarily agricultural of society, which existed back in the 1780s.
    But now, each representative stands for almost 3/4 of a million people!  Each Senator, on average, stands for literally millions of people!!!
    You can limit the money all you want.  We cannot bring ourselves back to the days of ‘no campaigning’ as Mr. Lessig mentioned.  Our world now has so many more people, living in such different ways, doing such different work.
    So STOP trying to fix Congress by shifting money around.  This cannot be done.
    As went the Soviet Union, so will go we.  Sure that sounds totally crazy.  The United States break up?  Preposterous, right?  Just wait and see.  The reason is that we human beings cannot and never have been able to properly manage something of such complexity in one piece.  Smaller units of government are going to have to form, and they won’t be hierarchical or look anything like what we have now.  Yet we *will* find things that work.  It will *not* be pandemonium or violent chaos.  Look at the occupy encampments for the spark of this.  The key is to limit the size of groups & form more groups when more people get involved, rather than make bigger groups.  The groups are networked with each other by electronic media but also by some members traveling about from group to group.  Sounds naive, right?  Just watch.  This is what will happen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/isafakir Isa Kocher

    what massively funded academic lobbies. what planet are they on?

  • http://www.facebook.com/isafakir Isa Kocher

    the media already are owned by the same interests that own the lobbies

  • S.C. Listener

    Everyone, old and young should be required to vote. That should be a sufficient “stick in the spokes” of political machine.

    • mary elizabeth

      Good idea, but I have found that those who do not vote have no interest  in the issues and do not inform themselves to make a thoughtful vote.  It is amazing that so many are just along for the ride.
      Perhaps  a more rigorous civics education in schools would help.

  • Mike

    We will never solve the problem of the corrupting influence of money in politics; it’s inherent in human nature.  The root of the problem is that the government directly controls roughly half the economy, and has an enormous influence on most of the other half.  If you want to get money out of politics, you will have to first get politics out of money.

  • Anonymous

    How can I view slide show?

  • Nilsarey

    Allocating a $50 democracy voucher to one candidate for presidential office does not address the corruption endemic of the entire system, of all the elected officials. The presidential election is a horserace, a cult of personality, a reality TV show that has become a distraction from the real issues we face, ie the environment, unemployment, our food and health system, the deficit and the ponzi scheme of our credit card economy, to name a few. The president is only one person.

  • Not For Sale

    UNITED WE STAND. Devided we fall. Our fall is imminent.

  • Bruce

    As a newcomer to this country, and one that has always admired the innovativeness and the principles of its people, it is really obvious to me that big money has corrupted the political process, and that it is the cancer that if left unchecked, will eventually, and not too long into the future, ruin this country. 

  • Not For Sale

    “Never underestimate the Power of stupid people in large groops.”  “The mob IS Rome.” America is the new Rome.

  • Bill

    Great topic, Great show.
    Let’s get this discussion out in the mainsteam.  The citizenry need to know.

  • July

    Dr. Lessig says that it is difficult for the average person to keep up with complicated legislation.  Actually, most legislatures have nonpartisan department who analyze bills – both before and after they are voted on.  e.g. in Michigan, the House Legislative Analysis Department is part of the House Fiscal Agency, which is also nonpartisan, and are available online.  (Legislators hate these departments, and are constantly trying to limit them).

  • pattivt

    did anyone figure out how to view the video?

    • Alex Kingsbury

      You can access the video by clicking on the photo of the collected headlines.

  • Freedom=Responsibility

    As was said, everyone has known that the money in politics is the problem, but now what are we going to do about it?  We have hired foxes to run the chicken coop and not given them anything else to eat.  It’s our own damn fault!

    • Not For Sale

      Time to EAT the Foxes.

  • Not For Sale

    LMAO Spoken like a TRUE corparate automoton. 

    If the Gov. had any REAL controles on the economy (on Corperations) we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.  {ENRON, Banking Chaos, Housing Collapse, Run away inflation, ect.}

    • Gramma

      Hot Tip – Learn to use the Spellcheck.

      • Not For Sale

        Hackers removed it. I am awair that My spelling is deficient, a produce of owr public school system.

        My mind however is quite sharp.

        Sad that our scociety can’t fine a place for an inteligent, Thoutfull, and insitefull man like myself.

        Thank you so much for trying to discredit the value of my words by pointing out the only obvious flaw here.

        • Anonymous

          no worries man – we hear ya

  • Moranhfc

    Do we citizens not own the air waves and enable use or disuse of political messages – the largest expense in a political campaign?

  • Donald_sutherland

    In my opinion, Mr. Lessig is not going far enough. The question is; why do polititians want to raise money? The answer; to buy television commercials. The manipulative, misleading commercials that every analyst agrees distorts the election system. So, essentially, our government is being sold to buy garbage.
    Why can’t we do something to control political commercials? Why can’t we, for instance, pass laws saying that any political or issue advocacy ads cannot use voice-overs, music, animation, or B-roll? Furthermore such ads have to be one minute long. No more :30 or :15 second ads. Television stations would also be forced to charge their bottom rate to run these ads instead of their top rate as they do now.
    This would result in commercials with one person standing behind a lectern, or sitting in chair, talking. If they want to use a visual aid they could use a chalkboard.
    In this way money would not be pouring into video production companies and T.V. stations. Now, polititions could still buy as much air time as they can but how many one minute ads of someone talking would the viewing audience tolerate? Not very many I would think.
    In this way campaign contributions would not have to be limited and no ones free speech would be endangered. This sure seems easier than amending the Constitution.

  • Oliver Wendell Holmes

    Americans sleep through revolutions.
    Marshall Mclewan had it right;
    “The media is the message, The media is the massage”
    The people are anesthetized by electronic media to the point of complete political implosion.
    It’s scary, but the truth is, that the plutocracy is now so firmly enthroned, that little short of violent over throw, or natural disaster, can unseat them 

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CRTBVXTQSOPGLVECV6HA3NYJZA MoniqueDC

      So, “1984″ has arrived, we are living it every day and don’t even realize it.     I hear ya.

  • Betty

    If DC legislator had “term limits” as our president and state governors, the lobbyists and special interest groups would in a short time lose their money control (PACS)and greatly reduce their power in DC.

    I would greatly appreciate your views on term limits.

  • Kjartan

    Removing the filibuster from the U.S. Senate would do wonders to address some of the gridlock we are currently experiencing. It’s just part of the whole list of issues we’re confronting, but it can be a difference maker.

  • Betty

    If DC legislator had “term limits” as our president and state governors, the lobbyists and special interest groups would in a short time lose their money control (PACS) and greatly reduce their power in DC.

    I would greatly appreciate your views on term limits.

  • Not For Sale

    1 Bill 1 Law. no more tag on legislation. ;)

  • Not For Sale

    Also owr reps MUST READ Every Bill. All of them. and be responsable for there content if they sign them.

