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Larry Lessig speaks at the Nantucket project on September 26, 2014. Meghan Brosnan

Larry Lessig Compares America's Democracy to Hong Kong's

Sep 27, 2014

Harvard Professor and liberal activist Larry Lessig continued a tour promoting his Mayday PAC at the Nantucket Project on Friday, suggesting America's democracy is about as open and fair as that of Hong Kong.

Lessig is creating what he calls “the super PAC to end super PACs,” and hopes to raise millions of dollars to promote eight pro-campaign finance reform candidates (five announced, three still to come) in this year’s midterm elections.

Lessig compared the current state of voting in America to Hong Kong, where students have been protesting a new policy that will allow a small fraction of the population to choose the primary candidates in elections, after which point the general population will be able to vote. In other words, as Lessig put it, “it’s a two-stage process with a filter at the first stage.” The same was true, he says, in the American South after the Civil War, when black citizens could technically vote—but not until after the white primaries determined their options.

American democracy is controlled by a tiny minority of moneyed funders, Lessig believes, much as New York politics were controlled by political bosses during the 19th century. He likened Super PACs’ impact on Congress to that of Boss Tweed, the nineteenth-century New York senator who said he doesn't “care who does the electing as long as I get to do the nominating.”

Lessig maintains that this is the same situation we find ourselves in today, pointing out that in 2012, 60% of Super PAC money came from just 132 donors.

To address major problems the country faces, such as environmental and tax reform, Lessig says reformers have to start with campaign finance, comparing the problem to alcoholism. “A guy could be losing his kidney, his liver and his wife, but he is not going to address any of those problems until he addresses his alcoholism.”

A people-funded Super PAC like Mayday, Lessig hopes, will work to elect a Congress dedicated to public funding of elections, thereby eliminating the power of Super PACs. Lessig says it will take fair-minded lawmakers from both parties to make publicly-funded elections a reality. Of the five candidates Lessig’s Mayday PAC is backing so far, three are Democrats, while two are Republicans. Of one, Rep. Walter Jones (R—N.C.), Lessig says, “He has lots of views that I find—I’m supposed to be polite here, right?—I find I don’t agree with. But Walter Jones has co-sponsored public funding of elections.”

And for Mayday, that’s all that matters.

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