May day May Day: A call to get money out of politics

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“There is only one issue in this country,” former MSNBC commentator Cenk Uygur told Netroots Nation, in June 2011. “Campaign finance reform.” This opens Lawrence Lessig’s book Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress and a Plan to Stop It. Lessig, a law professor and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, has made fighting the influence of money in politics his primary target.

In a May Day call to citizens via Youtube video on May 1st, Lessig made a plea for citizens to help form “…what we could think of as a Super Pac to End all Super PACs.”

A PAC, or Political Action Committee, is an organization that pools campaign contributions from members to fund campaigns and legislation. PACs are heavily regulated and individuals are allowed to contribute a maximum of $2,500 while corporations and unions are forbidden from contributing.

Super PACs, on the other hand, can raise funds from individuals, corporations, unions, and other groups without any legal limit on donation size. However as “independent-expenditure only committees” they cannot directly contribute to candidate campaigns or parties but can engage in unlimited political spending outside of campaigns.  Super PACs are the result of the infamous 2010 Supreme Court Case, Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission.

The goal of May One is to raise enough money to form the MayDay PAC “…a citizens’ funded and crowd sourced superPAC,” according to the webpage, that will make fundamental campaign finance reform the central issue in 5 congressional races at the end of 2014.

There are two fundraising targets for this year, the first is $1 million by the end of May. To the surprise and gratitude of the May One founders, as of May 12, they are 90% funded with 19 days left.

“I was completely floored by the response, especially in the first 24 hours.” Brian Boyko, Chief Technology Officer of the website said. “We didn’t do a marketing campaign around this. All the attention and sharing has been word of mouth.”

When the one million goal is reached, it will be matched by presumably wealthy donors.

The second target is $5 million by the end of June, if that goal is met than an additional $5 million will also be matched. “We will then have the funds we need to hire the best campaign shops we can to use 100% of these kickstarted funds to win in these 5 districts.” According to the page.

“So you want to use big money to fight big money?” a question under the FAQ page for May One. “Yes. We want to use big money (collected from the many) to fight big money (collected from the few). Ironic, we understand. But embrace the irony.”

“I don’t think it’s a magic bullet, but it’s a necessary step,” Keith Fitzgerald, associate professor of political science said. “This problem is so ingrained into the political system that you’re not going to find one approach that will absolutely turn around right away.”

Unlimited spending in political campaigns has increased the amount of time congressman spend fundraising. In a Huffington Post “Call Time For Congress Shows How Fundraising Dominates Bleak Work Life” cites a PowerPoint presentation given to congressman by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “The daily schedule prescribed by the Democratic leadership contemplates a nine or 10-hour day while in Washington. Of that, four hours are to be spent in “call time” and another hour is blocked off for “strategic outreach,” which includes fundraisers and press work.” Estimates for the amount of time a congressman spends fundraising are between 30% and 70%, eating into the time they should be spending accomplishing actual congressional duties of committee work, hearing votes and meeting with constituents.  

More than 90 percent of Americans believe it “important” to “reduce the influence of money in politics,” according to a recent poll by the Global Strategy Group.

“Lawrence emphasizes that he doesn’t know whether this will work, nobody knows whether this is going work,” Allen Serrel, 1st year political science AOC said. “It hasn’t been done before but it’s something that’s definitely worth trying.”

Serrell has experience with phone banks from volunteering on the Alex Sink congressional campaign and believes they could be an important step in helping spread the word of May One. “I mean, it is finals now, but I think that probably sometime next year if this [May One] is still going on I would definitely want students to call congressman.”

“I get this skepticism, I get this cynicism and sense of impossibility,” Lessig said in a TED talk posted on the page. “But I don’t buy it. This is a solvable issue…It’s solvable not by being a democrat or republican but by being citizens.”

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