By Taylor Pomasl
“The reality is that today in America we have in no sense a representative democracy,” Lawrence Lessig said. “Nowhere close.”
Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor and political activist, addressed a crowd of more than 300 people on Wednesday in Schofield Auditorium on the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire campus for its 74th annual forum “Republic, Lost: how money corrupts congress – and a plan to stop it.” His speech proposed the idea that Congress is corrupt and offered its financial past and methods of fundraising for campaigns as evidence to support his claim. Lessig went on to purpose his idea on how to restore the republic that’s currently having a negative impact on America’s democracy and citizens.
Lessig stressed the idea that the obvious fact about our current government is that the core of our democracy is corrupt. There is a current hole where our framers imagined a Congress would be, and that no problem can be solved until Congress is fixed.
“Nothing is possible in our government until we fix this Congress that’s not even mentioned this problem with Congress,” Lessig said.
Lessig says there are three primary things wrong with our democracy today: the unequal freedom to vote, gerrymandering, and money and the elite being able to choose candidates before average American citizen. In this way, “Cronies control Congress,” Lessig argues.
Lessig described an instance of an unequal representation among voters in the 2014 presidential election when approximately 10 million Americans had to wait in line, sometimes over thirty minutes to vote for American’s next president, making it difficult for the average, working American to cast his or her vote. In addition to this, Lessig explained that today, the more elite Americans that back an idea, the more likely it is to have an impact on Congress, while average American voters have flat-lined to the point of having no impact at all. Lessig then argues that politicians in Congress are using “gerrymandering”, a “system in America where the politicians pick the voters, rather than the voters picking the politicians.” In this way, only ninety districts are up for competition among those running for Congress, leaving approximately eighty-nine million people unrepresented by those in Congress. Finally, money impacts the way in which Congress is run and decides who potential presidential candidates are before the average Americans see them, Lessig says. Money also affects the way candidates fundraise.
“The corruption is in the fundraising. It is in the process by which candidates bend themselves to be the people who can raise the money,” Lessig stresses. “The corruption is in fundraising, not ‘fund-spending.’”
Lessig argues that today’s Congress members spend anywhere between thirty and eighty percent of their time calling homes and pushing the right buttons “in order to get the sustenance for their campaign.”
Because of these reasons, Lessig says that we are currently experiencing an unrepresentative and distracted democracy. Members of congress are distracted by the fight for money, and therefore “bend to make big funders happy,” and others can move in. Currently, there is also no entity designed to fix Congress, Lessig says. Congress, the Supreme Court, and the President all have limitations that prevent them from fixing the corruption without harming their own interests.
Instead, Lessig advocates a new and sensible reform that will restore equal voting and representation and change how campaigns are funded, though he says it’ll be difficult until we fix Congress. He says that his “generation which is passing on the next generation a world of problems” has lost the government created with the signing on the Constitution Ben Franklin once described as “a republic if you can keep it.”
Mark Jepsen, an Eau Claire resident that attended the forum, met Lessig almost 10 years ago and admires and agrees with much of his presentation, saying he’s “insightful”.
“He really challenges my thinking, and he would’ve been an excellent president. I would’ve voted for him if I would’ve had a chance,” Mark said.
Lessig made a final call to the audience to act to bring about the republic we once had, emphasizing the importance of acting immediately.
“On our watch, we have lost that republic, and we have to find a way to act now and get it back.”