Commentary

Stu Dowty at Justice Caucus workshop, Michigan Democratic Party State Convention March 2013

Stu Dowty at Justice Caucus workshop, Michigan Democratic Party State Convention Feb. 2013. Photo Chris Savage

Note:  All comments are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the policy or position of RECLAIM OUR AMERICAN DEMOCRACY (R.O.A.D.) FROM BIG MONEY.   If you wish to submit a commentary, or a response to one already posted,  send it to: reclaim.democracy@yahoo.com.  Comments are posted at the discretion of R.O.A.D. and its officers

 

 I Say It Ain’t So, Larry!  A “comradely” Response to Lawrence Lessig’s Announcement That He Wants to Run for President.  By Stuart Dowty,  8/14/15.

 

NOTE:  This opinion piece was originally published on Eclectablog on Aug. 14, 2015.  The blog posting includes a useful link to Lessig’s announcement and campaign webpage. CLICK HERE to read the original article in Eclectablog.

 

 

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 Lawrence Lessig’s feckless Presidential campaign — labeled a “referendum” vote on corruption of our political system by Big Money — lasted from mid-August, 2015 to Nov. 3, 2015.  We post the following articles, with contemporary analysis of the campaign, in the spirit of learning from our mistakes.

 

UPDATES, UPDATES:  Check the end of this article (scroll down) for updates, including links to various responses and commentary to Larry’s candidacy.   The list includes his speech to the New Hampshire state Democratic Convention on Sept. 19, 2015.  Then follow the sequence of these articles which describe the events leading to Lessig’s withdrawal of his candidacy. 

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Say It Ain’t So, Larry!

It’s a gimmick.

It’s a distraction.

It’s a waste of time, money, and attention.

It’s also a bit ego-centric.

Other than that, it’s ok.

Larry, I’m talking, of course, about your announcement that you want to run for President.  Here’s my response.

First, who am I to make such pronouncements?  See footnote 1, below.

Second, why should I care?  The short answer is: I don’t want our movement about money in politics (and there is such a “movement”, which is growing and learning as it develops) to waste time, money, energy and resources.  Detours are counter-productive.

Third, I don’t want to see one of the best and most effective leaders of this movement go down a political rabbit-hole. Don’t destroy your credibility.

Now, why do I think your idea actually is an unrealistic gimmick, incapable of producing the results you want, and other-wise counter-productive?

Let’s start with the scheme or “hack” as you call it. You seek and gain election, and then — after Congress miraculously (more on this later) adopts your proposals — you will step aside and an un-named Vice President will take over.

I have a few questions about this arrangement:

–just who is this Vice President going to be?

— how does this VP stand on other issues?

–who decides, and how is it decided, when the      conditions are met to trigger you resignation?

–what happens if Congress doesn’t pass what you want?

I doubt voters will consider voting for you until they have answers.  Saying you will deal with these issues later doesn’t cut it as a current response.

You are asking for money, resources, and my time, right now.  You should deal with these questions now.

I also doubt voters will buy into such a scheme in the first place.  It’s too vague, too unusual, and too unpredictable. Frankly, it’s simply too strange. It’s a big unknown.

Why did you put this temporary Presidency into your “hack” in the first place?  Why complicate things?  Strange, again.

NEXT: Do you really think folks will actually choose to vote for a President on one issue only?

I don’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree with you completely that ending the corruption of big money in the political system is fundamental to dealing with any of our political and social problems.

This is the issue that has been front and center in my political work for the past four years. I know the issue is key.

But the world is complicated. So is politics. There are a lot of other issues that need to be addressed. This is reality.

Our movement must deal with that reality, not deny it.

In coalition building it is not useful to tell others they must delay their efforts until we finish the agenda for campaign and electoral reform. We should employ strategies that work with, not against, other needed, progressive reforms.

Your presidential campaign will probably raise righteous issues. But your campaign, as proposed, looks like it will be a one-dimensional side-show in the larger Presidential arena.

Is it better to be part of the main show (as is, by the way,  your strategy to interject the money in politics issue in the New Hampshire primary through the New Hampshire Rebellion) or to be an ignored but politically pure side-show?  I’d rather have the former, however complicated and unpredictable it may be.

NEXT: Your proposed campaign in the Democratic primary is a change from your former posture on the cross-partisan nature of the corruption/democracy issues of big money in politics.  However limited cross-partisan efforts may have been so far in our movement, your choice now to put your campaign into one party’s primary closes the door to you working with the other.