  • mary elizabeth

    “Do care
     overly much for
     wealth, or power, or fame
    Or one day you will meed someone
    Who cares for none of these things,
    And you realize
    How poor you have become.      Rudyard Kipling

    With the emphasis on overly, perhaps this should be posted on the walls of Congress to whom we have entrusted the common good.

    • guest

      Don’t you mean – Do not care overly much about wealth or power or fame?
      And – one day you will (meet or need?) someone

  • Baechlin

    The heightened power of money in politics, is due to the heightened power of money in general. Investors can now move capital in an instant, electronically, any moment of any day, for the purpose of immediate, maximum profit. This makes politicians, and even non-finance corporations, super-responsive to investor demands. The money-media-campaign complex is just one expression of this money power. It’s the way investors lock the policy realm into the mandate for fast, furious profit. Small-money campaign laws, public pressure, etc., are powerless against this influence. Only a constitutional amendment will make a difference.

    • margbi

      I’ve said it before, until there is public financing of elections, those seeking office will be nothing but bagmen funneling money to the ad agencies, tv stations, consultants, whoever is benefiting from the present system.

      Definition of “bagman”: “A racketeer who is assigned by his superiors to collect, carry, or distribute payoff money.”
      Random House Unabridged Dictionary,  c. 1966.

  • Keith Stone

    Multiple amendments is overly complicated. Drop all monetary limits, but you can only give money to someone you can actually vote for. Corporations don’t vote, PAC’s don’t vote, unions don’t vote. Real time reporting of who gives money. Corporations and unions can do “issue” ads, no identifiable information, such as seat or name, just an issue.

    • Joncarson

      Does not solve Koch brothers problem. Need to keep Corp oligarchs out.

  • O Brasileiro Perdido


  • Arky Traveler

    Excellent, timely show.  Please have Prof. Lessig as a guest again.  Make him part of an ongoing follow-up on this topic.  You just might end up getting more of us to think and act.

  • Anonymous

    Lawrence Lessig has worked relentlessly on developing a workable method that is geared to resurrect this democracy and we would do well to use his expertise. Continuing on our present course will virtually render the Constitution to be not worth the paper it is written on.  Lessig’s system of vouchers as donations to voters’ chosen candidates will be a foundational change that will also adjust the current incentives to align correctly all the way up and down the line. Currently the system favors those who are adept at talking “out of both sides of their mouth” and it repels honest aspirants from seeking office. Though not a total panacea, public financing would have immediate and automatic effects such as being a remedy for aberrations such as the concentrated power of lobbyists and Citizens United. It would open up the talent pool and once again attract into politics candidates of integrity. Democracy depends on informed voters and information cannot be properly disseminated through the incessant 60-second advertisements that typically bombard the airwaves. This would eliminate that and Citizens United in one fell swoop!  As individuals, we are busy keeping up with modern life like hamsters stuck on a wheel. But now it is incumbent on us to heed the call our forefathers and foremothers sent when they fought, sometimes to their deaths, for their dreams of a just and prosperous society. Aren’t these our dreams too? We cannot rest on the visions only of the authors who could not have imagined the world as it exists today and the implications for the future we can unleash if we don’t get things right. Lessig’s amendments are the natural evolution of a Constitution that endeavored to put the lofty notion of giving The People the right to be the overseers of power. The difference and the beauty of the present times is that with the internet and movements such as Occupy Wall Street, everyone can take part and do their bit to bring this change into reality.

  • Dan Cooper

    I appreciate the Professor’s spirit and care, so I don’t mean to criticize him when I raise this point – he cites Connecticut’s system as a positive example near what he’s suggesting and I do just want to point out, as a lifelong resident of Connecticut, that our government is a complete sham which is failing its citizenry by every measure.  We often achieve opposite superlatives, like ‘most expensive in the nation’ and ‘least effective in the nation’ titles for the same department.  We have achieved the greatest government debt (per capita) of any American state though we raise the highest tax revenue of any state.  We regularly turn the most into the least, so please be careful before taking ANYTHING we do here as prototype.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/BLL2GKJDINNDZZIYHK54CRB2WU sickofitinca

      The problem is the rate of taxation. I give you the example of California; they have ANOTHER proposal to add more sales taxes, business taxes and change the structure of the sales taxes to include services such as legal representation, doctors, mechanics – basically tax the commodities and the labor of individuals.

      Then look at the exodus of businesses to the tune of 300+ per year and the polulation is shrinking by approximately 1,100 per day. These are tax paying businesses and people.

      The tax revenue is shrinking by about the same percentage (or more) than the business and population loss per year. The answer that they come up with is always more taxes and the result is less revenue. they have not figured it out in California and will not untill the only taxpayers left will be the government workers and the illegal aliens. (the illegals do not pay taxes).

  • Jasona19762003

    When the Congress is criminally complicit in the corruption, and the electorate is as dumb as they come, how is meaningful reform going to occur?

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/BLL2GKJDINNDZZIYHK54CRB2WU sickofitinca

      So which are you, the complicit or the dumb?

      do you vote and lump yourself into that category?

      • Jasona19762003

        Are you as rude and ignorant in real life as you appear here?

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CRTBVXTQSOPGLVECV6HA3NYJZA MoniqueDC

          Pot and kettle here, … less snarky, pls

        • Terry Tree Tree

          You made the statement, with NO options!  sickofitinca just asked you which category you placed yourself in!

  • Jim, Indiana

    While I agree that campaign financing practically forces candidates to be “on the take” to get elected, publicly-funded campaigns will not rid us of corruption.  Once elected, public officials will still be given money and/or favors to act in corporations’ and rich people’s interests.

    I have stopped voting because politicians lie to get in office.  They will say whatever people want to hear in order to get elected.  Then there is no recourse when they don’t follow through.  Even if every eligible person in the US voted, it is not possible to make an “informed choice” when we are being constantly lied to.

    Instead of the popularity contest method of elections, I think we should put effort into some kind of lottery system for public service, more like jury duty.  If we assume that most people are good, we will get better public servants with a lottery system.  Today, the people who say they want to be public servants are really just money and power-hungry whores.

    The people we need to run our country are the ones who really don’t want to.

    • Jasona19762003

      I have had the same idea as you express…for years.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/BLL2GKJDINNDZZIYHK54CRB2WU sickofitinca

      If you quit voting than your right to complain about the candidates and the process is forfit as far as I am concerned and your comments are meaningless. there are more important things than just the candidates on the ballot that you choose not to vote on.

      People that do not vote are shirking their duty to their country.

      • Jim, Indiana

        You dismiss my suggestion for a lottery system as meaningless because I choose not to vote in a corrupt system where we pick the better liar. 

        I voted for Obama because he ran on a platform of change.  The only change I see is a different First Lady.

