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Mr. Ethics’ Ethics Problem with Americans Elect: Et Tu, Lawrence Lessig?

John Lumea documents that another member of the Americans Elect leadership, ethicist Lawrence Lessig, has been heading onto the airwaves to promote Buddy Roemer’s presidential prospect in the Americans Elect system, undermining Americans Elect’s own neutrality stance. According to Lumea, Lessig hasn’t disclosed his leadership role in Americans Elect while promoting Americans Elect and Roemer on the TV.

Another interesting part of Lumea’s essay is the consideration of corruption. Lessig is focused on proving that Americans Elect’s big money isn’t leading to quid pro quo corruption in the form of direct deals: you give Americans Elect your big hedge fund check, you get the specific candidate you like. Lumea identifies another form of corruption — corruption of the democratic process — that’s just as important to consider.

8 comments to Mr. Ethics’ Ethics Problem with Americans Elect: Et Tu, Lawrence Lessig?

  • Nobody Asked Me...But,

    Lawrence Lessig has a valid and important message–the corruption of the American political system. Unfortunately, he has selected Buddy Roemer, a woefully flawed politician, as his messenger. Roemer is flawed because he does not tell the truth. and has a reputation as a “consummate liar” and incompetent leader. Look at this web page.
    http://www.first-draft.com/2011/09/rubberband-man.html .
    Roemer falsely claims now that he has always refused to take the big checks and that he insists on transparency of the donors. The truth is that he took big checks when he ran for governor in 1987, and in 1991 he switched from Democrat to Republican because the Republican party and President Bush offered to finance his campaign. The public was so disgusted with him here in Louisiana that he lost his re-election bid in the primary to David Duke, the Nazi. He tried again in 1995 in a “lavishly-financed campaign” and was again rejected in the primary, coming in 4th. See p. 268 of this history book of Louisiana’s governors:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=Y-0-kmu4vk0C&pg=PA259&lpg=PA259&dq=%22Often+wrong,+but+never+in+doubt%22+Roemer&source=bl&ots=GXt38E_jVv&sig=poXJMn9QbCUESjDIP2-foOb3YLY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=n-xjT7CXDOORiQL8n_SiDw&ved=0CGMQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=%22Often%20wrong%2C%20but%20never%20in%20doubt%22%20Roemer&f=false .
    Now Roemer seeks the Americans Elect nomination to take advantage of the $30 million given by secret donor(s) who have set up AE not only to influence the President, they want to pick the President! What secret deal is Roemer making to have this rigged setup choose him? (Roemer has at least two supporters whom he has identified so far on the AE board)

    Roemer claims he always balanced the budget in his one term as governor. False. He ran out of money and had to borrow to pay the expenses, issuing government bonds to place the deficit burden on future administrations. He held up state payroll checks at the end of the year so the checks would be paid out of the money for the subsequent year.

    For more information, supported by web pages cited, see my comment and look at the interesting but sad history of Roemer by going here:
    http://economyincrisis.org/content/interview-with-buddy-roemer-pt-4

  • Thanks for flagging this, Jim.

    Lessig also doesn’t disclose his Americans Elect leadership role, in two other examples I mention: his two posts defending AE’s practice of allowing its funders to keep themselves hidden and his Roemer promotional tweet.

    At one point, I write:

    There is, of course, the possibility that Lessig has his own agenda for Americans Elect that doesn’t jibe with the No Labels-ish storyline this is being promoted by its founder, directors, and officers — a storyline that also, one assumes, was “bought” by its seed funders.

    But it’s not all clear how Lessig’s reported desire to lead others in “occupying Americans Elect” for a specific “reform” candidate — and, indeed, going on MSNBC (“Morning Joe”) twice in the last month to campaign for, and with, Buddy Roemer — squares with Lessig’s being an Americans Elect advisory board member who, according to Americans Elect’s own Rules and By-Laws, is bound by a strict neutrality policy that places what he is doing, well…out of bounds.

    The link is to this week’s Washington Monthly piece, “Lessig: Occupy Americans Elect,” which basically is a review of Lessig’s new e-book, One Way Forward: The Outsider’s Guide to Fixing the Republic, which apparently is where Lessig details his call for citizens to use Americans Elect to rally around a specific “reform” candidate and propel that candidate onto the ballot.

    The author of the review, Colin Woodard, writes (emphasis mine) that

    Lessig isn’t a great fan of Americans Elect as conceived by its founders: a vehicle to put a moderate, post-partisan figure in the White House who can break the political logjam. He’s met Mr. Ackerman and his son, Elliott (who serves as AE’s chief operating officer), and heard their pitch; he wasn’t sold. “They have a theory of what is wrong with government that I don’t agree with,” he says. “They think the presidency is too polarized. I say, forget the presidency, its Congress that’s the issue, and the need to have a Congress that’s focused on the issues that Americans care about…. They want a president who represents the bipartisan middle, I want someone who will change the way the system works,” he adds. “I don’t think they will be happy if my sequence occurs.”

    In the review’s comments section, I pointed out to Woodard that Lessig was “sold” well enough to accept a spot on Americans Elect’s Board of Advisors, a detail that he’d not mentioned in the review.

    Woodard responded that “Lessig discloses his unpaid AE advisory board membership in the new e-book.”

    I don’t have any reason to doubt that — but did not include it in the essay, as I’ve not yet seen the book myself. Alas, I don’t have a Kindle and my Mac OS is not current enough to support the download — so I’m waiting for my deadwood edition.

    I’ll be interested to see exactly how Lessig frames his disclosure.

    • Nobody Asked Me...But,

      Lessig says the most important thing is to change the way the Congress is elected. He must assume that the dynamic established by the Constitution is still in effect, namely, the main repository of federal power and law rests with the Congress. The President was intended to be a manager of the federal government and the one person in Washington who represents the general will of the entire nation instead of merely one district or one state.

      But in today’s world, both the President and the Congress represent big money campaign donors more than their constituent voters. To win an election it is not necessary to prove to the voters within each district and each state that the politician is good and represents them well. Instead, it is necessary to have millions of dollars to buy the tv spots which will try to deceive the voters about the candidate’s goodness, but even more effective is to use the millions of dollars to convince the voters that the other opponent is bad, i.e. worse.

      Can anyone change that? Not easy if it is possible at all.

      Lessig makes no sense. He joins up with Americans Elect, a secret organization with big money donors hiding their identity and playing an unseen, secret role in choosing the Presidential candidate. He excuses this inconsistency by claiming that the President does not have to be free of special interest money. It is the Congress where the changes must be made. Does he expect Buddy Roemer, his special protege, to do that job? Roemer’s history, as shown in the citations in my comment above, is that he cannot and will not try to get along with Congress. He was Louisiana’s worst governor in history on that one criterion. He refused to cooperate or get along with his own party in Congress. How can Roemer be expected to lead a Congress that he prefers to piss on?

  • Gugga Bubba Roar: what America needs eeds

  • But, but Mr. Lessig is an ethics expert! He says so himself!

  • Ben Donahower

    Lawrence Lessig, for the most part, is well meaning and has a lot of interesting ideas that he has put forth in the public sphere. With that said, when people start talking about ethics, I like you, put a big bullseye on them. Lessig’s recent book on campaign finance reform is a worthwhile read but my response is mixed. Some of is ideas are great and others indicate a hint of naivety about how political works.

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