I recently spent a weekend reading Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress by Lawrence Lessig. In “Republic, Lost”, Lessig addresses the issue of money’s influence in our political system, particularly Congress. Despite your political affiliation, one thing we all can agree on is a disconnect between the people and Congress. Lessig points to the influence campaign contributions have on our representatives as the root of the disconnect. Lessig makes the point clear that the corrupting force of campaign contributions is not like the quid pro quo corruption of the Gilded Age. The corruption is more of a subconscious one, because special interest groups help to raise money for candidates’ campaigns they feel an obligation to return the favor through legislation. The two parties don’t agree before hand; it’s an unspoken rule. Lessig goes into detail explaining how this relationship grew over the last three decades.
I had recently started looking into campaign finance reform when I began reading this book. “Republic, Lost” is a good place to start for those who are unfamiliar with the issue of campaign finance reform. Lessig explains the issue in great detail, and gives plenty of references to websites and additional books to continue your research. Lessig also lays out four plans of how to resolve the issue. The first, to work with the existing system and pass legislation through Congress and have it signed into law by the President. There are a few bills and amendments floating around in Congress right now to do such a thing, ex. Fair Elections Now Act and Yarmuth Amendment. These have a minute probability of passing. The second and third strategy are probably the most aggressive and interesting. Both plans involve sabotaging the election process, for both Presidential and Congressional elections, by running candidates that favor such reform. The fourth strategy is to call for a convention to write an amendment to the constitution. This would be the most historic and powerful of all the strategies. I will not go into great detail of how Lessig lays out the plan for each strategy, because, in my opinion, this is the most interesting part of the book. Lessig makes his point clear throughout the book that we can no longer remain idle. Our apathy and idleness is what allowed big money to seize Congress from us. We must remain vigilant in the fight for Democracy, not in a war abroad, but securing it here at home.
If you are interested in being active in changing campaign finance, or looking for more information, you can go to rootstrikers.org, which is a group Lessig helped start. If you are interested in learning more about the issue I urge you to pick up a copy of the book “Republic, Lost”. It may be the most important book you read this year.