        • Terry Tree Tree

          You don’t see the ‘change’ in Congress, that gave the ‘W’ admin. almost ALL of what they asked for, no matter how bad it was for the U.S., and the world?  Yet the Congress is ‘changed’, to the point that they oppose everything proposed by President Obama’s admin.!

  • http://www.facebook.com/isafakir Isa Kocher
  • http://www.facebook.com/isafakir Isa Kocher

    listening to your program and your guest and reading your comments i see zero plan. 100% kvetch. yeah sure we oughta make corporations stand down yea sure. like that is news? you need a PhD to figure it out? or what to do? Except for #OWS, except for Elizabeth Warren, except for Barney Frank, all i see is kvetching, blaming, accusing and bad mouthing. you spend a quarter of every day bad mouthing the whole #OWS movement pretending you don’t understand what they want. Are you playing 3 monkeys: see hear speak nothing? Howard Dean actually did do something. American progressives actually did do something. You really don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and the next time you say you don’t understand what #OWS wants or what their agenda is I think i’ll scream. This program is all about #OWS. and Howard Dean, Elizabeth Warren, Barney Frank, and the whole LGTB progreessive community did and are doing it. Get on board. stop throwing stones.

    • http://www.facebook.com/isafakir Isa Kocher

      you have zero memory. in 2 short years howard dean gave the house to pelosi. in 4 short years he gave us 65% democrat house. 60% democrat senate. and 55% of the vote for president. the biggest landslide ever. and it took just 6 months for obama and obamabots to piss it all away. despite every possible sabotage from obama, pelosi, frank, LGTB activists and the progressives despite being black listed by the WH and their rockefeller salute, delivered health care reform, repeal of DADT, and finance reform. despite sabotage from emanuel gibbs, axelrod and the DNC. Obama’s DNC gave Kennedy’s senate seat away. and then handed over the house to boner.

      just go back to plain old simple organizing the way unions granges and progressives gave us child labor laws, universal suffrage, civil rights reform, the square deal, new deal, new frontier, great society, medicare, and under clinto near parity since lost of people with color and white family incomes. a good 20th century for america.

      simple: listen, learn, serve the people. no secret. proven agenda. government by the people for the people.  not by the beltway for wall street. so stop bad mouthing #OWS. get on board.

      • Jasona19762003

        Please write clearly and check your wording and punctuation.

      • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/BLL2GKJDINNDZZIYHK54CRB2WU sickofitinca

        Yes, you are a student of the Progressive movement and understand it’s fathers well. teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR and all of the lost freedoms that they took from us. Please note that Woodrow Wilson ran on keeping us out of WW1 and within months of his second inauguration got us into the war. FDR also did much while he was in office besides the New Deal. He also gave us Japanese interment camps and sevefral of his laws got kicked out by the Supreme Court. He was a power hungry tyrant that stripped us of our liberties while the electorate was busy fighting a war and knew nothing of what he was doing.

        • gretal’s breadcrumbs

          gag me with a spoon.

        • http://www.dogoodgauge.org The Do Good Gauge

          Liberty does not consist in mere general declarations of the rights of men. It consists in the translation of those declaration into definite actions. The philosophy of conduct is what every wise man should wish to derive from his knowledge of the thoughts and the affairs of the generations that have gone before him. We are not put into this world to sit still and know; we are put into it to act. — Woodrow Wilson

  • Elsbeth404

    Big money in politics should not exist but Politicians who run for office have to be rich to be able to afford to competitively campaign = so let’s limit how much they can spend and even the playing field, and let’s give some of the lower 50% a chance to be elected.  How can we make that happen? 
    All spending should be transparent.  No corporation is a person.  If a lobbyist visits a politician, the meeting should be completely transparent – recorded and posted on the internet!
    Next, the Supreme Court.  No Justice should be able to accept money/gifts/favors from any corporation/politician.  Some of the Justices are on the take. So we have Justices who no doubt understand the meaning of ethical but don’t choose to be ethical.   
    There should be popular vote– no electoral college. The number of senators from each state should be determined by the population of that state, not the size of the state.
    What happened to our Constitution?  And don’t our politicians pledge to uphold it?  It appears that if our elected politicians want to ignore it, they can make any laws they want with impunity.
    We need to do something about the abuse of filibusters.
    OWS is the beginning of a Revolution.  We are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.  The 1% should be quaking in their overpriced shoes. 
    We also need a third party – THE PROGRESSIVES!!!!  A popular poll cited by Cenk on The Young Turks, (Current TV) states that the majority of Americans are in favor of anything politically labeled “Progressive”.  It could happen!
    But you know,we  haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg until Wall Street is held accountable.  Take  your money out of the bank and put it in a Credit Union.  Maybe if enough of us temporarily stop paying taxes we will have some influence.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/BLL2GKJDINNDZZIYHK54CRB2WU sickofitinca

      Big money in politics should not exist but Politicians who
      run for office have to be rich to be able to afford to competitively campaign =
      so let’s limit how much they can spend and even the playing field, and let’s
      give some of the lower 50% a chance to be elected.  How can we make that happen? 
      await your suggestion on this. Campaign finance reform was done once to try to
      have the candidates use Federal matching funds so the guy that had a LOT of
      money would not be able to steamroll the lesser funded candidate. Mr. Obama
      pledged to use Federal funds in the last Presidential election and then backed
      out of the pledge when he found out that he could get a lot more money by
      getting money from Wall Street tycoons and the Hollywood millionaires to bury
      McCain, which he rightfully did.

      “All spending should be transparent.  No corporation is a person.  If a lobbyist visits a politician, the
      meeting should be completely transparent – recorded and posted on the internet!”
                                                                           I can agree with this
      point as long as it also applies to Unions; they are not “people” either. The Unions have “owned” the
      Democrats and to a lesser degree the Republicans for a LONG time. It is time to
      get weaned off that teat also.

      “Next, the Supreme Court. 
      No Justice should be able to accept money/gifts/favors from any
      corporation/politician.  Some of the
      Justices are on the take. So we have Justices who no doubt understand the meaning
      of ethical but don’t choose to be ethical.”  
             If you supply information that
      can prove this accusation I will agree with you on this point. I think this is
      something you have a “feeling” about but not anything that can be substantiated
      or it would have been out in the open a long time ago. The Liberal press would
      have a field day with this. This is not a good point until you can come up with

      “There should be popular vote– no electoral college. The
      number of senators from each state should be determined by the population of
      that state, not the size of the state.” I
      totally disagree on this. The Senators should be as originally planned in the
      Constitution. They should be appointed by each states legislature. The reason
      the founders set it up the way they did is so the Senators would be immune to
      lobbyists. If they are appointed and do not run a political campaign, they
      would be above the fray and money issues for their campaigns. Senators need to
      be responsible for the issues of their state and not answerable to the
      electorate. That is the purpose of the House of Representatives. Adding more
      people to the Senate would cause MORE chaos, not less. Your next sentence “What
      happened to our Constitution?” is correct. We need to put it back the way it
      was. No more direct election of Senators.


