Last year, Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig announced a new focus on corruption and a new organization, Change Congress, which asked politicians to support its four goals: a ban on earmarks, "total Congressional transparency," public funding of elections, and the rejection of PAC and lobbyist money. Now he's changing course. Today, Change Congress announced a strike of campaign donors until Congress takes steps to eliminate the influence of money in politics.
The strike is directed at a specific goal: passing the Fair Elections Now Act sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), and Reps. John Larson (D-CT) and Walter Jones (R-NC). That's good, because the old model wasn't working all that well. Very few incumbents had signed up for Lessig's plan—a point highlighted by all of the red "Pester Now" buttons on the Change Congress website. (Voters could click on the buttons to harass recalcitrant representatives into taking a stand on Lessig's reform goals.) That page, with its embarrassing list of reluctant politicians, is now gone from the Change Congress site, replaced with a much simpler, much more publicity-friendly idea: the donor strike.
But while a donor strike may be a better idea than asking voters to demand that their representatives take stands on reform, it suffers from the same, fundamental problem: it requires a huge mass of people to sign on to get it to work. Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it." The salaries of members of Congress depend on their reelection, and money from PACs and lobbyists help them get reelected. They'll be reluctant to give up that corrupting money unless something else threatens their salaries more. The only way for that to happen would be for a huge number of people to refuse to donate to them. Let's hope enough do. Want to help? Join the strike.