Argument Against Joining Lessig’s Strike

Lawrence Lessig, who is quite nearly my idol, is trying to enlist would-be campaign donors in a strike for change. The idea is that campaign donors will go on strike; we’re not to give money to candidates for federal office until and unless those politicians commit to publicly funded campaigns.

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile now, and I think Brian Hurt over at Enfranchised Mind provides several good arguments to rethink this strategy. Read why he’s not joining Lessig’s strike.

I think his counter-plan–give hugely to opponents, including primary opponents, of the worst examples of that which you oppose–is a good solution. Hurt cites Club for Growth as having particular success with this strategy.

A friend of mine who’s done a lot of work on one particular issue in one state* also recommends this model. With just a few victories over particularly objectionable politicians, he’s had an outsized influence in reshaping the debate around that issue.

While I’m happy to see Lessig trying to reform politics–desperately needed–my other concern is the unfortunate likelihood that this will harm Democratic candidates in the name of small-d democracy. Lessig’s a Dem, I’m a Dem, and I’m concerned he’ll be too persuasive in recruiting other Dems, starving our side in the zero-sum game of 2-party politics.

Empirically, the internet is a better tool for mobilizing Dems than Republicans (Hindman, 2008, pp. 22-26). Small online donations helped put Obama in the White House. The people who are most likely to hear Lessig’s call helped make the 2006 and 2008 elections into big wins for Dems. I’ll bet Karl Rove is happier to see Lessig taking this tack than is Howard Dean.

This is an exciting idea, but I do think Hurt’s Club for Growth model would be far more effective.

*Note how I’m anonymizing my sources; this is a warm-up for my next research project, which will involve a lot of anonymous interviews of policy actors. Are you interested in sharing your experiences as a policy advocate of one sort or another? Please contact me at my gee male account, the first part of which is billdherman.