      “What happened to our Constitution?  And don’t our politicians pledge to uphold
      it?  It appears that if our elected
      politicians want to ignore it, they can make any laws they want with impunity.”
      understand the meaning behind what you are saying and feel your pain, but the
      people that are elected are by the majority of the people that vote for each
      candidate. If they are not doing something you want done, or doing something
      you feel is egregious, recall them or vote for someone else. They are responsible
      to the people that elect them. Go vote, which is the answer.

      “We need to do something about the abuse of filibusters.” Look up the history of the filibuster. It
      was designed so that the minority party would not be held hostage to the
      majority party. It used to be that someone would get up on the floor of the Senate
      and speak until he could speak no more. Today they have taken the discomfort
      out of the filibuster and allowed for a 60% vote instead of a REAL filibuster.

      “OWS is the beginning of a Revolution.  We are mad as hell and aren’t going to take
      it anymore.  The 1% should be quaking in
      their overpriced shoes.”                        OWS is a bunch
      of “useful idiots” that have no idea what they want other than redistribution
      of wealth or “Income Equality” as the new phrase is, I believe. They are being
      used as a tool of the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderburg Group to further
      the agenda of One World Government. Rebranding the concepts does not hide the
      intent of the plan. If you are holding rock in your hand, calling it an
      apple does not make it true; it is still a rock.

      “We also need a third party – THE PROGRESSIVES!!!!  A popular poll cited by Cenk on The Young
      Turks, (Current TV) states that the majority of Americans are in favor of
      anything politically labeled “Progressive”. 
      It could happen!”                                                                   You are obviously
      not a student of History. You can start your education by looking up the (Progressive)
      “Bull Moose Party” that was started by Teddy Roosevelt in the early 1900’s. He
      ran as a third party candidate and lost to the Democrat (progressive) Woodrow
      Wilson. President Wilson started many projects back then like the Federal
      Reserve Bank system, direct election of Senators, Federal Trade Commission Act,
      the Clayton Antitrust Act, the Federal Farm Loan Act and the Progressive Income
      Tax. Some of these programs sounded good, but the intent and result of them
      were evil. Look them up and make your own decision.


      “But you know, we haven’t even touched the tip of the
      iceberg until Wall Street is held accountable. 
      Take your money out of the bank and put it in a Credit Union.  Maybe if enough of us temporarily stop paying
      taxes we will have some influence.”                                          Wall
      Street is not the problem, it is the Federal Reserve System that has gotten out
      of control. Ron Paul is correct in his statement that it should be undone, or
      at the very least have its wings clipped. Any entity that is answerable to the
      Congress and the Congress is not doing its due diligence to keep it under
      control should not be in existence or have the power greatly curtailed because
      they are using the power that Congress gave them to “coin money” without
      restraint and devalue the dollar. Things are not more valuable today than they
      were 5 years ago, the value of the dollar is less and the prices have gone up
      to match the new relative worth of the dollar.

      • gretal’s breadcrumbs

        How much are you willing to forgive? Is a Viet Naam Vet a bad guy? We need to stop asking for perfect and accept that life throws you curves. This is our curve. What are we going to do. If the lobbiests want to give me money, I’m  going to ask ” what did I do to become a prostitute?

        • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/BLL2GKJDINNDZZIYHK54CRB2WU sickofitinca

          No a Vietnam Vet is not a bad guy or a baby killer nor should they be subjected to being spit upon by protesters at an airport after coming home from doing their duty.

          I AM A VIETNAM VET!! I proudly served and got all of the above when returning.

          I take your Vietnam Vet comments personally and do NOT forgive the people that spit on me. I hope that there is no more Vietnam questions and forgiveness on your mind. I think I have adequately answered them all.

          • Terry Tree Tree

            Thanks for your service, fellow vet, male or female. 
               Most in the public, that opposed the war, got it WRONG!  President Johnson, and Congress, sent you there!  You took and kept an Oath, that Congress did not keep!

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CRTBVXTQSOPGLVECV6HA3NYJZA MoniqueDC

      Elsbeth, each state elects two senators.   Senators are not determined by the size of the state’s population.  I agree with you on many of your statements, but think you would have more credibility if you would study up on the basics.

  • Ruddyscot

    easiest thing to do?  limit the TIME the campaigns can run.  Currently it’s 11 months , from Iowa until election day.  How about a 90 limit– even with a lot of money, there is not that much air time to purchase.

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    How about we put their pay raises to a national referendum. We can handle that. How do you start? Vote everyone of them out. We can do that too. How about term limits, that would stop most of it. I don’t know about you, but the let us eat cake stuff has to stop. A few more years of this crap and we’ll be crying for Kim Young Who.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/BLL2GKJDINNDZZIYHK54CRB2WU sickofitinca

      There is NO national referendum procedure and should not ever be. It is the road to anarchy. if you do not like the representation that you are getting vote the bum out. It is that simple.

      Term limits would be under the perview of the Constitutional Amendment procedure. That precedure is started in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Do you think that any of the Senators or Representatives will vote to curtail their own power? Run it by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and see how far you get.  Good luck on that one!!

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    Reagan declared that Theresa Heinz sold vegetables, shall we return to that?

  • Joy Arnrold

    If only everyone would listen to this conversation.  In central Kentucky, of all places (and I’d love to know who Jim from Hazard is), we have organized an affiliate of Move to Amend, pushing for the Constitutional amendment route, but supporting all efforts to cure the problem.  We will meet to plan our January 20 commemoration of the Citizens United decision on Jan. 7, not because the problem started with CU, but because that got the public’s attention.  Join us at the Federal Court House on Barr St in Lexington at 11:00 on Friday the 20th.  Thank you Prof. Lessig and Tom!  Love the show!

    • Guest

      Are you going to have a way for those of us quite a distance away to dial in…that sounds very interesting!

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    Is Mitt for sale?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CRTBVXTQSOPGLVECV6HA3NYJZA MoniqueDC

      Clearly, he is.

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    Let them campaign as much as they want, that’s how you know how much work they are doing. They become the woman that protest too much, huh, knewt.

  • Brian

    My high school civics teacher said it right in 1987!  The only reason anyone gets elected is to make money.  That’s it.  The golden rule in America is simple.  “the one with the gold, makes the rules”

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/BLL2GKJDINNDZZIYHK54CRB2WU sickofitinca

      Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes
      her laws.

