Federal Politics

Published — February 29, 2012 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Lawrence Lessig on campaign finance reform: Overturning ‘Citizens United’ isn’t enough

Emma Schwartz/Center for Public Integrity

Expert believes high court will reverse ruling, not fix problems with election system

Introduction

In contrast with many other campaign finance reformers, Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig believes fixing the U.S. election system will require more than just overturning the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission Supreme Court ruling, which removed many restrictions on independent political spending.

Reversing this flood of political cash would be enough to satisfy most reformers, but not Lessig, who spoke last week at the Center for Public Integrity offices in D.C. Overturning the ruling “terrifies” him, he said, because “it imagines somehow that on January 20, 2010 – the day before Citizens United was decided – our democracy was fine and Citizens United broke it. But of course, the democracy was already broken.”

Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center on Ethics at Harvard, is concerned that if the decision is quickly repealed, it will take the wind out of an effort he’s leading to achieve a more comprehensive overhaul of the election system. Then activists “will have gotten nothing out of this moment when there’s an extraordinary anger and frustration that could be channeled in the direction of real reform,” he said.

The changes Lessig is advocating for, which include but are not limited to the eventual reversal of Citizens United, are outlined in two recent books on campaign finance. He would like to see elections funded by a mix of public and limited, private donations, and a coordinated push by tea partiers, MoveOn.org, and the Occupy Wall Street crowd – a diverse cast he collectively refers to as “outsiders” – to root out the systemic corruption of Washington “insiders.”

Lessig elaborated where Washington went wrong and how to get it back on track during his presentation, the highlights of which are featured in this video by the Center’s Emma Schwartz.

After the speech, Lessig, who worked as a clerk for conservative Justice Antonin Scalia before becoming an academic, added that he was confident that Citizens United will soon be reversed by the high court.

“I think it’s quite likely Justice Kennedy is about to flip,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court justice who cast the deciding vote in the controversial 5-to-4 decision. Although Lessig cautioned that he had no inside information, he said Kennedy “is completely surprised by how much damage this decision has done – even Scalia doesn’t like the world where all the money in the world is on one side.”

Republicans, who have so far been the largest recipients of this influx of cash, have come to celebrate the new electoral landscape. As the Center has reported, it is dominated by powerful “super PACs,” – political action committees that can accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions, wealthy Americans – and nonprofit groups that can take unlimited cash from anonymous donors and spend half of the take on political activity.

These supposedly independent groups, many of which are run by longtime political operatives with close ties the candidates they are supporting, are legally forbidden from coordinating their political messages with campaigns. But these restrictions are tough to enforce and have been the subject of mockery by comedians like Stephen Colbert, who has launched his own super PAC.

In the political system reshaped by Citizens United, these rich, powerful, election-swaying groups are largely “funded by the tiniest slice of the 1 percent,” Lessig concluded. “And that suggests a problem.”

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SOUTH JERSEYTed SiroisMark SullivanTom LarkinAnonymous Recent comment authors
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Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
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CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
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George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
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j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

jan v
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jan v

all the lobbyists are running all our government agencies and all the career civil servants who know how to run the country have been fired. YOU think this is a good thing ? what a crock…

thomas alessi
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thomas alessi

I am for Trump

Martin Shellabarger
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J. Stevenson, what are you drinking? Trump has more lobbyists in his administration than probably any other president. Trump is totally “for sale”, and the corporations know it. Grow a brain!

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
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hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
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Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
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Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
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South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT

David
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David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.