Harvard Law Professor Talks Corruption in U.S. Congress

By Sidan Qi

Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law professor and one-time candidate, shared his opinions on institutional corruption and said the broken Congress needs to be fixed up on Wednesday, March 2.

“The fact is, at the core of our democracy, there is a hole in our Congress, a failed institution that is crippled and corrupted and incapable of doing its job.” Lessig said. “It has fiscally bankrupted but politically bankrupted.”

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Lawrence Lessig speaks on corruption of Congress at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire forum Wednesday night. @Sidan Qi, 2016. All rights reserved.

With a passion for campaign finance reform, Lessig ended his brief candidacy for President of the United States in November. Lessig spoke to a crowd of more than 300 people on “Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — And a Plan to Stop It” in Schofield Auditorium.

“The reality is that, today, in America, we have no sense of representative democracy,” Lessig said. “And because it is unrepresentative, the cronies control Congress.”

Then Lessig highlighted three main reasons for Americans’ unawareness of representative democracy. They are unequal freedom to vote, unequal representation from gerrymandering and the preference of elite in congressional fundraising.

“In the last election, 10 million people had to wait more than 30 minutes to vote,” Lessig said. A poll tax makes it hard to vote especially for the families who cannot afford it.

“We have created a system in America that politicians picks the voters rather than voters picking politicians,” Lessig said. Actually, through gerrymandering, politicians pick voters to create “safe seat”, a seat in Congress that is fully secured by a certain political party, the incumbent representative personally or a combination of both.  At least 345 seats out of 435 in Congress are considered as “safe seat”, which means minority parties are not represented in this system.

“The corruption is in the fundraising process by which the candidates learn to bet themselves to be the people who can raise the money,” Lessig said. Under the “Money Primary”, Lessig pointed out that the candidates as well as the democracy, are responsive to those big funders, which stands 0.2 percentage of America only.

“When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, ” Lessig added, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero statistically non-significant impact upon public policy in a democracy.”

Lessig said the relationship between citizens and democracy is like the relationship between driver and bus from which the steering wheel is detached, which means the government are not driven by citizens.

“If we have a system of equal vote, equal representative and if we change the way campaigns were funded, we could have a Congress that actually represents us,” Lessig said.

While Congress cannot fix the problem itself, Lessig said we need a referendum president to fix this corrupted and crippled system and the first issue is the corruption in Congress.

“The idea that fixing Congress first is a way to approach getting money out of politics is new to me,” said Barbara Young, a piano professor of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, “I agree with him that the money on politic is an very important issue that need to be solved and it would be tough work.”

At the end of the speech, Lessig called for action to rescue the broken Congress, “On our watch, we have lost that republic, and we have to find a way to act now and get it back.”


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