You have repeatedly promoted bi-partisanship on this issue.  You frequently note how it polls across party lines.

Now, do you really think Republicans will support you as a Democrat in either the primary or general elections?

I don’t.

NEXT:  I used the term “miraculously” to describe your scheme’s approach to Congress. I used the term because I don’t see anything in your proposed candidacy that will impact Congressional elections.  Remember, in your strategy Congress must pass the legislation you propose before you resign.

It is highly unlikely the current Republican Congress would support such legislation. At this point it also looks like it is unlikely the 2016 elections will produce a significantly different Congress.  How are the necessary changes to the makeup of Congress to be accomplished?

Or do you think Congress will pass your proposals simply because you were elected?  Why?  Remember, there is an underlying problem with the influence of money in Congress.

Also, regardless of the makeup of Congress, there are serious questions about what it might or might not do.  It’s simply unknown.

Do you really think Congress will adopt the legislation because you, as President, propose it?  Or just because you won the election?

I don’t.

On this question, ask Pres. Obama what can happen.

Last year you organized a Congressional strategy through Mayday PAC. I supported Mayday PAC, financially and by phone-banking.  Organizationally ROAD promoted Mayday PAC’s endorsed candidate in Michigan’s 6th District.

Like most people I have limited resources and time. In 2016 what should my priority be, Mayday PAC or your candidacy?

Don’t just respond to this question by saying “both”.  My real point is the big picture.  How do your Mayday PAC and Presidential Campaign strategies relate to each other?  What should we do? Will the two groups compete for limited resources?

NEXT:  Speaking of “priorities”, I must comment on your dismissal of Bernie Sanders candidacy because he didn’t put this issue first in a list on a campaign document. (From Huffington Post, article by Sam Stein.)

Really?

With due respect, please deal with the substance of Bernie’s position on this issue, and please don’t depend on a superficial  and probably irrelevant order of placement on a list. Tell us — those whose support and money you are soliciting — what your real issues are with Bernie. And why.  BTW, on 8/11/15 a check of Bernie’s website showed an issues list with money in politics as #2. Does this make a difference?

On this issue you and Bernie should be working together.

LAST: You use an analogy to a “hack” as shorthand for your strategy.

I do not believe this issue can be solved by a “hack”.  I also think the term is confusing.

My dictionary includes several definitions for “hack”.  One definition is as programming language for a “reconciliation” of a fast development cycle and static language.  I assume you’re using the term in this sense and roughly use it here to mean a reconciliation or a fast procedure.

My estimate is that most voters do not use programmer’s language. They will be puzzled by the language. The term is frequently used to mean illegal or unauthorized entry into another person’s computer.  I’m sure you don’t intend this to represent your strategy.

But in response let me use another analogy: We’re engaged in a marathon, not a sprint.  The issues involved here are both complicated and dynamic (ie, they are constantly changing).

One “hack” in 2016, even if clever and successful, will not solve the problem of money in politics.

The problem of money in politics will persist. Similarly, our strategy to confront it must also continue and evolve.

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Fn.1:  Stuart Dowty is the Chair of Reclaim Our American Democracy (ROAD) Against Big Money.  ROAD, a grassroots group located in Washtenaw County, Michigan, works to end  the influence of big money in politics. (See ROAD’s Mission Statement at http://www.reclaimouramericandemocracy.com) Stu is a retired trial attorney. He also holds a MA degree in political science from Michigan State University.  After retiring from law practice Stu worked as a Deputy Supervisor for 3 years in local township government. A political activist since college days Stu also has served as Chair of the Washtenaw County Democratic Party. The opinions in this article are the authors and do not represent organizational views of ROAD.

 

 



MEDIA RESPONSE AND LESSIG UPDATES:

1. August 24, 2015:  Sam Seder, of the podcast Majority Report, contends that Lessig’s candidacy will harm Bernie Sander’s campaign. Start at 4:15m . 


Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann

2. August 26, 2015:  Thomas Mann, of the Brookings Institution and also the University of California, Berkley, posted a commentary accusing Donald Trump and Lawrence Lessig of “Dumbing Down American Politics”. He calls Lessig’s strategy a “fantasy plan” and “absurd”.  CLICK HERE for the article, which does contain substantive arguments for his colorful conclusions. 


