May 15, 2014

Your Country for a Burrito: On Sale Now!

Two years ago, I wrote an article here on my own site about an original idea to reclaim our democracy by simply joining forces with one another to buy the congress back from those who have effectively taken ownership of it by paying for a large portion of the vast yet simultaneously trivial expense of the 468 or so federal elections which occur each two years.

I pointed out that, to use George Will’s observation, the cost to the American People of paying for federal elections (exclusive of a presidential race) is the same as what we, as a nation, spend buying Easter candy each year. Or in my take on that, the cost of buying the Congress of the United States (so that it might do the people’s bidding) has been, in 2010 and 2012, approximately the cost of one burrito per American per year, or $6.70. If anything the cost of burritos has gone up since then, but seriously, the price for which these offices are for sale is incredibly tiny, if even a small fraction of us band together to take our country back. Together, we do have more money than God.

A few weeks earlier, an article in the Spring 2012 issue of the newsletter, Flash!, an interview of yours truly, contained a condensed form of my pitch for this solution (the interview is at the end of the multi-page PDF — best to take a look, to follow along here).

The prior issue of Flash! contained an interview with none other than Lawrence Lessig, a well-known professor from Harvard, who has, in recent years, been campaigning hard to save our democracy from the poisonous influence of powerful monied interests on our government. Shortly prior to my interview’s publication, his book Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress--and a Plan to Stop It, was published. In this important book, he proposed some half-dozen ways in which we might achieve this goal, all of which would depend on the Congress itself acceding to the demands of a popular movement to end the outrageous corruption which is so deeply ingrained in what remains of our self-government. My impression of these intriguing ideas was that they were all in a Catch 22 category, and I thought also of Waiting for Godot. Knowing that we the American People have actually had the gumption to occasionally do something great together, I thought, certainly, we can do this modest thing ourselves. Don’t wait forever for federal money — just buy it.

Fast forward and a wonderful thing happened on the first of May, 2014 (two weeks ago). It turns out that for a year, Professor Lessig has been planning an effort to do, using several great new ideas, essentially just what I was advocating. Please visit the website and check out the brief and tidy presentation of a new twist on how we might rescue the Founding Fathers’ great experiment in democracy, using crowd sourcing and the internet and modest financial contributions — plus a lot of spreading the word.

The idea is to create one giant superPAC-to-be founded on grassroots donations to first fund five or more congressional races in the 2014 cycle and thus reclaim those seats for the public interest, putting the Congress and the nation on notice in the bargain. Once that succeeds, the effort would rapidly grow in scale, sufficiently to reclaim so many seats in Congress that in just a single additional two-year cycle, we might actually reach the critical mass required for passing fundamental reforms required to assure public, no-strings-attached financing of our elections. Imagine democracy, if you will! (and the immense rewards it would bring for all of us)

The website’s URL,, coincides with the date of its birth, May 1st. The Mayday superPAC is named for the distress signal Mayday, given in life-threatening emergencies, such as the one in which we find ourselves, thanks to the advanced state of corruption to which we have collectively allowed the nation to fall.

I highly recommend to all of you Professor Lessig’s wonderful amicus brief for the recent McCutcheon vs FEC case before the Supreme Court, the second shoe to drop on election funding after the disastrous and patently criminal Citizens United decision. In it, he presents the results of his thorough and unimpeachable investigation into the question of what the Founding Fathers wrote and did about the various concepts of corruption. It turns out that they were only minimally concerned about the venal kind, where someone buys a favor in a quid-pro-quo transaction of cash for votes, rather they were overwhelmingly concerned about the threat of essentially exactly what has happened — the situation where powerful monied interests exert influence over public policy through improper dependence, to corrupt the entire drift of the process of creating public policy, thus literally stealing the world. Here is the PDF.

MapLight refers to shining a Light on Money And Politics. Lawrence Lessig was a member of the board of MapLight and is now on their advisory board. They do phenomenal work with web programming to organize and present the publicly-available data on contributions to members of Congress and their votes on issues relevant to the concerns of those donors. These efforts have spread into state governance as well. Their work has been cited in many hundreds of newspaper articles and they have become a go-to source of information on the vast industry of political corruption which has become your and my worst enemy.

Back to the Mayday superPAC. We need your help and the help of everyone you can muster. This effort must not fail. I do believe that the cost of failure in this undertaking will literally be the undoing of civilization itself. Although it used to be the case that political corruption merely made the vast majority of the citizens of a nation more miserable and poor, it is now the case that the fate of Creation itself hangs in the balance of what the United States Congress does about such vast issues as global climate disruption and all the other facets of humanity’s failing relationship with the biosphere. These problems as well as the more mundane issues of how we provide for ourselves in a largely equitable way are all soluble, but none can be solved unless we solve the first problem first: We must gain control over our elected representatives, so that each day, they all work in a spirited and desperately dedicated way to make the world a better place for all of us.

Please contribute. Please help. Every day this frozen government continues is one day closer to the brink. Just two days ago, we learned, from two independent studies using different approaches, that it’s already become inevitable that sea level will rise, up to about 12 feet, from our past pollution (and likely much more if past underestimates recur here or if we simply continue to un-bury ancient carbon for the coming years) as a result of a huge portion of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet having now been sent on an unstoppable, slow slide into the sea. Melting Greenland ice will only add to the total. Can you spell armageddon? It is now likely written in stone that every river delta on Earth will slowly disappear and every coastal community will suffer stunning loss. Continued delay in the move to clean energy is nothing short of treason most foul. Democracy is the only remedy, and it’s for sale here, now. The price is right.

— Joseph Holmes

A great conversation between Lessig and a senior producer for

Lessig article in The Atlantic on campaign finance issues: