Lessig 2016: Defining a Generation

In the Federalist Papers, published in 1778, James Madison called for a Congress “dependent on the people alone.” His generation sung a song of revolution whose refrain of Taxation Without Representation came to symbolize egregious overreaches by a corrupt monarch: currency, stamps, quartering soldiers, sugar, and of course: tea. Theirs was a government under siege.

Our Founding Fathers imagined, fought for and won a new legislature, a congress governed by the people, for the people.

Today the representative democracy our forefathers left us also lies under siege.

Not by an offshore monarchy, but by a pathological dependency upon money from special interests, corporations and the mega-mega-wealthy, who — through a system of legalized bribery (which Senator Elizabeth Warren calls “rigged”) — have created a dysfunctional, gridlocked government dependent not on the people alone, as Madison intended, but on the money alone.

So many issues about which we care so deeply — be they climate change, gun control, Wall Street, food safety, racial equality, a living wage, the tax code — end up in stalemates because of the towering influence wielded by massive campaign contributions from magnates and special interest groups. That systematic corruption, combined with the virtually limitless corporate spending enabled by Citizens United, has created a deeply unbalanced and divided country at odds with her own legislature. The 2% popularized by the Occupy Movement is not the problem; it’s the .0001%.

Money, functioning as quite literally the root of all evil, fundamentally stops any populist movement at odds with corporate interests in this country, ultimately benefiting the few hundred billionaires who run our plutocracy and kicking the other three-hundred million of us to the curb.

Ryan Borek, the Executive Director of Take A Stand PAC, estimates that congresspeople spend, on average, 31 hours a week fundraising, during which time “they must raise around $650 an hour to meet their goals for the next election.”

In the underrated and shockingly prescient movie Idiocracy, the Secretary of State says “brought to you by Carl’s Jr.” after nearly every sentence. Why? Because they pay him every time he says it. “It’s a good way to make money,” he claims, derisively, as if to ask, “Doesn’t everyone know that already?”

To address the corrupting influence of money in Washington, we don’t need another Carl’s Jr.-sponsored politician. We need nothing short of a trans-partisan — if not apolitical — revolution. We need the un-president, the Frodo Baggins president: a selfless reformer who takes power from the reigning authorities only to destroy it, for everyone’s benefit.

That is why I can say, with confidence, that:

Today’s Lawrence Lessig announcement is the defining moment of our generation.

I joined this movement’s tech team as a volunteer in January of this year, but I’ve been following Lessig’s work for the better part of twenty. In his latest book, Republic, Lost, he makes a compelling case for the Regent (or Trustee) President, now being called the “Referendum President.” The concept is simple: once significant campaign finance and voter equality reform has passed, the Referendum President promises to resign, leaving the vice president at the helm.

The historical mandate of the nation’s first “Referendum Candidate” has the power to end the endemic corrupting influence of money and return the government to its rightful purpose: to serve the people it governs.

Obviously, this won’t be easy. Many smart people have told me this idea is completely insane. I kindly invite naysayers to show me a better one.

In the meantime, I am humbly asking you to support this movement.

One of the great ironies of fighting against the corrupting influence of money is that it’s going to take money to win.

We’ve built a crowdsourcing platform upon which we intend to raise $1M by Labor Day, or else we will return all the contributions. We’re accepting small donations only (adhering to the federal per-person limits of $5,400). No corporate or PAC donations are allowed.

If you too feel that this idea’s time has come, please consider kickstarting the revolution by making a contribution. If that doesn’t feel possible, try to make it so. Every little bit counts. (Skip Starbucks and give Lessig five bucks?) This morning, after watching her dad work literally around the clock for nearly three days, my nine-year-old handed me $5. That’s half her weekly income. While I am touched by her support, this remains our problem to solve. If not for us, then for her generation and the generations to come.

Yes, we need money. But whether you are able to give or not, please help us get the word out by sharing this message.

I hope you’ll join me and the rest of Team Lessig in making ours the generation that fixes our broken government, leaving behind what Madison imagined and implored: a congress dependent not on big money, but on the people and the people alone.