Lessig’s Donor Strike Withholds $1 Million from Congress

In January, Lawrence Lessig and his reform-minded organization, Change Congress, launched a donor strike aimed at members of Congress who do not support a bill designed to greatly reduce the influence of lobbyist and special-interest money in politics.

Thursday, Lessig and fellow Change Congress founder Joe Trippi announced donors have withheld $1 million total, including $365,000 held back from Senators Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Lessig has long railed against the money-powered corruption machine in Congress, and Change Congress’s strike was engineered in part to draw attention to Illinois Senator Dick Durbin’s Fair Elections Now Act.

Now, you could debate the merits of a donor strike (won’t it cause members of Congress to rely more on big-time dollars from special interest groups?), but Durbin’s bill, which Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) cosponsored, could transform how politicians finance their campaigns—and how they vote once they arrive in Washington. Basically, it creates an incentive for politicians to raise a large number of small-dollar donations. Once they hit a magic number of those donations, they are eligible for a much larger cash infusion, paid from a public fund. If they accept that chunk of money, they will not be allowed to take big-dollar donations from lobbyists or special interest groups. Instead, every small-dollar donation received after that would be matched by money from the central fund.