      Mayer Amschel Rothschild

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    My Dad said the man with the most money wins. Wins what? A Fancy funeral? Quality of life counts. He had a good life.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/BLL2GKJDINNDZZIYHK54CRB2WU sickofitinca

    One of the best ways I can think of to fix a lot of the corruption is to repeal the 17 Amendment that allows direct election of Senators. There are many critics of the Seventeenth Amendment claim that by altering the way senators are elected, the states lost any representation they had in the Federal government and that this led to the overextension of Federal power and the rise of special interest groups and lobbyists to fill the power vacuum previously held by state legislatures. Concerns have also been raised about the power of governors to appoint temporary replacements to fill vacant senate seats, both in terms of how this provision should be interpreted and whether it should be permitted at all. If the Senators were elected by the legislatures of the States the Senators could be recalled by the legislature if they were doing a bad job or not doing the bidding of the State. The State legislatures could also be held accountable by the people that elect them if they thought that the legislature had done a poor job selecting a Senator. This would lead to MORE power for the electorate rather than less.

  • AMR

    Your plan sounds great, but as with any plan to limit money’s influence, how would this change ever get passed?  Wouldn’t big money simply nip it in the bud?

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    We also have the right to form a militia against our enemies. It sucks when the government becomes that enemy.

    People take this to heart, there has to be a less invasive way;. we have a vote.

  • guest

    It’s horrific enough to know that our political system has been taken over by the wealthy minority who call the shots; what few understand is, that the justice system, including local courts have also been corrupted by these same few. As such, much in the same way our government no longer represents the rest of us, our liberties and pursuit of justice has been destroyed. 

  • Brian in Brooklyn

    Taking it to the state level won’t work.  The corruption goes that deep.  
    Take away the ability to make money as a congressperson, and you will solve the issue.

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    It’s been a long time coming. How come the kids get to go to war. Old question. Is that what old school is based on?

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    It all goes back to education, huh? Now how good is that? WE should all get a Harvard level education, then maybe we’ll have the brains to out do knewt.

  • David

    Why does Lessing keep referring to a left/right dichotomy? The right is no more interested in a free market than the left. The majority of Republicans voted for those horrendous bank and car company bailouts as the Democrats did. It is libertarians who are the most vocal in stating what Lessing says: That this is not a free market so long as corporations can use the government to pass laws in their favor to cut out competition (and to bail them out when they fail. Bailing out an incompetent business defeats the whole point of a free market).

  • David

    Why does Lessing keep referring to a left/right dichotomy? The right is no more interested in a free market than the left. The majority of Republicans voted for those horrendous bank and car company bailouts as the Democrats did. It is libertarians who are the most vocal in stating what Lessing says: That this is not a free market so long as corporations can use the government to pass laws in their favor to cut out competition (and to bail them out when they fail. Bailing out an incompetent business defeats the whole point of a free market).

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    Read Slaves in the Family, the Ball Family History. We’ve been here before.

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    Read Slaves in the Family, the Ball Family History. We’ve been here before.

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    Libertarians are great, if they would give up the self destruction.

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    Libertarians are great, if they would give up the self destruction.

  • Rosumasa

    As citizens and voters, we are all indebted to Dr. Lessig for so cogently framing the problem of money in politics, of which many among us were aware, and outlining some approaches to solve it. While the approaches he describes – clean money, small contributions, “democracy vouchers” – are all helpful and, if broadly applied across the country, would go a long way to mitigate the problem, they only address the problem of the role of money in elections. Unfortunately, the issue is far larger, as recent research on the trading activities and wealth accumulation of members of Congress – on both sides of the aisle – indicates. As shameful and insidious to our representative democracy as this constant pandering for campaign support is, it pales in comparison to the way the American public is being systematically ripped off by members of Congress trading on inside information provided by those same lobbyists who grease the election wheels. Presidents are required to place their assets in blind trust for the length of their tenure. We ought to require the same of our senators and representatives. At least then the playing field for the st of us investing for our 401k
    , 403b or 529 will be more level.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      ‘W’ ‘made’ a LOT of money off his ‘blind’ investments!  Anyone check them, to see how many ‘blind’ investments  of that admin. MADE money off the wars, or their support?

  • Thomas O’Brien

    We are sandwiched between two inert political entities that respond to their own interests, to the interests of globalized capitalism, and to the pressures of the pentagon. Serving those interests does not converge with meeting the people’s needs. We are out of the loop of power and instead caught in the noose we have allowed them to ensnare us in. We need to speak to our power through building a third party – a party comprised of the people. We can stop giving our power away. 

    This was a post I had on Facebook last week.  It is not identical to Professor Lessig’s theory but in the ballpark.  If a peon like myself is (and has been for years) onto the chicanery than I suspect most people are.  How do we own our power in a collective manner is my question.   I am interested in finding out more about Americans Elect 2012 which is about direct selection of a third party candidate online.  An awful lot of Financial Advisors are amongst their organizers which triggers my skepticism.  However, they offer a panel of 240+ questions with demographic breakdowns of responses after you submit your response.  There are 9 broad issues covered in the questionnaire.  They have a process for eventually electing a candidate.

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    When are you going to give up special interests and fight your own battles? Vote for gods sake.

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    If we are a welfare mother’s society, we can only blame our weak hearts.

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    if you are sick of ca where you gonna go, Mars?

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    Maybe CA is Backman’s backbone.

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    Ok Ca my dad built your weapons because he was 4f. got a bitch?

  • Michael

    One important issue that needs to be considered is the difference in standards between the US and other western democracies. In other western countries, people don’t put up with solicitation calls, frequent interruptions of TV shows by commercials OR private financing of political campaigns. In Western Europe, any public campaign funded by a corporation would automatically lose credibility. What are the reasons for these differences?

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    Now who won Lyndons war, was George any smarter?

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    Enjoying your cake? Now, who gets the guiotine next? Jay leno joke, pardon me.

  • Concerned Canadian

    Perhaps NPR should explore how that great non-entity to the north of the USA is governed. Not perfect, but it may be a reasonable compromise. We Canadians tend to understate.

    Unfortunately one of Canada’s most important and popular leaders, Jack Layton, of the New Democratic Party of Canada, passed away last summer. His presence in the Canadian parliament, leading Canada’s official opposition party, might have had an impact on the USA, particularly with the debate that has been sparked by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

    • Jasona19762003

      One thing you Canadians need to learn is to STOP slaughtering baby seals.

      • Nephyr2001

        Jasona, again, you are not adding to the conversation.  Imagine the long list of things you could say the US “need to learn”.    You are not fostering a conversation, but persisting in destructive putdowns.    Consider another perspective, please.

        • Jasona19762003

          Are you in charge of this site? If not, MYOB.  See above.

          And to Canadian barbarians, stop slaughtering baby seals.

