The Blog

How Should We Get Big-Money Influence Out of Congressional Elections?

I and others will soon announce a large grassroots campaign aimed at channeling the amazing desire for change that Americans are feeling right now into tangible and fundamental reform of our political system.
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As many of you know, I've turned my central focus away from the issue covered in my recent books - the Internet and "free culture" - and turned it instead toward combating corruption in Congress.

I did this because we all have issues that we care about most, but progress will be stifled on every big issue until we solve the threshold problem: big-money interests having disproportional clout in our public debates.

Later this month, I and others will announce a large grassroots campaign aimed at channeling the amazing desire for change that Americans are feeling right now into tangible and fundamental reform of our political system.

Together, we will demand that politicians pass a law removing the power to fund congressional elections from the hands of special interests and put this power into the hands of regular people. (To be among the first to know about this new campaign, sign up here.)

This campaign will be led by Change Congress - the new organization I formed with Joe Trippi - and others in the reform community. But achieving this goal won't happen because of one person or organization; it will take all of us thinking through this problem together and then demanding big systemic change.

So, today, I'm asking for your help. Here are some questions that election reform advocates are pondering - can you think about them too and share your thoughts below? (I will join David Donnelly from Public Campaign Action Fund today in checking the comments below and responding to them. Please join the conversation.)

1) Reformers are considering a plan by which congressional candidates who raise a threshold number of small-dollar donations would qualify for a chunk of automatic funding - several hundred thousand dollars. If they accept this funding, they couldn't raise big-dollar donations. But they could still raise contributions up to a certain amount (such as $100 or $250), which would be matched several-times-over by the central fund, an incentive for politicians to opt into this system and focus on small-dollar givers. What do you think of this general framework?

2) Senators Dick Durbin and Arlen Specter sponsored a bipartisan bill last Congress that would make TV broadcasters pay a fee that would be the sole source of revenue for the central fund that candidates draw from. These broadcasters get access to our public airwaves for virtually free and make billions of dollars in revenue as a result. Under this scenario, no tax dollars would be used - eliminating the central talking point by reform opponents. What do you think about a fee on broadcasters to fund this reform?

3) "Public financing" was the old name for this issue - which would no longer be accurate if the Durbin/Specter proposal passed. And the name's not that good anyway. What do you think we should call this reform? Clean elections? People-powered elections? Citizen-funded elections? People-funded elections?

4) Barack Obama is on the record supporting the reform of presidential public financing. Some reformers want to pass presidential financing reform first, then pass a separate congressional bill down the road. Others want to merge the two bills and have one joint national debate. What do you think?

We won't pass any meaningful reform without a nationwide grassroots movement. And you are key to that movement getting off the ground. We need your brainpower in thinking about the policies we'll rally around. Then, we'll move forward together.

Can you think about the questions above and share your answers below? I look forward to reading your responses and responding.

Click below for Lawrence Lessig's keynote address on corruption at Netroots Nation 2008:

To stay in the loop with Change Congress, click here.