A Harvard Professor Has a Genius Plan to Get Money Out of Politics and Take Back Our Democracy


The problem: In just six months, we'll be creating a new Congress. And this time, with recent Supreme Court cases allowing more money to pour into politics than ever before, 2014 looks like it's going to break dark money records.

The solution? Enter May One, a super PAC designed to brawl with other super PACS on their own turf. Founded by Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig and asking for the public to give small donations, 100% of proceeds will go to candidates, with all overhead costs covered by the directors. Lessig wants to collect enough in small donations to create "fundamental reform" over the next two electoral cycles. He claims it's non-partisan and non-ideological and that the May One will support candidates on the basis of their commitment to reforming the electoral system and change the way elections are funded. From their website:

We want to reform the way campaigns are funded. As we see it, the critical problem in American politics today is that a tiny fraction of Americans are the effective, or relevant, funders of congressional campaigns. We want to spread that influence out, to include the widest number of citizens as the effective funders of campaigns.There are a range of proposals that would do this — some better than others, but all which would achieve fundamental reform. We have listed those at reform.to, and that list may evolve.But as a first step, any candidate for Congress who has pledged to co-sponsor one of these reforms will be safe from the Mayday PAC. At this point, we will only target candidates who have not committed to co-sponsoring fundamental reform.

"Our democracy is held hostage by the funders of campaigns. We're going to pay the ransom, and get it back," Lessig says in the launch video. "We want to build a super PAC big enough to end all super PACs."

"Yes, we want to spend big money to end the influence of big money. Ironic, I get it. But embrace the irony. Because with enough of us we can easily build a super PAC bigger and more effective than the super PACs of the billionaires."

So far, it's working. In just a few days, with hardly any publicity, they've managed to raise over $350,000 dollars with a short-term goal of $1 million.

But to start, Lessig established goals of $1 million, then $5 million, etc. They've also promised to match funds from someone with the cash to spare when they hit the goals, so that the first million will instantly become two. And if the money takes off as hoped, maybe people would realize that politics is a battle they can win. 

And to put thing in perspective, this Redditor did the math. It's pretty unrealistic to expect even a quarter of Americans to donate a dollar, but hey, let's see what May One can come up with:

The time is now: Lessig says it's critical this reform gets started soon.

"People say that's not realistic, that we ought to be thinking about 2020 or 2024. But my view is that if we don't challenge this reality right now, the super PAC system for electing representatives will become the new normal," he told BillMoyers.com. "It'll be accepted that 10,000 families in the United States fund our elections, and we'll just kind of resign ourselves to the kind of democracy where there is no true democracy."

"We need to interrupt the program, reset the balance, create a system where members of Congress are not obsessively focused on what the tiniest fraction of the 1% care about and go back to a democracy where, as Madison said, we'd have a Congress dependent on the people alone, and not the rich more than the poor."