Posted by Nisreen Eadeh on September 25, 2015 in Blog

The Democratic candidates for the 2016 Presidential election may not be getting as much attention as the Republicans, but the latest candidate to enter the race – Lawrence Lessig – may have you turning away from the media circus.

Lawrence Lessig is a referendum candidate, meaning he wants you to vote for him to do one job and then he will step down after it’s done. His primary goal is to “reclaim our democracy” by putting into practice his plan, The Citizen Equality Act of 2017. The Act includes three objectives: equal right to vote by making Election day a national holiday and automatic registration, equal representation by stopping Congressional gerrymandering, and citizen funded elections “by giving every voter a voucher to contribute to a campaign.” Although his goals are ambitious, Lessig directly addresses the issue of lobbyists and large campaign contributors’’ outsized influence over politics and legislation.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that campaign donations are a form of political free speech in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Therefore, corporations, unions, and other organizations can give unlimited amounts of money to political action committees (PACs) that are only “nominally independent” from the campaigns for which the money is used. One of the most powerful lobbies in Washington is AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). As a nonpartisan group, AIPAC has donated millions of dollars each year to members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. These campaign contributions have been influencing American policy towards the Middle East for decades. Most recently, AIPAC spent millions of dollars fighting against the Iran nuclear agreement.  

Lessig believes that Congress is “corrupted by its members’ dependence on money from lobbyists… to fund their reelection campaigns.” In exchange for these funds, special interest groups “can affect what goes into the bills,” further limiting people’s access to Congress, Lessig says. In the five years since the Citizens United case, $1 billion has been spent on federal elections by candidate super PACs, totaling 60% of all campaign contributions. Alarmingly, this money came from just 195 “extraordinarily wealthy individuals” who are “bankrolling the majority of that spending.” Perhaps Lessig’s ambitious Citizen Equality Act is the chance to enforce equal access to issues of importance to communities across the United States. Lessig’s plan intends to reduce the influence of money in politics. His single-issue campaign has the potential to, at the very least, bring these questions up and start a discussion among politically-engaged citizens on the role of lobbyists and large campaign donors in American politics.