Mayday Critic Questions Lessig’s Claims of Effectiveness, Agrees with Goal

Solid breakdown with good conclusion, but the author starts with the assumption that the only way to demonstrate progress is through a win.  Lessig’s broader point is that he demonstrated that campaign finance can a be relevant issue in campagns.

“The two races on which Mayday spent the most money were the New Hampshire Republican senatorial primary, where it backed Jim Rubens against Scott Brown, and the 6th Congressional District in Michigan, where it supported Paul Clements against incumbent Fred Upton. In both cases, Lessig seriously overstates Mayday’s accomplishments.

“In New Hampshire, Rubens secured only 23.5 percent of the vote. But more important than the low percentage of the vote that he received was the fact that only 37 percent of voters thought reducing ‘the corrupting influence of money in politics was a major factor in their vote.’ Clearly it is an overstatement to say, as Lessig does, that in New Hampshire, Mayday ‘was able to mobilize people passionate about this issue to turn out to vote….’

“Over and above that faulty assessment is the lesson that Lessig draws from the Michigan senatorial race. Mayday’s candidate, Clements, was defeated 56 percent to 40 percent, but Lessig’s judgment is nonetheless favorable. He states that Mayday’s intervention forced Upton ‘to double his ad buy [during] the campaign.’ Lessig uses this race as one of four in which Mayday’s ‘intervention was a significant tax on our opponent, forcing him to spend significantly to neutralize the effect of our campaign.’ According to Lessig, ‘The threat of that tax will motivate other candidates to avoid the risk of a similar fight.’

“With all of this said, it nevertheless remains the case that Lessig’s basic political instinct – that campaign finance reform requires engagement with the political system – remains sound. He is also right in arguing that ‘victory will require Zephyr-Teachout-like candidates [who are] passionate on the issue and a willingness among [those] candidates to force the issue into the campaign.’

“But victory will require more than committed candidates. Voters must turn out at the polls to elect them, something which at the moment and despite Lessig’s optimism, they are not prepared to do. For that to happen the electorate will have to be convinced that publicly funded candidates will be responsive to the needs of the middle class and low income groups in ways that the current cohort of privately funded elected officials are not. To win, reform candidates will have to combine their call for public funding of elections with the promise to enact policies that materially improve voters’ lives by, for example, increasing the income and employment of those who have been most shut out of the country’s economic gains. Such campaigns will require a massive field operation. People will not be convinced by television ads that politics really can be changed. Person to person persuasion will be needed.”

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