Lessig's TED talk on fighting corruption in politics with campaign finance reform

Larry Lessig presented at TED his new project, an effort to curb the corrupting influence of money in American politics with a reform to campaign finance, so that the government depends on the people alone. It's a wonderful talk:

There is a corruption at the heart of American politics, caused by the dependence of Congressional candidates on funding from the tiniest percentage of citizens. That's the argument at the core of this blistering talk by legal scholar Lawrence Lessig. With rapid-fire visuals, he shows how the funding process weakens the Republic in the most fundamental way, and issues a rallying bipartisan cry that will resonate with many in the U.S. and beyond.

Lawrence Lessig: We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim


  1. Power to the people, not the rich few.  It is time to take back this country and end the corruption.

  2. More power to him.  I wish I shared his optimism, but I think enough people are dumb enough to be taken in by propaganda payed for by those with an interest in maintaining the status quo that we won’t be able to ram this through.   That seems to be a recurring theme.   I could be wrong, though.  There have been instances of sanity on the part of the electorate in statewide elections recently that have surprised me.

      1. I just finished watching it to the end, and I guess “optimism” is kind of a mischaracterization.

    1. You know, the largest problem is only 132 people. If they block this reform…

      132 widely scattered people is a massively easy problem to solve, with a few trained people. And, right now, we have easy access to the weapons needed to do it ridiculously easily.

      (Basically, if push REALLY comes to shove, an “eat the rich” violent revolution will work. Certainly not the ideal option, but it will work if all else fails.)

        1. In the McDonalds case, trashing a McDonalds would not be effective at all – it’d have very minimal impact on the corporation, and would hurt those that depend on employment from that McDonalds. Fuck attacking storefronts.

          Don Thompson would be a better target than a McDonalds store, in the case of McDonalds (although I’m not sure how much he’s contributed, he may not actually be the core of the problem). Attacking local buildings doesn’t do a damn thing, attacking the actual people in power directly does. Vandalism wouldn’t do anything, murder (as horrible of a crime as that is) might just do something.

          And, I did say that it was a last resort, if they kept blocking reform effectively. Hopefully, that wouldn’t be needed.

          1. And, I did say that it was a last resort, if they kept blocking reform effectively. Hopefully, that wouldn’t be needed.

            When is something useless ever needed? Where in the USA is a group going to organize a violent army that won’t be easily tracked and neutralized from the very beginning?

            Why even try to fight a vast superpower when you can control it instead? The only thing stopping us is a lack of public education on what’s wrong, what to do and how to get involved.

            Granted, there are corporatists that would love to stop information flowing on the Internet, but there are vast legions of hacktivists ready to hand their asses to them if they make any serious effort in that regard (and they know it).

            There’s never been a better time in the history of the USA (or the World for that matter) to start the long process of striving for an educated, empowered citizenry.

            We won’t fight the United States, we’ll run it.

          2. Well, it wouldn’t take an army to do a decapitation strike. (And, I’m not saying fight the US itself, I’m saying that it might be necessary to fight those pulling the US’s puppet strings.)

            In any case, hacktivism may be the most effective method by far, even more so than a violent revolution, but only if it can be sustained. I’m thinking, attack the mainstream media and use their existing channels (and hack to keep them open) to distribute better information to the populace. The trick will be keeping, say, Fox News owned for months AND keeping alternate programming running on it (and without Fox’s own team taking it back), and most hacktivists don’t have the resources or focus to do that.

          3. Good luck with your attempts to run candidates to “run this fucker.”

            This system is hopelessly corrupt and we’re not going to be allowed to change it.

          4. Have you bothered to watch the TED Talk? It’s not about running candidates… actually, I’ll just stop here, watch the video.

            This system is hopelessly corrupt and we’re not going to be allowed to change it.

            Then go get drunk somewhere. Why are you bothering with this thread at all if everything is so hopeless? Oh, just to inform us you’ve given up? Great. Thanks. Good to know. Now head to a bar and tell everyone there how fucked we are.

          5. Why are you continuing to pretend that joining a little democracy action group is going to address the root issue, Cowicide? Does it make you feel better?


        Hashashins would often assimilate themselves in the towns and regions of
        their targets and, over time, stealthily insert themselves into
        strategic positions. They didn’t always assassinate their targets,
        however, preferring at times to try threatening an enemy into
        submission. This could sometimes be accomplished with a dagger and a threatening note
        placed on an enemy’s pillow. The assassin group was indeed feared
        enough that these threats were sometimes taken seriously, as in the case
        when Saladin, the Muslim Sultan of Egypt and Syria, made an alliance with the rebel sect to avoid more assassination attempts.