    • TweedleDumDee
  • Guest

    Money in politics is corrupting, but only because political power is so concentrated.  Early American writers described seeing the president walking on the grounds of the White House.  Now we cloister our politicians and they will only hold a “Town Hall Meeting” under threat of a re-election campaign…and even then, they generally make sure that the room is packed with supporters.  I don’t think that the authors of the Constitution intended for such a concentration of power that is so easily bought and sold.  If you look at the number of constituents per senator or congressman now vs when the constitution was written, it is clear that we have been concentrating power just as we needed to be diluting it.  When the Constitution was written, there were no giant multinational corporations with the deep pockets necessary to corrupt our government.  Industrialization concentrated wealth and we needed to dilute political power in response to preserve our democracy…we did the opposite and it got us where we are today. 

    We need a Constitutional Convention.  Nearly every modern democracy has undergone such reconfiguration.  As true as this may be, it is virtually impossible with Washington in its current state.

  • gretal’s breadcrumbs

    Somebody has to occupy wall street. They are the zombies.

  • TAM5CD

     Mr. Lessig is absolutely correct – the political system in the U.S. has been corrupted by money.  He’s not alone in reaching this conclusion.  See William Greider’s book “Come Home, America” for another viewpoint.  Greider says our salvation will be through greater involvement of the citizenry.  I think the Occupy Wall Street movement is an important sign of that involvement.

    Leroy L. Hamilton, Ph.D.
    Silver Spring, Maryladn

    • Jasona19762003

      You just realized this fact?

      • Nephyr2001

        not a helpful comment, Josana.   Too condescending.

        • Jasona19762003

          Are you in charge of this site? If not, MYOB.

  • http://www.thecommonlot.com/ David Grant

    I was disappointed by the fact that nothing said goes fully to the ROOT. 
    Consider: It is accepted as democratic
    when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they
    are filled by election. – Aristotle,
    Politics, Book IV

    “{a legislature} should be an exact
    portrait, in miniature, of the people at large, in as it should
    think, feel, reason, and act like them.” – John Adams  
    Consider: “The government ought to possess not only, first, the force, but
    secondly, the mind or sense of the people at large. The legislature ought to be
    the most exact transcript of the whole society.” — James Madison
    Please see http://www.TheCommonLot.com to see how a truly representative democracy can be achieved. Something the Tea Party, the Occupy Movement and all of us could agree to.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Draper/100002477566231 Jim Draper

    Man, that studio looks awfully sterile.   But the show was a hit!

  • Mark S.

    I’m sorry, but in the wake of Citizen’s United, which made a horrible milieu of political prostitution several orders of magnitude worse, I believe that our system is irredeemably corrupt. There is little hope that it will ever be a system that places the wider, societal good above the interests of the 1 percent, the corporations and the oligarchs who have taken control of our political culture. I will continue to shuffle zombie-like to the polls to vote for the lesser of two or more evils, but I have completely lost all faith in our system. In fact, I feel I owe a debt of gratitude to the political whorehouse that is Washington, D.C. for unmasking what has likely been the reality of our system since the beginning. At least my blinders are off… The game is over. This is the way it’s going to be from now on. The hallowed American system of “democracy” is a sham that exists of the corporatists and war profiteers, by the corporatists and war profiteers, and for the corporatists and war profiteers. Deal with it…

  • Jmkimmel

    I have an excellent congressman (Mel Watt) and having contributions capped would encourage more people to support their rep. A constitutional convention worries me, however.

  • Concerned Citizen

    This was a wonderful show–I agree with an earlier comment that the issue is too important to let go with just a single show.  Bring Professor Lessig on again in two months;  let’s hear about what happened at the Move to Amend affiliate in Kentucky; keep the conversation going.

  • convention

    Prf. Lessig advocates calling a constitutional convention.   But he has failed to address the crucial question:   What could be done to prevent such a convention from being hijacked by people proposing all kinds of poison-pill amendments?   E.g., one of the commenters in this same series is among those who advocate repealing the 17th Amendment and going backward to having U.S. senators elected by state legislators instead of by direct popular vote.   Article V says that Congress “shall [I.e., it must, so it makes no sense for Congress to be required to do so.] call a convention for proposing amendments…”, but it leaves completely open the question of whether the various amendments that might thus be proposed would need to be ratified as a bundle or individually.   I wonder who would decide that?   My guess is that the (incompetent/corrupt/sinister) Supreme Court would decide it.

  • Karl Blasius

    Its true the system is corrupted by money, but that is only because it has been corrupted by (extra-constitutional) power already.  The government got into the business of handing out big favors to the influential and wealthy through engaging in great wars, passing the federal income tax, and creating numerous federal departments and agencies with lots of cash to dole out and an infinite potential for mischief.  Only by drastically reducing the scope of the federal government and restoring intended constitutional limits will the monied interests lose interest in buying favors. 

    The Professor’s solution will likely make the current problem worse.  Guaranteed tax funding for incumbents and suppression of criticism by PACs, etc. will give politicians cover to exploit opportunities for revolving door “employment” and special “favors” for friends and family.  These corruptions of the present system are conveniently ignored by the Professor.

    • daytonohioguy

      karl, thats a good point.  i think, however, that it is somewhat throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  there will always be a certain amount of corrupt behavior, we can’t eliminate it completely.  but we can restructure our system so that it is unusual and low-grade.

      lessig argues that if we publicly fund elections, and contributions are capped at small-dollar amounts, then we’ll have a far greater confidence that the ppl we elect are there to work on behalf of the population at large instead of a few superrich entities.  and yes, in theory, an industry/corporation could still approach a sitting politician and promise him a sweetheart no-show six figure position after he leaves office IF he votes a certain way on a certain bill, but that’s after his election to office.  and since lessig’s plan would drastically reduce industry’s ability to control who gets in there in the first place, then we’d only be worrying about the occasional surprise sell-out and not (as we have now) industry shills who actively curry industry’s favor from the first nanosecond after they decide to throw their hat into the ring.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think his proposal is a good idea.  Enough people would back a constitutional amendment declaring that corporations are not people and that money is not speech.  This would be easier to pass by Congress and the states than would a $50 plan. 
    The constitutional convention would open the door to chaos and would quickly be taken over by people trying to ban abortion, gay marriage, supporting school prayer, etc. 
    Even if it passed, many people only vote in the general election, so would they just give their $50 to the presidential nominee?  General election v. primary?  It would hardly be fair for Obama to get $50 from each of his supporters if a Romney supporter gave his $50 during the primaries (or the reverse as historically Democratic primaries tend to last longer).  If the $50 needs to be allocated, how many disinterested voters are going to sort through all the candidates.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Good analysis of the problems of a good-sounding idea!

  • http://www.dogoodgauge.org The Do Good Gauge

    Lawrence Lessig elegantly describes the problem and hints at a couple solutions.  It wasn’t a single event nor contribution which got us to the point where citizens are no longer represented.

    No single solution will reverse the situation.  The problem can only be widdled down through many many civic engagements with a sincere goal for civic virtue.

