Lawrence Lessig believes he can use collaborative web tools to help reform Congress. And the immediate response of my inner cynic is “good luck with that”.
But Lessig is one of my heroes for his work to loosen the media stranglehold on copyright, advocating for fair use, and for founding Creative Commons. So if he has ideas for improving our screwed up political system, I’m more than willing to listen.
Change-Congress.org will be a bi-partisan, web-based effort to leverage and amplify the important reform work being done by others. Think of it as a kind of Google-mashup, but applied to politics. Our aim is not to displace primary reform organizations, but rather to complement and feed support back to these organizations. And in the process, we hope to make transparent just how broad and deep the support for fundamental reform is.
Lessig plans to use wikis, Google maps and more to track the positions of congress critters and candidates for office in four basic areas of political reform:
- a commitment not to accept PAC or lobbyist contributions
- a commitment to abolish “earmarks” permanently
- a commitment to support public financing of public elections
- a commitment to compel transparency in the functioning of Congress
I’d say if he can get that last one done, Congress will be a far different place than it’s been in my lifetime and, I would guess that most of the remaining goals will fall into place.
However, Lessig is not ignoring the fact that money drives the political system.
Finally, the third stage of Change Congress will provide financial support to reform candidates. Following the model of Emily’s List, we will recruit contributors to support Change Congress candidates, both Republican and Democratic, who make reform a central platform of their campaign. Individuals will be asked, for example, to contribute $10/month to five Change Congress candidates. That support will make it easier for those candidates to spread the message of reform, and to define at least one central part of their candidacy to be about reform.
As I said, I respect Lessig enough to pay attention to and follow his plans.
It will be very interesting to see just what can be done by applying read/write web tools and leveraging the power of the crowd to such an overwhelming task.