        From wikipedia

        You don’t actually have to kill anyone.  You just have to show them that you could kill them if you really wanted to.

  3. Independent.co.uk: TED conference in censorship row

    “With over 500 million YouTube views, TED Talks have attracted guest speakers such as Bill Gates, Richard Dawkins and Julian Assange and in the process, made conferences cool again. But in recent weeks TED Talks – with their mantra – ‘ideas worth sharing’ – have been accused of censorship after two British speakers had their talks removed from TED’s official website.The row involves two British speakers, the journalist and author Graham Hancock and Cambridge and Harvard University lecturer Rupert Sheldrake. Both speakers have been deemed as ‘provocative’ amid accusations of ‘pseudoscience’ at lectures they gave at a TEDx talk – a franchised spin-off of the main TED Talk brand. Hancock describes a ‘war on consciousness’ that prevents the world from gaining a higher state of awareness through shamanic principles and psychoactives like the South American potion, ayahuasca.”


  4. Problem is, half the country will say “It’s a Constitutional Republic, not a Democracy!” and it is the will of the Founding Fathers and Gawd himself that the people be led by the elites and the people only have to choose what they want among the crumbs the rich leave behind. “We the People?” Never heard of it.

      1. That’s because there isn’t a fight yet. You’d be surprised how quickly that “58% for” turns into “58% against” once “The Commies are taking over the country!” propaganda machine gets rolling.

        Hell, assault rifle reform that was supposed to make it harder to get guns after that horrible school shooting has actually made it easier to get guns, instead, once the big money interests started fighting it… and that incident was one of those This Is Really Bad, What Have We Allowed To Happen moments that usually shame people into doing the right thing. Instead the money has still managed to make it worse. That’s just how bad it has become.

        80% of campaigns are won by the person with the most money. That’s the reason you need to fight it, but it’s also the reason you’re probably going to lose, if history is any guide. This is going to require some serious backing of the people, but I think too many people are too easily swayed by the money machine to make it stick.

        1. once “The Commies are taking over the country!” propaganda machine gets rolling.

          Once it gets rolling?

          Hasn’t that already spun around the NASCAR track about 300 to 400 times already?

          80% of campaigns are won by the person with the most money. That’s the reason you need to fight it, but it’s also the reason you’re probably going to lose

          You haven’t watched this TED talk video, have you?

          1.  Yeah and he’s talking about putting a bandaid on a severed limb. You can’t reform our system because the people running it DON’T WANT IT REFORMED. How do you change laws when the law makers and those that control the law like the system as it is and will block your every effort?

          2. How do you change laws when the law makers and those that control the law like the system as it is and will block your every effort

            No wonder you quit Microsoft.

            All kidding aside, you described just about every obstacle that’s ever been overcome in the USA to forward civil rights for average Americans.

            You seem like the type of person that would’ve naysayed civil rights as “too impossible” in the 1960’s and sat on your ass while others sacrificed their time and lives against great odds.

            Face it, you just aren’t cut out for this. Go get a drink and leave the struggle up to the rest of us with more fortitude for these kinds of things.

            If you have some positive ideas, I’d love to hear it. Otherwise, you just sound like a frightened toddler lost in the woods swatting frantically at imaginary demons.

          3. If you’re simply going to engage in name calling, I don’t think you’re cut out for this work either, Cowicide.

            What work? According to you, there’s nothing to be done. You appear to have cognitive dissonance. Now kindly buzz off. You’ve brought nothing to the table but mindless naysaying.

            4/10 troll, I’ll give you that.

          4. I’m not saying there is nothing to be done. I’m saying Lessig’s plan and little action group will do nothing to change things.
            So, your trolling isn’t really working here.

          5. I’m not saying there is nothing to be done. I’m saying Lessig’s plan and little action group will do nothing to change things.

            Third time I’m asking this.

            What is your plan that’s better? Or do you not have one?

          6.  You seem to think that if someone disagrees with you (rather than disagreeing with utility of Lessig’s plan), they simply didn’t watch the video.

            We watched it. Try to pressure politicians to change the laws that make them rich and powerful isn’t going to work. If they don’t want to kill their golden goose, there is nothing to be done since they control the law.

          7. We watched it

            Who is we? The other person I said didn’t watch it, later admitted it and then watched the rest of it. Try to keep up.

            there is nothing to be done

            Then, once again, why are you here? Don’t you have a life and better things to do with your time than waste ours?

            I can tell you right now, you’re not going to succeed in making me “give up” just because you’re too weak to fight. Your wasting my time and your wasting yours. Move along.

