Lawrence Lessig, Harvard Professor of Law and political activist against big money in politics, levied harsh criticism on Hillary Clinton’s defense for accepting large contributions during his Ask Me Anything session on Sunday.
Clinton was frequently criticized by her rival Bernie Sanders for giving paid speeches to Goldman Sachs and accepting large amounts of money from Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry and other special interests. Clinton vigorously justified her position: “[You] will not find that I ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I ever received.” The former Secretary of State is essentially accepting the narrow definition arguing that money in politics is only an issue if there’s clear corruption in the form of “quid pro quo.”
Lessig told the Progressive Army that he was shocked how “tone deaf” Clinton’s defense, as well as other Democrats, has been on this issue. The former candidate for president described that defense as “deadly” to the cause of fighting the influence of big money in politics.
Clinton should have focused the problem on the Congress and not the presidency, Lessig argued. He believes that if she did that, it wouldn’t have been hard to show how money corrupts Congress, whose members focus their attention on fundraising from the top 2 tenths of one percent even if there’s no quid pro quo.
The Harvard Professor also offered some words of praise and criticism to Clinton’s rival Bernie Sanders. He said that the Vermont Senator has done a “brilliant” job of rallying people to recognize the problem of big money in politics, but felt that he focused more than necessary on attacking Clinton rather than providing solutions that can be adopted now. He argued that while fixing Citizens United is an important goal, it’s certainly not enough to address the problem of big money in politics. Lessig has urged the Senator to make “public funding” a top priority; a first step. Sanders believes that public funding is a long-term goal.
Lawrence Lessig believes that if the issue of money in politics is not addressed, it wouldn’t matter much who the President of the United States is when it comes to issues that require support from Congress. But who is elected matters significantly on other important issues such as foreign policy, nominating Supreme Court judges and the dignity of the nation (The latter can be seen as a possible reference to Donald Trump.)
Lessig strongly supports “equal representation in Congress” as part of his Citizen Equality Act of 2017. He believes that the current winner-take-all single-winner system (often called First-Past-The-Post system) needs to be replaced with “multi-winner districts” where winners are elected by “ranked choice voting”. This would give a fair shot to independents and third parties, and would eliminate the impact of gerrymandering and the outsized influence of partisan primary voters.