In six months, the United States will vote a new Congress into power. But in this election, political speech means big money, and perhaps more than ever before.
We're talking about super PACs, the new species of shadowy, tax-exempt groups that popped up after the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision—the very kind of entities that can conceal their donor lists and legally launder hundreds of millions of dollars to influence political campaigns. But today, Harvard professor, Creative Commons co-founder, and activist Lawrence Lessig has launched his own super PAC, one "to end all super PACs," as he put it in a passionate TED talk earlier this year.
It's called the Mayday PAC. But unlike the archetypal super PAC, which relies on a small list of donors with deep pockets, Lawrence is pleading directly to the big, wide public to give what it can in the form of small donations. The challenge will be supersede the fundraising of super PACs, to create a super PAC so large that it can support enough successful candidates in the next two elections who want to pass what Lessig calls "fundamental reform."
"Our democracy is held hostage by the funders of campaigns," Lessig says in the first Mayday PAC campaign video. "We're going to pay the ransom and get it back."
It's an interesting model—like Kickstarter applied to a dysfunctional democracy. Mayday's first goal is to raise $1 million in small donations over the course of a month. Once that's accomplished, the super PAC will collect the funds, then set another $5 million target.
In just a few hours after the launch this morning, at the time of this publication, MayOne.us has already raised more than $35,000, or 4%, of its first goal. Anonymous also tweeted its support.
"Yes, we want to spend big money to end the influence of big money. Ironic, I get it," Lawrence says in the Mayday PAC campaign video. "But embrace the irony. Because with enough of us we can easily build a super PAC bigger and more effective than the super PACs of the billionaires."
Mayday isn't the first super PAC to embrace irony. It even looks like it's taking a cue from Stephen Colbert. Trevor Potter, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and the same lawyer who advised Stephen Colbert's Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow super PAC, is now working as Mayday's legal counsel.