Several people have asked me what my thoughts are on prospects of Stanford professor Lawrence Lessig running for Congress. As it happens, Lessig would be running in a special election for the vacated 12th Congressional District, which recently deceased Tom Lantos held for… well, forever it seems. The 12th district is my district so in the event Lessig runs, which I think he will do, I would have the chance to vote for or against him.
Lessig is appealing on many fronts, the least of which is that he is obviously a tech savvy candidate. But that alone is simply not enough for me as a voter so I looked into some of his other dimensions.
Interestingly enough, his free market stance and market-based mechanisms is essentially libertarian at it’s core, but with a healthy dose of regulation that is often the paradox of free markets, they require more regulation than regulated markets. I can anticipate that his position and influence on telecom markets would be something I would support.
While an “inside baseball” issue for the technology industry, reform of patent and copyright law is an important issue for me as a voter and I can think of few people better positioned to lead this than Lessig. The proximity to Speaker Pelosi’s district (literally right next door) and regional connection may result in the Speaker championing this issue under Lessig’s leadership. It’s a big maybe but something to consider.
His stance on earmark reform is also incredibly appealing, which at it’s core is appealing to fiscal conservatives. The porkbusters movement has been a staple of conservative and liberal bloggers alike, indeed were it not for bloggers it is unlikely that the whole issue of earmarks would be the hot issue it is today. As a fiscal conservative Republican this issue is really important to me.
As much as I would like to see earmarks go away, I also acknowledge that these appropriations represent a function elected representatives are sent to Washington to do, bring Federal dollars back to their districts. So maybe what is more offensive to me is not earmarks but the lack of transparency about them. This Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, stripped out an important requirement in the bill that passed last year on this matter, the requirement that earmarks be named according to the Representative or Senator that inserted them and make those earmarks available to the public in the form of a searchable database. Congress instead opted to reform earmarks by not reforming the system that allows them to proliferate in the first place, a system built on secrecy.
I disagree with Lessig on the merits of publicly funded political campaigns, as I do with McCain who along with Russ Feingold penned one of the greatest attacks on free speech in recent history. Political advocacy is perhaps one of the most virtuous forms of free speech, so to restrict individuals and organizations from contributing to campaigns or independently advocating on behalf or or against is a travesty.
Speaking of travesty, McCain-Feingold has been that and more, as evidenced by our current election cycle which when complete will consume over $1 billion. As the WSJ notes today, McCain’s own efforts to escape the system he helped create speaks volumes to the folly that public funding of politics is.
Public funding was hatched in the 1970s and has now become one of those blind touchstones of “progressive” thinking. No matter how regularly its proponents are mugged by reality, they never give up. Running for President is a serious business, with millions of people devoting time and money to promoting the candidate of their choice. We suppose we can’t blame Mr. McCain for trying to make the finance rules work for him, but it’d be nice if he finally admitted their embarrassing folly.
Running for public office is serious business and “the public good” has many dimensions that cannot be simply bucketed into good and evil. The next time someone derisively refers to lobbyists ask them if they are referring to the Sierra Club or Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It’s easy to point the finger at the NRA or trial lawyers or the telecom lobby, but these political action committees are the same species that other organizations who never get referred to as “lobbyists” are, political advocacy groups who act on behalf of a membership.
Taking earmarks out of the picture is an important step to alleviating the corrupting influence of money and politics but to attach earmark reform to campaign finance reform is a mistake of epic proportions.
Where I stand on Lessig is that I would be inclined to support him in this special election for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, this district is about as blue as they come, so as a Republican you can vote for a candidate from your own party that is appealing, which in recent years there have been few considering the defensibility that Lantos’ held, or you can vote for a Democrat that is sufficiently aligned to your own priorities. I voted for Lantos because I liked his strong position on Israel and his non-dramatic representative style, but that’s not to suggest that I agreed with him on everything, his trip to Syria last year was particularly appalling.
In tallying up where I align with Lessig, clearly on tech policy and IP reform as well as earmarks, and where I differ with him is on foreign policy (which I didn’t elaborate on here) and campaign finance.