Seth Masket

Seth Masket

3. August 31, 2015.  Seth Masket, Associate Prof. Political Science at University of Denver and  writing in Pacific Standard, titled his article “The Donald Trump of the Left” and in the subtitle asserted Lessig  “…may have the most distorted views of what the presidency is”.   He concludes Lessig’s “…whole campaign is a gimmick”.  CLICK HERE for the article.   Masket also authored a brief follow-up piece a week later.  CLICK HERE.


Andrew Prokop, Vox.com

Andrew Prokop, Vox.com

4. August 26, 2015.  Andrew Prokop, of Vox.com, reported that Lawrence Lessig stated that Bernie Sanders has been “seduced” by consultants and is “running a campaign to win, not to govern”.  If you wonder why Lessig has decided to conduct his own campaign in light of Bernie Sanders strong and consistent position on this issue, read this article.  CLICK HERE.


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5.  Sept. 2, 2015. Lawrence Lessig posted, on Huffington Post, a response to criticisms of his proposed presidential campaign, “The Question for My Critics”.  CLICK HERE.  See the comments, also.


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6. Sept. 9, 2015.   Lawrence Lessig formally announced his candidacy for President in Claremont, New Hampshire.  His announcement speech was posted on Huffington Post.  CLICK HERE.

 


7.  September 9, 2015.  Andrew Prokop, on Vox.com, reported on Lessig’s announcement and includes a review of Lessig’s  background  and issues related to the campaign.  Useful links are included.  CLICK HERE.


8)  Sept. 9, 2015:  Reply to Lessig. See Larry Lessig’s “Question to My Critics”, #5 above.  Here’s a brief response posted by Stu Dowty on Sept. 9, 2015:

Larry, the short answer to your question is to build a lasting, mass movement at the grassroots level. You like history. Consider how change in the US has taken place in regard to slavery and racism, labor, and gender equality. All required, and still require, more than one election, one referendum, or one clever “hack”.   CLICK HERE.


 

9) Lessig’s speech, on Sept. 19, 2015, at the New Hampshire Democratic Convention. CLICK HERE.


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10) Larry Lessing,  left out of Democratic debate, now considers options,  Washington Post, October 12, 2015.     Click Here.  

 


 

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11)  Lessig changes course, now says if elected he won’t resign.  arstechnica, Oct. 18, 2015.  CLICK HERE.   Also, see The Atlantic, Oct. 17, 2015.  CLICK HERE.

 


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12)  Lessig says, on Bill Maher show, that his proposal to resign after being elected was (his word) “stupid”.  See Huffington Post article posted Oct. 17, 2015.     CLICK HERE.

 


 

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 13)  Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post, Oct. 21, 2015, says:   “Lessig learned.  Now let him debate”.  CLICK HERE. 


 

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14)  Boston Globe, Nov. 3, 2015, “Harvard law professor ends bid for presidency”.  CLICK HERE.   Larry Lessig withdraws his candidacy for the Democratic nomination, blames the Democrats.


 

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15)  Here’s a useful analysis of Lessig’s short-lived campaign from Andrew Prokop, in Vox, November 2, 2015.  Click Here.

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II)  JUSTICE CAUCUS WORKSHOP SHINES:  RICH ROBINSON, JOCELYN BENSON AND JEFF IRWIN PRESENT THE FACTS. 

Here’s a great report from Chris Savage at Eclectablog on an “All-Star” Presentation.  SEE: http://www.eclectablog.com/2013/02/all-star-justice-caucus-panel-at-mdp-convention-talks-about-campaign-finance-transparency-and-reform-of-our-election-laws.html

 

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III)  Dan Newman, of MAPLIGHT,  URGES PROMPT ACTION ON FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION VACANCIES  


How to end secret money, without passing a law

Happy FEC day! Today, April 30, 2013, marks the day that the term of the last Federal Elections Commissioner expires. Now, out of six seats on the FEC, one seat is vacant and every remaining commissioner is serving an expired term. And we’re not talking about weeks or months: FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub’s term, for example, expired in April 2007.

What is holding things up? President Obama could, if he wished, appoint new commissioners to all six FEC seats. (No more than three commissioners can be from one party, and appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.) Obama could choose commissioners who actually want to enforce the law, clearing a path to progress, at last, on regulations to end secret money. (See Trevor Potter’s piece, How the FEC can stop the tidal wave of secret political cash.)

Fixing the FEC is the “low hanging fruit” of the money and politics movement.

Neither Citizens United nor other Supreme Court decisions require campaign contributions to be kept secret. Rather, these court decisions interact with existing law to create giant loopholes that led to the flood of dark money in recent elections. Several times, even with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, Congress failed to pass the DISCLOSE Act, which would have ended the secrecy of campaign contributions. Now, with Republicans controlling the House, there is no chance for disclosure legislation passing in Congress.