    Lessig describes the problem.   I guarantee you thousands are calling him and sending him email wishing to participate with their idea to engage in civic virtue.   Lessig will fail to connect the passion of these individuals.  Just like all existing forms of public media fails to connect the citizens.  Our communication model has evolved from solitude, though it remains stagnant in the one to many channel of thought.   The problem is not our congressman.   The solution may have less to do with money than the fact that communication has not evolved to support a many-to-many form of understanding and solution. 

    Look at this blog.   Is there any collaboration going on here or is everyone clamouring to their perspective?  Is there any hints of solution drawing participation to move a thought to actuality?  No I don’t think so.

    The current form of media should be blamed as much as Lessig’s suggestion for the demise of representation.  The one to many channelling of thought ignores the voices of the citizens and provides little opportunity with those having similar passion to join forces to engage in civil solutions.

    • Anonymous

      Part of the problem with this blog was the change in format.  The old format was one long conversation.  Now it is fragmented as people respond to individual posts.  More tangents are created and it gets nastier as the responses are written to specific people more than staying in a general discussion of the topic.

      • http://www.dogoodgauge.org The Do Good Gauge

        J_o_h_n, I don’t mean to point fingers at this blog.  It is one of the best I’ve ever frequented. The problem with the technology is the inability to channel the energy of the community in a constructive manner.  Forums such as this allow civil propositions to quickly disappear in the depths of chatter.  Too much energy is focused on one-upmanship in defense of a favourite brand or team. 

        A forum should not propagate a single ideology, it should promote diversity and steer those with commonality of cause to work together to articulate a thought more acceptable to many.

    • Anonymous

      “Lessig will fail to connect the passion of these individuals.  Just like
      all existing forms of public media fails to connect the citizens.  Our
      communication model has evolved from solitude, though it remains
      stagnant in the one to many channel of thought.   The problem is not our
      congressman.   The solution may have less to do with money than the
      fact that communication has not evolved to support a many-to-many form
      of participation, understanding, and solution.”

      That’s a great piece of analysis, TDGG.  You’re onto something and I wish you’d write more about it.  We’re sitting here right now in a great many-to-many electronic forum — the web and NPR.  How can we use ‘em better?

      • http://www.dogoodgauge.org The Do Good Gauge

        Thank you Praire_W.  The following link provides explanation.  If there are any graphic artist out there, I’m a charity case needing help storyboarding The Process section of the research proposal. 

        What is the Do Good Gauge?

        • http://markhobbs.net/ Mark

          I might be interested in helping you sir.

          • http://www.dogoodgauge.org The Do Good Gauge

            Thanks Mark.  I have some thoughts for the storyboard, though I’m open to the direction of others.   Let’s take the conversation offline.  The contact link on DGG website provides my email address.

  • RChicago

    I don’t see any difference between left and right – they are both cut from the same cloth – enslaved to corporations and the rich who support their campaigns. I think this will be the first time I’m going to vote for someone not with these parties.

    I also don’t bother to debate with people anymore about politicians because I don’t know anyone in the .2% so basically it’s pointless to discuss politics – I’m not represented and neither are most average people.

    I voted for Obama in the last election, but then I saw his campaign contributors I then realized why nobody went to jail during the whole banking melt down. He owes his election to the banks so he can’t turn around and bite the hand that feeds him.

    I would rather vote for my cat for president than any of these people – although I’m hoping to find a sane/logical human who isn’t bought and paid for in the next election and they will get my vote.

    • TweedleDumDee

      Do something.

      “Libertarians like Ron Paul are on our side on civil liberties. They’re on our side against the military-industrial complex. They’re on our side against Wall Street. They’re on our side for investor rights. That’s a foundational convergence,” he exhorts. “It’s not just itty-bitty stuff.” 

      -Ralph Nader


      • Mark

        I agree, however his foreign policy is dangerous. He is basically an isolationist. Bringing troops home is great, of course, but when you want to close all bases and bring EVERYONE home, imagine the turmoil around the world (obviously the Middle East), let alone the unemployment that would run rampant when you just put millions out of work. He’s got the right ideas, they just need top be built upon and done the right way.

        And for me…he’s against abortion rights. Can’t vote for someone who doesn’t believe in the right to choose.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      What is your cat’s name, and which primaries is she/he registered in/

      • RChicago

        I will let you know when he gets registered! I think he could do just as good of a job, although I will have to make sure he doesn’t get corrupted by treat contributions. Every mammal has their weakness.

    • Foo

      I’m completely with you on that. I have voted Dem for every election since I was able to vote, and I’m done. Both parties are truly horrid and I refuse to vote for either of them. Thinking of doing a write in candidate or one of the third parties.

    • http://profiles.google.com/elw0214 Elaine Williams

      You are so right about that.  I too came to the same sad conclusion.  Obama took Wall Street money (bribe) for his re-election campaign so there is no way any of the fraudsters who helped put our economy in the toilet will ever see any jail time. 

  • Jasoturner

    Delightful.  The guy writes a manifesto to save our country from monied interests, and you can only buy said manifesto in costly hardcover edition.  Too bad, because I would like to have a copy both for myself, and to share.  Wait for the library I guess.

    • KLKjuno


      • Jasoturner

        Like I have money for a Kindle.  I’m in the 99% baby!

        • http://profiles.google.com/elw0214 Elaine Williams

          They’ve come way down in price.

  • TweedleDumDee

    ACLU Report Card Puts Ron Paul Above President Obama!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrAXfIdRqmU

  • W A Caldwell

    This was the best On Point I’ve heard in months, a razorsharp analysis in stark terms of just how far we have fallen, how completely under the spell of big money and corporate greed our goverment is, how money pulls the strings that control the puppets we call legislators – thank you for an epiphany!  Lessig, and your show, pulled it all into sharp focus and made it seem so, well, obvious.  Super Pacs dishing out dirt and “unattributable” negative ads indeed, we have witnessed the turning of our once-middle-class-based democracy into a plutocracy.  Keep up the good work. – Bill Caldwell, Hull, MA.

  • elliiott

    Everyone in Massachusetts who listened to this program should email it to our state senators, John Kerry and Scott Brown and Governor Deval Patrick. MA should be the first state to vote in publicly funded campaign contributions and make corporate contributions illegal.

    • mary

      And public unions also.

      • PrincipleNotPolitics

        Especially in Massachusetts…union corruption trumps corporate greed.

    • http://reinventing-america.blogspot.com/ ulTRAX

      As a Progessive who knows the current system stacks the deck against third parties, why would I want my tax dollars supporting the two existing parties? The reforms must be deeper than just financial! We need to move to proportional representation at least for one chamber, so if the Greens or Libertarians get 10% of the vote, they get 10% of the seats. We should also institute an instant runoff voting for executive positions.   

  • Shirley79

    This is a must listen for everyone who cares about the future of this country.

