Exciting times are here for Larry Lessig’s Mayday PAC. The Harvard law professor that doesn’t know the difference between a PAC and a 501(c)(4) is revamping his irony-embracing Super PAC to end all Super PACs. In about a week, Mayday PAC 2.0 will go live and Lessig is no doubt hoping for better results.
Mayday PAC’s initial rollout was an unmitigated disaster despite celebrity spokesmen, fawning media coverage, Silicon Valley millions, top-dollar consultants, and a volunteer army. Unfortunately for Lessig, cosmetic changes won’t ameliorate Mayday’s structural deficiencies. Lessig’s political obliviousness and thinly veiled progressive-policy goals will once again sink Mayday on the rocks of political reality.
Lessig must manufacture a constituency that simply doesn’t exist. Blue-district candidates already agree with him, Red-district candidates don’t. Money spent in either will be in vain for, respectively, lack of credit or results. Therefore he must find a critical mass of persuadable voters in swing or Red-leaning districts who will vote for his issue and against their other political instincts. And according to his plan he must do it all in one cycle—an impossible task.
Lessig thinks he can create this constituency by buying them off (paying the ransom) with slick, hipster adverts. But as radical environmentalist Tom Steyer found, most people can’t be bought. And despite the Left’s successful demonization of the wealthy and seemingly promising poll numbers, the citizenry won’t vote on this issue. If voters thought public financing would magically infuse virtue into public policy they would have vigorously supported the moribund presidential financing system.
Moreover, Lessig’s notions of corruption through access, influence, or the ‘money primary’ are too abstract, and as the recent Moritz study noted, already ‘baked in’ to voter calculus. More importantly, the corruption they can see has nothing to do with private campaign funding; it is big government run amok. When the public sees the IRS targeting conservative groups for ideology, Cabinet members and agency heads using personal emails to evade disclosure laws, the EPA lying about its activity, the President bypassing the will of the people through executive order, and the Justice Department stonewalling investigations, their thoughts don’t include ‘if we only we had taxpayer-funded candidates.’
Lessig’s quest gives short shrift to this type of blatant public corruption because it doesn’t comport with his aim to increase the administrative state’s power over the citizenry. One of Lessig’s favorite refrains is voters must “reclaim our democracy.” What he means of course by “democracy” is government—empowering government with ever more control over the lives and decisions of the individual. He displays his fondness for government by quoting Montesquieu: “Now a government is like everything else . . . To preserve it we must love it. Everything, therefore, depends on establishing this love in a Republic.” Writes Lessig: “It is this love that will fuel our fight.”
This is progressive pabulum: Every problem real or imagined requires ‘fixing’ and the government must be the one to do it—at the expense of the private sector or individual. Thus it is unsurprising Lessig supports initiatives like Net Neutrality.
A generation ago Harvard law professor John Hart Ely sought to emasculate the Constitution of substantive values—at least those that contravened Warren Court sensibilities. According to Ely, majorities should have near limitless power, with a few discreet and insular exceptions. Lessig’s plan to juice the tax code to enliven democratic participation is in some sense a paradigmatic fulfillment of Ely’s vision.
But large swaths of the country oppose this Marxian-influenced view of public power. They believe, whatever its intentions, government’s decades-long expansion has failed its citizens and now operates for its own benefit rather than the people. Lessig must convince these voters further sapping private-sector vitality will benefit them. He won’t, no matter how many actors or hipsters make his pitch. Mayday PAC won’t be getting a lifeline in 2016.