by Parker Reed
The corruption in Congress is in the fundraising, said Harvard law professor and one-time presidential candidate Wednesday night in Schofield auditorium on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus.
“Congress is the most important branch, and it is also the failed branch,” Dr. Lawrence Lessig said.
Lessig, an acclaimed author and political activist, spoke to more than 300 college students and community members Wednesday in Schofield auditorium as part of The Forum series. His presentation entitled, “Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — And a Plan to Stop It,” confronts the issue of money influencing the way candidates are selected and ultimately nominated for elections.
“The funding of campaigns is its own contest,” Lessig said, “its own primary.”
Confidence in Congress among the United States population dips almost every year, Lessig said. He said the reason behind this is, the average American bypasses blaming Congress for the biased elections in the United States, and instead tries to place the blame solely on the presidential candidates themselves.
“It is corrupt, even if it does not corrupt the voter in the election,” Lessig said.
The focus of his speech was on three main points that show how Congress does not operate the way it should. The first being that there is an equal vote due to race and economic status.
“Ten million Americans had to wait 30 plus minutes to vote in the last presidential election,” Lessig said.
The second being that gerrymandering (to establish a political advantage for a particular party by manipulating district boundaries to create an area that favors a particular political party) occurs commonly in congressional elections.
“Three hundred and forty five out of four hundred and thirty five Congress seats are safe seats,” Lessig said, “In only 90 districts is there a fair shot.”
And the third, and what Lessig said is the most prominent, is that nominees run through a “biased filter” before the American public can vote for the candidates.
Lessig showed an example from China, in which people actively protested the fact that .02% of the population of Hong Kong were responsible for choosing the political
candidates for the general population to vote on. Lessig then related that to the current state of the U.S when he said that in 2014, 57,874 people in the United States each gave $5,200 (the super PAC limit) to presidential candidates. (Which is also roughly .02%.)
“I don’t think it matters who we elect right now given the state of Congress,” Lessig said.
Lessig went on to acknowledge the fact that his presentation did paint a somber picture of the current state of Congress, but also he said that there is hope behind it.
“Somehow we need to build a movement that is not tied to a particular candidate,” Lessig said, “and if it is seen as partisan, it is hopeless.”
Audience member and retired University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire professor, Sharon Westphal, felt particularly inspired by Lessig’s forum speech on Wednesday.
“He gave us hope … he reverberated back to me what I believe in,” Westphal said. “Everything he said was so relevant.”
Lessig continued to emphasize just how important tackling the issue of money influencing Congress truly is throughout the rest of his speech. He said that Congress is the core of all of our problems, because every solution needs Congress. And until the issue of Congress is addressed, no other issue can be dealt with effectively.
“Your issue is the most important issue to you, but my issue is the first that we have to solve,” Lessig said.