In a post two days ago, I noted the many venues and many ways in which the Mayday Super PAC and its leader Lawrence Lessig pledged to stop their fundraising juggernaut once they reached their predetermined threshold. The Mayday PAC made this pledge part of their fundraising appeal, part of its way of showing that it wasn’t just another political outfit grasping at money for money’s sake. When it had enough, it would say “enough” and put a stop to its fundraising.
That day was July 4. Since then, as I wrote two days ago, the Mayday PAC has not only maintained pre-existing fundraising pages on its website but added a set of new fundraising pages this week. Yesterday afternoon, Mayday PAC leader Lawrence Lessig announced a further reversal, declaring that despite having met its declared needs for the year, Mayday PAC would continue its push for more money:
“There are a lot of decisions that we have made that we’ve gotten push-back (to put it politely ) on. But the push-back that’s surprised me most has been about fundraising. As I wrote just after we crossed the $5M mark, we were shifting into campaign mode. The fundraising was finished.
“‘Why,’ a friend asked. ‘You’ve gathered the most committed citizens in America on this issue. Why not at least ask them for the help you’ll need?’
“The answer isn’t obvious. And I’ll admit, it may just be me. As I’ve experienced the life of online campaigns, it feels to me as if I’m “just” a funder. And worse, the more I give, the more I get asked.
“I wanted to try something different with MAYDAY — a campaign where we keep you informed and ask for your help. But not one in which we ask — constantly — for you to give us money.
“But I may be wrong, and as more have pushed back, I’ve decided we should let you decide — individually — whether our asking you for money is something you’d rather we didn’t do.
“So here’s the idea:
“If you’re on our mailing list, you should have recieved an email today, with a link. Clicking the link put you on our “DO NOT ASK” list. If you clicked that link, we won’t ask you for money…”
“Why not at least ask them for the help you’ll need?” The answer to the question posed by Lessig’s friend would actually be obvious if he looked at his own promotional essay, in which Lessig writes:
“About a year ago, with a grant from two very different funders (one a libertarian, the other a liberal democrat), we commissioned a study about how much it would cost to win a Congress in 2016 committed to fundamental reform. The answer we got was a very big number — but the most important recommendation we got was that we must fight this battle in two election cycles, 2014 and 2016. And that in 2014, we target a small number of races where we could first learn what it would take to win, and second, by winning, convince others to take this campaign seriously.
“The cost for that 2014 campaign was relatively small — just $12 million. In April, I announced a plan to raise that money on Kickstarter. We would kickstart half of it in two stages — first by raising $1 million in thirty days, and if we met that goal, kickstart $5 million in thirty days. Each of those targets I said I’d find a match for, so that by the end of June, we’d have the $12 million for the 2014 campaigns.”
Lawrence Lessig and the Mayday PAC already have all the “help they need” according to their own commissioned study. What they’re asking for now, in a reversal of their promise, is extra money the PAC doesn’t need.
Lessig suggests the problem of the broken pledge is solved by allowing individual people to opt out of further fundraising messages. The problem with this approach is that it assumes the source of the existential problem with constant fundraising lies with the experience of individuals, not the behavior of the Mayday Super PAC. The existential problem as I see it is not that I am annoyed at Super PAC solicitations of my money. The existential problem occurs when a Super PAC, ostensibly organized against money-driven politics, re-orients itself to engage in the continuous seeking of money. The Mayday Super PAC is taking steps down the road to not just being a money-using organization but to being a money-obsessed organization — which is the entire problem with the current American political system.
Lawrence Lessig has already asked Americans to “embrace the irony” of a mega-funded Super PAC organized to end the influence of mega-funded Super PACs. Should we embrace the further irony of an anti-money Super PAC deciding that, after all, enough money is really not enough?