Politics

Larry Lessig Clings to Failure

Larry Lessig
Larry Lessig / AP

Lawrence Lessig’s "Super PAC to end Super PACs" was a failure during the midterm elections, but the Harvard professor is clinging to the notion that opposition to money in politics can sway close political races.

Pollsters who actually examine voter attitudes say that position is bunk.

"A significant chunk of actual voters rank our issue as the most important. These voters are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents," Lessig told supporters of his group, MAYDAY PAC.

"And in the right context, we believe the data show that they can be rallied to the cause."

The data do not show that, according to the people who gather it.

Data from Gallup, which tracks issues that voters consider the country’s "most important problem," consistently show "elections/election reform" near the bottom of the list, with about 1 percent of respondents ranking it as the country’s most pressing issue.

Lessig’s Super PAC spent about $10 million on eight midterm races with that issue at the forefront. Its chosen candidates won only two contests.

The problem for MayDay, suggests former political science professor Jonathan Bernstein, is that "the evidence suggests that voters pretty much don't care about money in politics, or any other procedural issues."

"At best, partisans can rally around talking points, but there's no evidence I'm aware of that money in politics is a particularly motivating issue for many people," Bernstein wrote in August.

While polls do show that Americans are generally displeased with the amount of money spent on elections, but the issue generally does not drive voters to the polls.

"I’ve polled it before, I’ve put it in on panels before," Republican consultant Rick Wilson told Politico. "It’s a zero issue. No one cares. They shrug. They already believe that all politicians are corrupt assholes. It’s baked in the cake. They get it."

Democratic operatives have expressed similar skepticism of Lessig’s efforts.

"Evidence has always suggested that voters don’t care much about campaign finance reform," wrote Democratic consultant Jesse Berney over the summer.

"They care a lot more about their own lives; how money flows into political campaigns seems at least a few steps removed from the policies that affect them."