Tech moguls and financiers have clubbed together to raise a load of money to stop Washington politics from being decided by people with a, er, load of money.
In an irony-laden crowdsourcing venture called Mayday, web entrepreneurs including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffmann are hoping to solve the “big money problem” in US politics.
“Ironic? Yes. Embrace the irony,” the Super Political Action Committee (Super PAC) said on its site.
“We’re kickstarting a Super PAC big enough to make it possible to win a Congress committed to fundamental reform by 2016.”
The campaign plans to use the cash it gets from grassroots fundraising and its wealthy backers to support five political candidates who will try to push through financial reforms on how campaigns are run. Mayday wants to stop the whole system it’s taking advantage of – that of the Super PAC.
These committees allow people and corporations to spend as much money as they want supporting political candidates, as long as their influence is independent of the campaign. So they can spend big as long as their efforts are not coordinated in any way by the campaign.
The campaign’s founder Lawrence Lessig – the Harvard law professor who also helped found Creative Commons – said in a public blog post on Medium that Super PACs use the First Amendment right to free speech to give the rich the right to spend what they wanted on influencing Washington.
According to Lessig, allowing the rich and wealthy corporations to back campaigns has led to members of Congress raising just 15 per cent of their contributions from regular folks with the rest coming in from big spenders.
“The real money comes in big bites, from the 'relevant funders' of campaigns: funders who give enough to make their particular views – about financial regulation or tort reform or climate change or copyright – relevant to the candidates who are pitching them,” he wrote.
The problem is that influence is being bought by a small minority of wealthy Americans, instead of the system being the democracy it aims to be.
“In 2012, 132 Americans funded 60 per cent of the Super PAC money raised in that election cycle,” Lessig said. “That number will go up in 2014. Imagine it goes up by a factor of 250. Even then, the funders of these Super PACs will represent no more than .01 per cent of America.
“The 'corruption' of our current government should be clear. Our Congress is dependent not just upon 'the People'. It is dependent upon 'the Funders' too.”
Just like the Super PACs it wants to put an end to, as long as Mayday stays independent of the candidates it supports, it will be allowed to raise unlimited funds to bankroll campaigns.
So far, the PAC, which is also backed by venture capitalists Fred and Joanne Wilson and TED conference organiser Chris Anderson, has already raised $1m on Kickstarter and another $1.26m of its current $5m fundraising goal.
The Wilsons, Anderson, Thiel, Hoffman and venture capitalist Brad Burnham have also all agreed to donate $1m each to the campaign. That $12m will be used to get five candidates in 2014 before a further much bigger push for 2016, Lessig said. ®