Lessig’s Donor Strike Withholds $1 Million from Congress

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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.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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