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In this first edition of his impassioned analysis, Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig says that America has lost its political way. He says special interests – which donate money to campaigns and then expect favorable treatment – stymie Congress, which can’t pass substantive legislation. Then Lessig offers an intriguing prescription for fixing the money woes that beset Washington: Devote the first $50 of every American’s tax payments to campaign financing. Lessig argues that this would generate billions and blunt the impact of special interests. While always politically neutral, getAbstract recommends Lessig’s ideas to anyone interested in knowing how the US government functions and concerned about counteracting the influence of money in politics.


No Longer a Great Nation

American politics have become deeply corrupt, and money is the culprit. Overtly criminal corruption is rare in Washington. Few politicians are foolish enough to sell their votes for bribes. Instead, a type of corruption with good intentions – one that seems so harmless and benign that most people don’t notice it – has hijacked the American political system.

The true enemies in this scenario are wealthy political donors (individuals or groups) who seek riches not through toil, skill or ingenuity but through stacking the political deck in their favor. This institutional-level dysfunction is symptomatic of a new breed of “dependence corruption.” In this state of affairs, a subtle form of behavioral change takes hold. Legislators know their success depends on their ability to raise money for their campaigns. They adjust their political positions and votes to align with big donors’ interests.

One glaring flaw is the lack of conflict-of-interest rules applying to US legislators. Lawmakers are free to vote on matters involving companies that contribute to their campaigns. Other branches of the US government emphasize conflicts of interest. In...

About the Author

Professor at Harvard Law School and director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics Lawrence Lessig taught at Stanford and the University of Chicago. His books include Remix, Free Culture and The Future of Ideas.

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