  • WK

    What a terrific show!  I found Lawrence Lessig so rational and convincing.  I can’t wait to listen to more of the information presented at the Sept 2011, Harvard Conference on the Constitutional Convention http://conconcon.org/archive.php.  This is the kind of political debate and problem solving that I’m drawn to – looking forward to reading his book.  We are so lucky to have NPR and such information at our disposal – now all we have to do is act on it.

  • http://reinventing-america.blogspot.com/ ulTRAX

    I hate to say Lawrence Lessig is naive, but I must. Yes money in politics DOES need to be curbed. But under our system we could have:

    100% public financing of elections

    100% voting age participation in elections

    100% vote count accuracy and we’d still have

    5% of the population able to prevent any constitutional reforms

    18% of the population with a majority in the Senate

    Gerrymandering where a party can get 70% of the Congressional seats with 51% of the state vote

    A electoral system that instead of representing the Voice of The People contorts it to fit into a Two Party straightjacket…
    Etc etc.

    The defects in our political/electoral systems go far beyond money. The very anti-democratic nature of our system makes it self-corrupting. Liberals like  Lessig seem ideologically incapable of fully critiquing our system and instead focus on symptoms instead of the problem itself.  

    • http://reinventing-america.blogspot.com/ ulTRAX

      How neglectful of me… I forgot to add that under our current system we can have all the reforms listed above and a candidate REJECTED by the People can still be imposed upon the nation by an unelected Star Chamber called the EC.

      I maintain it’s the anti-democratic nature of our system that disgusts citizens to the point we’re near the bottom of “democratic” nations in citizen participation in elections. Once the People don’t care, the special interests fill the vaccuum.

      • http://www.dogoodgauge.org The Do Good Gauge

        Totally agree with the last paragraph.  The people need something beyond the current system and existing politicians.

        In many ways politics is a game. It’s a competition. The republic of the United States has created a game where a citizen passively watches as a spectator. Allowing the public to compete will provide a motivational opportunity. A new game will require changes in the rules and the development of public arenas for civic engagement.

  • Georgie Girl

    Joy Arnrold mentions a Move to Amend event at the Federal Court House in Lexington Kentucky planned for Friday January 20th.  I knew there was one planned in Boston at that time and checked the Move to Amend Website.  There are many of these events planned across the nation, so if you are interested in participating, visit the site.  Find a rally near you or create your own with their help and guidance.

  • SteveT

    Lessig’s key point that
    campaign financing is at the core of our current political dilemma is
    compelling. However, in addition to eliminating corruption, we need to overhaul
    the legislative process because it:

    -       Lacks transparency;

    -       Doesn’t allow sufficient participation by ordinary citizens;

    -       Is too slow to keep pace with the challenges we face as a nation.


    If we ran our government more
    like a business, taxpayers would be majority shareholders and under-performing
    members of Congress would be out of a job. Public participation in the
    legislative process doesn’t necessarily equate to mob rule by ill-informed,
    easily manipulated individuals.


    One solution might be to
    randomly recruit a forum of the public and industry experts for temporary paid
    legislative assignments. These Citizen Legislators could have significant
    responsibilities such as:

    -       In-depth analysis of socioeconomic issues;    

    -       Policy recommendations and proposals for solutions;

    -       Scrutiny of existing government programs;

    -       Drafting of legislation and referendums;

    -       Direct participation in legislative decision-making.


    Despite the rallying cry of the
    Occupy Wall Street movement, most of us continue to believe there’s little we
    can do to end big-money control of our political system. Ironically, while
    we’re outraged by the unconstrained power of lobbyists and inability of our
    representatives in Washington to accomplish anything worthwhile,
    we’ve witnessed political uprisings in the Middle East proving that the public
    is capable of upending the status quo once enough citizens recognize that they
    have the power to prevail against corruption and incompetence. Why not here in
    the US?

    • Terry Tree Tree


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  • Pdevos4

    great show !!!!!

  • Loyal Listerner

    Thank you for starting the new year which such an enlightening and relevant show.   “We the people” really need to understand and act upone Lawrence Lessig’s analysis to prevent having our republic turned into an Oligarchy.

  • Growin

    Great show, but the trouble started before Lessig states. Check out this article from The WSJ in 1999, and pay attention to the last paragraph. There would not be so much money to throw around if there had not been allowed such a large concentration of power through deregulation.

  • Growin
  • Growin

    Sorry again…too early and too many articles read…that is NOT the WSJ, but still worth reading for the predictions made about the deregulation.  There were warnings about what would happen, but the big money interests manipulated things to their favor as Lessig talks about. 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/karis17 Karis Heffner

    I haven’t listened to the show yet, I just have a comment on the picture.  I’ve been in that office.  McConnell’s Chief of Staff graduated from my high school, and so on a trip to DC a couple years ago she took a class of us up to see it.  How did those people get in there? There are so many security check points and you have to be with someone who has clearance, not to mention the secretaries that you pass that would notice a large group of people that don’t fall into the suits and dress shoes crowd that populates the Capitol.  I’m rather impressed that they managed to weave through the confusing maze of the Capitol successfully to camp out in an office.

  • Hapyft3714


    Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to lie. TV ads
    showing a candidate sipping tea on a porch with seniors; reassuring them that
    social security would be safe with him. But then voting the party line;
    twisting facts, using buzzword and false labels, are examples of dishonesty
    that we tolerate but we could eliminate. Think about the impact the politics
    has on the psyche of our nation, our children; its’ no wonder the problems we
    have after watching the examples politicians provide.

    The “people” mentioned in the constitution have been
    cut out of government. There are no common people in the government because of
    the wealth necessary to run for office. This limits our selection; quality
    people come from all walks of life, but we end up with egocentric narcissists. Now
    I’m not knocking wealthy people I know a lot of wealthy people, good people, a
    few I would consider sensible, trustworthy and unwavering enough for public
    office; those people don’t need or want public office. Campaign reform is the
    way to bring decency back to politics. We know how corporate lobbyists
    influence government and the time politicians spend raising money and then the
    favors they owe. Wealth is not a quality necessary for public office. Wealth
    does not insure honesty or character, or even wisdom; our elected officials
    constantly prove that. Some would have us living as paupers in a Dickens Novel.
    We know that good souls come from all walks of life. I even know some
    saintly      lawyers but, Lawyers
    dominate our government; that is a total conflict of interest that perpetuates
    the status quo and can not represent the majority. Experts are great to consult
    but it’s like having engineers writing instructions on how to put up a ceiling
    fan; they just complicate the process because they see things in a certain
    perspective. Government gets in the way of small business not by taxes but by
    laws that give big business big advantages. Jobs are not created by money they
    are created by ideas, a system that limits participation limits ideas.

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Aug 29, 2014
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Aug 28, 2014
Photos surround the casket of Michael Brown before the start of his funeral at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.  (AP)

The message that will last out of Ferguson with New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb.

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