          8. I don’t care if you give up or not. I’d rather people did something that would actually address US corruption rather than feel good activism that will do nothing. If you want to waste your life, go ahead. Have fun. We can check in ten years and see whether you succeeded.

          9. I don’t care if you give up or not

            So you’re finally admitting you’re just badgering me simply because you’re drunk, then?

            I’d rather people did something that would actually address US corruption

            Aw, you do really care! I knew it!

            What’s that, Al? I’ve now asked you twice. What’s your plan?

          10. Oh, and I’m badgering you because you’re a bullying troll trying to shout down anyone who disagrees with you with name calling and abuse.
            But, please, ask me if I’m drunk again.

          11. But, please, ask me if I’m drunk again.

            It was a sincere question. I’ll take that as a “maybe”.

          12. I don’t see how anything I said ran counter to what Lessig said. I’d go as far to say that I don’t think you watched the video if that’s the argument you want to make.

            Lessig is raising the issue, spelling out the stakes, and I applaud him for that. But he’s asking us to run up against a system that loves the money it’s swimming in, and does everything it can to preserve it, right down to the Fox News machine that keeps the division among the people thriving so that even more Big Money interests gets to control politics in the name of the rich few. This is not going to be easy, and if it ever reaches the point where a real fight is going to be had for reform, I expect terrible things are going to happen to good people before it gets better.

          13. This is not going to be easy

            I’ve never said anything else. Go back and read what I’ve said in the past of these topics, if you want to be sure.

            I expect terrible things are going to happen to good people before it gets better

            Your sense of dread and fatalism is appreciated.

            Meanwhile, some of us will go where you fear to tread because the alternative is weak failure.

        2.  The problem with that comparison is that in regards to gun control, the NRA and firearms industry didn’t bend public opinion hardly at all. Instead they got their bought politicians to ignore the will of the people.

          On second thought, that’s exactly how campaign finance reform works out.

      1. It has to do with TED censorship in general, which is a bigger picture and important story. Is that not worthy?

  5. It’s a catch-22. No meaningful reform is possible while we live in lesterland. That includes the meaningful reform that would delesterize it. If it is possible to pass that reform, the corruption will have already been defeated.

    To escape the cycle we need some means to force reform to happen from outside the system because a corrupt system will never vote to dismantle itself.

    1.  Because the two parties have arranged things in such a way that no third party can ever get actual traction. Cue Libertarians, Greens, etc.

  6. Why can’t we put it up to a vote? We’re voting about gay marriage and voter ID in nearly every state, why can’t we have ballot amendments that ask people whether they want to take the massive amounts of money out of politics?

  7. Interesting video, but there ARE some problems.  First, the media IS biased.  Obama has gotten away with things that would have cause most media outlets to crucify Bush (list available upon request, if you really need it).  So, instead of the people with the money, it becomes the people who run the media.  How is that any different?

    The second thing is the old saying about democracy being two wolves and a sheep arguing about what is for supper. Most people are not rich, so they may immediately vote for “robin hood” taxes where the average pays nothing and the wealthy pay for everything.  This will punish those who succeed, and also drive away business to other countries.  I must admit that I am a fan of big business…  I work for a big business designing ASICs (big computer chips).  Since designing an ASIC takes millions of dollars, plus millions more to design the product that it goes in. I do not think that a mom-n-pop business could afford $20,000,000 to do this.  Because of this, I would really like my company to be in business for a while longer.

    1. But Lessig’s talk isn’t about a biased media. It’s about the root causes that set stage for the overall failure of the American press, among other failures.

      Lessig’s talk isn’t about punishing success. It’s about the root causes that inspire such straw man arguments. Among other fallacious lines of reasoning.

  8. I watched this a couple of days ago.  I found it articulates beautifly what I only have floating around in my head as some vague thoughts.  I too feel despair when I think of the enormity of the job.  However, it is our duty to try.  If no one ever tried nothing would ever change.
    My take aways:  1) Send this to everyone I know, 2) Global climate change was my number one issue, now it is number two, and 3)  Figure out how I can become part of the fight. 

    I guess I am just trying to be the 100th monkey.

  9. Explain to this foreigner why you need money to win an election. Is it because ads cost money? It’s something I honestly don’t understand about American politics.

    1. Ads cost money. Offices cost money. Staffers. Travel. Running a campaign is almost exactly like distributing and advertising a blockbuster film.

      1.  Why not just reform the campaign process into something organised by the state that gives all legitimate candidates an equal footing in terms of exposure? Sport-broadcast style.

        1. Because it’s in the interest of the people with the most money to keep the system skewed in favor of the people with the most money.

          1.  I know, I know. It just seems to me that if you can’t possibly reform where the money comes from maybe it’d be best to obviate its usefulness.

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