By Erica Jones
With its focus on fundraising, Congress has corrupted the system the framers of the Constitution originally intended, according to a one-time presidential candidate and current Harvard professor.
“Democrats and Republicans alike are increasingly distracted by this fight for money, and in that process of being distracted, they increasingly become obtuse to the base – the core – of what their party cares about,” Professor Lawrence Lessig said at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s forum Wednesday night.
Lessig gave his speech, “Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress – And a Plan to Stop It” for the 74th season of The Forum Series. More than 300 men and women from the community were present to hear what Lessig had to say.
In his speech, Lessig identified three main reasons Congress is broken:
- There is an unequal freedom to vote based on the amount of time potential voters must wait in line to fill out their ballots.
- Gerrymandering, or dividing the state into congressional districts often favoring one party, allows the politicians to pick the voters rather than the voters picking the politicians.
- Congressional funding allows .02 percent of Americans to have a say in politics. The probability of a proposal being passed increases with the percentage of economic elites and interest groups who support the proposal. The percentage of average voters who support a proposal has little to no influence on whether a proposal is passed.
“We can not ignore this corruption anymore. We need a government that works,” Lessig said of these problems facing the government today. “No sensible reform … will be real until we fix this institution of Congress.”
In the beginning of the 2016 presidential election, Lessig ran to be a “referendum president,” identifying his single purpose as fixing the “corrupted, crippled system” that is Congress today, until he was eliminated from the race because of a change in rules.
Lessig said he is optimistic about solving the problems with Congress because people are angrier than ever about these issues. For the first time, he said, both Republicans and Democrats are talking about the corrupting influence of money in power. Since there is no entity designed to control Congress from within the US government, it is up to the people to come up with a plan to fix the broken system, Lessig said.
Donny Sandberg, an Eau Claire community member, said he came to the Forum because of his interest in politics. While Sandberg agreed with Lessig’s message, he added, “I’m not as optimistic as he is, but I do think that the people are fed up, and there’s going to have to be a change.”
Another community member, Donna Harschlip, came to hear Lessig speak because she wanted to know more about why the political system is in disarray. She said of Lessig, “He seemed to offer ideas about what do to, and I wanted to hear his solutions because something needs to be done.”
Danielle Rockwell, a student from University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, said, “It was nice that he presented the problems and laid out solutions where it might seem pretty hopeless, but it’s good to see that there is something that can be done.”
Lessig said while individual issues people have with Congress are important, they will never be solved unless the problem of corruption is solved first. To do so, he told the audience, Americans must try to restore representative democracy.