Harvard professor talks corruption in US

By Allison Anhalt

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Lessig speaks on problems in the U.S. congress ©Allison Anhalt

“The corruption is in the fundraising, it is in the process by which the candidates learn to bet themselves to be the people who can raise the money, they need to raise,” Lawrence Lessig said.

Lessig, one of Scientific American’s “Top 50 Visionaries” and author of the 2011 book Republic Lost, gave a speech at UW Eau Claire’s Schofield Auditorium. Of the auditorium’s 650 seats, a crowd of more than 300 people attended the event.  Lessig’s speech was part of UW Eau Claire’s “the forum” and was open to students, faculty and the public.

In his speech, Lessig said America is failing to be the representative democracy that our forefathers like Benjamin Franklin tried to create, because of unequal freedom to vote, gerrymandering, and a small amount of Americans providing the fundraising that chooses the candidates.

With this last aspect, Lessig said that the candidates act like they are rats in a “Skinner Box”, pushing buttons to get the money they need to survive as a candidate.

“This experience has an effect,” Lessig said. “It develops in these members of congress a sixth sense, a constant awareness about how what they do might affect their ability to raise money.”

Lessig said if we can change the way that elections and candidates are funded then we can create a congress that cares about us as citizens, and a president is someone who could help to lead us to that point. However, it will be hard for that president to get congress on their side, and congress is not about to fix itself. Lessig said that we need a referendum president who would go into the presidency just to fix the corruption in congress.

“We need a government that works not for the left or for the right, but for the left and the right,” Lessig said.

Its young people who will see the most burden from problems such as climate change or debt, and all though those problems are more important, Lessig said that the problem of a corrupt congress needs to be fixed first.

Lessig said near the end of the forum that he was incredibly optimistic, because American’s have never been angrier about the failure of the government. We as Americans have been able to move forward in the last ten years and are willing to support a president with these same ideas.

“I thought he was very thoughtful about how to get beyond partisanship and to solve the problems that we all recognize exist now and to try to do so either beyond or above or outside of partisanship,” said Dennis Erickson, a retired lawyer who attended the event.  Erickson’s friend Paul Nelson said they attended the event because they were interested in politics and government.

“This idea of a referendum president would have a chance to focus people, who don’t necessarily have the same political values, on a value which in fact we all have,” Lessig said.

Watch Lessig’s Ted Talk here.

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