The Big Numbers Behind Big Money in Politics

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With an increasingly small fraction of wealthy Americans
buying and selling elections, power has never been more unequal in Washington, says Lawrence Lessig in a new TED Talk. And the problem goes way beyond the 1 percent.  

Everybody seems to agree that there’s too much money in
politics. According to a Demos poll during the last election cycle, more
than 80 percent
of Americans agree that “corporate political spending
drowns out voices of average Americans,” and more than half would support a ban
on all corporate donations. What’s more, opposition to laws like the Citizens United decision is equally
strong among those on the left and the right. 

But knowing that the system is rigged is different than
understanding exactly what’s behind it. With Super PACs and “independent
expenditures” veiled from public knowledge by Citizens United and other laws, how do we know what’s really going

For activist and academic Lawrence Lessig, it all comes down
to the Lesters. That is, the 144,000 or so Americans that are rigging the game
for the rest of us–roughly the same small number of Americans who are named Lester. These
are the guys making big donations to Super PACs and hiring high-powered
lobbies. They’re also the guys members of Congress are trying very hard to impress–as
Lessig adds, federal politicians spend somewhere between 30 and 70 percent of
their time just trying to raise even more money from the Lesters.

But wait, it gets worse. The Lesters may have more political
influence than most of us can fathom, but they’re no match for the real movers
and shakers. The ones who are really in charge are the .000042 percent–that’s
exactly 132 Americans–who made 60 percent of Super PAC contributions in 2012. I’m
gonna let that sink in a little…  

But don’t worry, there is hope. There are plenty of
proposals for fairer elections already on the table, and no shortage of public
support. The key, says Lessig, is to remember that the barriers to real change
are not insurmountable–just political.

To learn more, check out his TED Talk below: 

Image by Kevin Dooley,
licensed under Creative

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