Lawrence Lessig on how to fix America's corrupt campaign finance clusterfuck

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A noble idea. Unfortunately the powers that be will not relinquish control so easily. They’ll just find a loophole or work around so they can funnel a lot of money to a candidate through a lot of little people, and they’ll write the law that makes it legal. Not unlike gerrymandering.


The crux of the problem is the potental for quid-pro-quo. Lessig is attacking the problem by reducing quid (or is it quo?).

I’ve noodled on the idea of eliminating the pro part. What if all donations were 100% iron clad anonymous? Donations must be made through an escrow system that masks the donor from the recipient. Might have to play with how the escrow account transfers the money out to mask timing and amounts. But pretty simple to set up.

The most critical part is to punish those who break anonymity. No asking, no telling. Candidate loses all the donation and donor loses donation plus more (3x?). Toss some criminal penalties into the mix for serious offenses.

The net result would be that candidates wouldn’t be sure who they owed favors to, or how big a favor. And donations as protected speech wouldn’t be a reason to kill such campaign laws since the speech is still allowed, just forced to be anonymous.

I see some flaws in the plan, but mostly around people donating then outing themselves to screw with a candidate. Or disclosing donations secretly. But those might be minimized by making the penalties only apply for donations over $100, publishing donations amounts after 5 or 6 years (so people can look for possible collusion), and adding some criminal penalties for collusion.

Just a thought experiment. Any ideas on repercussions?


This is laughably unworkable and violates the first amendment to boot. You are talking about instituting a pure speech restriction. It’s simply not going to fly. In addition it will be almost impossible to detect and enforcement would either be completely ineffective or repressive. It like the war on drugs: there is no victim to complain and so the only recourse is to use aggressive and intrusive investigation tactics in order to detect the proscribed activity.

Even ignoring all of that, you might see people try to game the system and use the rate of incoming cash to signal desired policy. If that occurred it would be like ebay for buying votes, with the contributors mandated to be anonymous to boot!


I don’t know how well the anonymity would hold, but you have a very interesting proposition. I’m a fan of public funding campaigns with no PAC/Super PAC money and only official ads everywhere. Let the playing field be level and make them win on ideas and personality instead of riding a torrent of dark money into office. Remember, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

This would also free up a majority of our elected officials time so they could either to the actual work they’re in office for, or they could get real jobs and be part-time legislators.


I was in the process of typing something similar just now but you said it much better. :smile:

Thanks to Citizens United, it will probably take a constitutional amendment, passed by the exact people who benefit most from the current system. Nice theory.

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I am willing to take charge of any torrents of dark money, and I promise I will spend it all on cars and yachts, and go nowhere near politics. I like to be helpful like that.


The UK, apparently, has a severe time limit on the amount of time for campaigns. I think that would also go a long way toward reducing the amount of money in political campaigns (less time = less advertisements = less money).

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