WASHINGTON – Andrew Large,a first-year law student at Catholic University,said he thinks people are ready for a government that adheres to their values more than politicians' agendas.
At a lecture at the National Press Club Thursday,Large was part of a crowd that heard a Stanford University Law School professor propose how to make just that happen.
Lawrence Lessig announced he is joining political strategist Joe Trippi,who has worked for several Democratic candidates,to launch a grassroots organization aimed at changing the corruptive influence money has in Congress. Trippi attended the event but did not speak.
Lessig introduced a project called Change Congress that will “leverage and amplify” existing reform work of other groups,including Public Campaign,Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation.
He said that Change Congress wants congressional candidates and legislators to reject money from lobbyists and political action committees,vote to ban earmarks,support public financing of political campaigns and support congressional transparency. Earmarks are appropriations introduced by individual members of Congress that do not go through the normal budget process.
The project's Web site says former presidential candidate John Edwards,a North Carolina Democrat,is the most prominent politician to adopt Change Congress' goals. Lessig said the project's first step is to create an online meeting place where candidates,legislators and citizens join the movement.
Creative Commons,another Lessig project,changes how copyright materials are attributed. Through Creative Commons people can tag their writing,photos and videos with alternative,but legally recognized,copyright badges. Similarly,through Change Congress,candidates will be able to tag their campaigns as committed to reform.
Candidates and legislators can also download a computer code to post on their Web sites to show their support. Lessig said he is hopeful the site will serve as a networking tool to connect policy makers and candidates to volunteers and donors. In theory,these contributions will replace PAC money.
From an ideological standpoint,Large,32,said the idea of a space for commentary and transparency is “fantastic” and could educate people. Through the site,people will be able to donate money to a cause or pledge their support to candidates who follow the Change Congress project.
“Value-wise,I'm with him,” Large said. “I'd certainly rock that bumper sticker.”
Private financing of campaigns is one of the largest democratic problems,if not the main problem,the U.S. faces,he said,but he does not know if Lessig's solution will work.
He said he does not have much hope for the U.S. to be able to overcome this “profit-first determination.” Large said he wonders if the project is viable when the class of citizens who make up corporations and PACs continues to say the First Amendment protects their right to donate money.
Lessig said that,to earn voters' trust,candidates have to focus not only on what they do but also on the perception of their actions.
The second step in the process will be to track support for reform by seeing candidates' positions on their Web sites. The site will digest and categorize information in an easy-to-read format where people can see,geographically,on a color-coded map,which candidates back the movement. Eventually,Lessig said the site will allow people to comment.
The final step is funding. Lessig said Change Congress will encourage people to give money to candidates who support reform.
Congress will have at least 68 open seats in November's election,Lessig said,the largest number since 1996.
“Personal corruption is at its lowest in my opinion,” Lessig said,”but that doesn't mean [Congress is] independent.”