Creative commons founder and personal hero, Lawrence Lessig, has founded Change Congress, his first step in what he plans to make a 10 year mission to improve the state of American democracy.
It true Lessig fashion the goal is big and the plan is simple. He’s focusing on four changes:
- No money from lobbyists or PACs
- Vote to end earmarks
- Support publicly-financed campaigns
- Support reform to increase Congressional transparency
upon which there is more written about here.
Am I excited about the potential? Absolutely. Something is happening in the United States right now. A progressive backlash is brewing.
My only cause for concern is that, like previous reform efforts, we don’t succumb to the law of unintended consequences. I remember reading how making congress members committee votes public was intended to make congress more “transparent.” It did. By by doing so it empowered lobbyists to ensure the members they gave money to actually voted the way they were paid to – in effect tightening this groups control on congress. While I believe transparency to be a good thing, this outcome could hardly be described as progressive in its impact.
I’m no expert on the machinations of congress, but we should always ask ourselves what will happen to the money once we close off one tap. For example, of the 4 priorities above, the end of earmarks raises some possible concerns. It will probably mean that the US public service will have more control over the specific allocation of monies. This could be good thing. But then perhaps not. The US public service is not as independent as it is say, here in Canada, and so this may simply enable the administration to assert more control on who ends up receiving money. Rather than an end to pork barreling, it will simply shift who controls the pork from congress to presidential appointees…