But these loopholes aren’t immutable: the FEC also has the power to compel disclosure of all contributions. This wouldn’t make the unlimited spending go away, but it would make this spending public and transparent, an essential step forward.

In 2007 Obama said, “As president, I will appoint nominees to the Commission who are committed to enforcing our nation’s election laws.” Why hasn’t he done so?

The absence of organized political pressure has allowed Obama to serve four years as President without appointing a single new commissioner. (One nomination, made in 2009, was later withdrawn.) CREW and a handful of other groups have spotlighted the problem, but this is just the beginning. What is desperately needed is a well-resourced, organized campaign with a broad coalition of groups involved.

A two-year national campaign, requiring only a fraction of the resources of a campaign to pass a national law, would be enough to create the public pressure necessary to drive Obama to appoint these commissioners. With the opportunity for an easy win with modest resources – not to mention the chance to end secret money – this is one of the best investments our movement could make.

Obama has already said he wants to do this. Are we going to wait for a new president to appoint new commissioners? Or are we as a movement going to put the pressure on now, when we have a president who is already favorably inclined, a president who understands the issue – a president who for eight years served on the board of directors of the Joyce Foundation, with its long-time support of money and politics reform?

In forty years, there has never been more public disgust with the corrupting influence of money on politics. The public is with us in spirit. But to build the movement, we need wins. Ending secret money would be a big national win, and the only national win on the two-year horizon right now. Will we as a movement seize this rare opportunity, or let it pass?

From Daniel G.Newman’s new blog:  www.danielgnewman.com, April 30, 2013.

 

IV)  MONEY BREEDS….A MOVEMENT!

Voting people

I’m a product of the 60’s.  Yeah, I know, admitting that shows my age. But it also provides a framework for looking at what’s happening today

In the 60’s we activists talked about “THE MOVEMENT”.  It was never really defined, but we intuitively knew in practice who was part of it and who was not. It was a “Movement” –activities with a shared set of values and goals — that demanded America live up to its promises.  It grew from the bottom up.  It dealt with root causes, with fundamentals.  It abhorred hypocrisy and celebrated equality, inclusion and cooperation.

The Movement arose in Greensboro, Birmingham, and Selma. Its roots reached from Saigon to Watts. It took to the streets in Detroit, Chicago, and at the Stonewall Inn.  It spread from Berkley to Columbia, and bled at Kent State and Jackson State.  It toiled in the fields near Salinas and buried martyrs at Wounded Knee.    It was much more than a search for new political leaders.  It was about values, principles, and reality.  

The truth is that Americans have seen several fundamental “movements” during the course of our country’s lifetime.  To name the most obvious: the abolitionist movement, the women’s suffrage movement and broader women’s liberation movement, the civil rights movement, and the labor movement.  All have contributed to the continued expansion of the American promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  All required decades of struggle, with inevitable ebbs and flows. None are actually complete, and all will forever require vigilance and renewal.

Today we need to recognize, and welcome, a newer addition to our list of historic movements for change. 

Say “hello” to the new “Democracy Movement”.

Like the movements which proceeded, this new Democracy Movement comes “from the ground up”.  It is a response to a serious and real problem:  the influence of money in politics. 

It is about wealth, and it is about societal decision making.

This is a root problem –it involves fundamentals of our celebrated social and political institutions.  It arises from a historic collision of democracy and wealth.  And, while money certainly has always had a continual and traceable presence in our political system, its emergence from an opaque chrysalis to a full bodied, obvious danger speaks to our need to identify and recognize its current stage of life.         

       The inescapable conclusion is that to address the current problem of money in politics we need more than simple legislative reforms.  We will need structural and fundamental change.

We need to reclaim and restructure nothing less than our entire system of representative political democracy:   Money.  Media. Campaign Financing.  Lobbying.  Districting and Apportionment. Voting.  All must be addressed.  

As with all our movements,  the tasks seem overwhelming.  Similarly, as with all our movements,  no change will happen if determined  persons  do not start with small, but necessary steps toward the long range goal.

This requires challenging some very powerful vested interests.  We will need to build the type of “Movement” capable of such a task.   Call it the new “Democracy Movement”.  Put it on your list of things to do. 

Stu Dowty, 5/4/13

 

  

  

IV)  “All of the Above” (UNDER CONSTRUCTION)