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Lessig takes on corruption in Congress

Lessig takes on corruption in Congress

Lawrence LessigFP contributor, Stanford law professor, and Internet superstar — today staked his claim as the leader of a new cause: attacking corruption.

At a joint press conference with the Sunlight Foundation, a relatively new group that seeks to improve transparency and public trust in Congress, Lessig launched the “Change Congress” movement. His new organization will seek pledges from lawmakers and candidates to turn away lobbyist and PAC funds, vote to outlaw earmarks, advocate for public campaign financing, and promote transparency. U.S. voters can also join the movement to let their representatives know that they want the buzzword on everyone’s lips: change.

In an interview after the press conference, Lessig told me how he decided to pursue the issue of money in American democracy:

It kind of hit me that it was the same problem that was causing the misallocation of policy in [Al Gore’s] area was causing it in my area… just the recognition that Congress failed to address [global warming] for 10 years when it should have addressed it because of the enormous influence of money in that process. That’s what made me realize that this was not just limited to marginal, esoteric problems.”

By “esoteric problems,” Lessig was referring to his intellectual property work. I also asked him about the climate for reform now that a new presidential administration is on the way. His response:

The climate’s great but I think anybody who expects a president can affect change like this on his own is not understanding where the system works. So that’s why it seems to be really critical to recognize the only way you’re going to tee up reform for the president is to begin to build reform in the trenches.”

Lessig said his goal is to spark a “process revolution” rather than push for specific policy changes. It’s like alcoholism, he said: Only by solving Congress’s addiction to money will you be able to tackle its side effects. Here’s hoping Congress can sober up.