During the 2014 election cycle, Lawrence Lessig tried to change the shape of American politics. Or at least he tried to start a change. With his PAC, the Mayday PAC, Lessig raised over $10 million and spent it to influence eight elections around the country. This was meant to be a test election to see if the PAC could get people who were supportive of campaign finance reform elected. Here is a little bit of what happened.
It turns out that influencing elections is really tough. Only two of the candidates supported by the PAC won and according to Lessig, just one of those was actually a competitive race.
This story came from an end of the year podcast by Planet Money where they look back at stories they have done in the past and see how things turned out. This part came from a story aired back in August of 2014 which you can listen to here.
Lessig is one of the loudest voices today in the realm of campaign finance reform. He has given several TED talks, including this one where he introduces the concept of Lesterland, a horrible and corrupt place which, you guessed it, looks a lot like the U.S.
Campaign finance is a hard issue to get people excited about. There is no exciting new technology, no fundamental human truths to be explored. However, as he says in his TED talk, though your issue may be the more important issue, this is the first issue.
Freakonomics Radio did an episode on money in politics and they actually say that money doesn’t matter. However, that episode looked at the wrong questions. The first important question is, how does money influence who decides to run. Many people never rise to any kind of prominence because they can’t pass the initial funding tests. The second important question is how people act after they are elected. Studies show that on non-headline issues, politicians tend to vote with special interests and not their constituents.
If you listen to the whole story you will see that the Mayday PAC has a long way to go. It will be interesting to see how Lessig adapts his efforts in the next election.