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KCBS In Depth: Big Money in Politics

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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— Lawrence Lessig author of “Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress” is a former Stanford Law Professor and founder of Stanford Center of Internet and Society. He’s currently a professor of law at Harvard and has written five books dealing heavily in the topic of institutional corruption.

He said we can’t separate money from politics, but that we can make it so Congressman, or candidates running for office, focused on money, can’t depend on funders that are reflective of a small selection of Americans, but rather all of the people.

KCBS In Depth:

“Right now we have a system where campaigns are being funded by a tiny slice of America,” Lessig said. He then went on to explain the political influence that the .05 percent holds in this country, while 99.5 percent are relatively disenfranchised.

He explains the current corruption of Congress as the focus on fundraising that is in plain sight. “It’s legal corruption, because members are spending such an extraordinary amount of time raising money. It is significantly different from how it was just even 30 years ago.”

He referred to Newt Gingrich’s rise to power in the Republican Party as Speaker of the House and to the lobbyists’ critical role in channeling money inside the system.

“I think lobbyists are very ethical people who are very strict about how they comply with rules,” Lessig said, but he did make a point about their many repeat interactions with members of Congress.

Referring to the financial reform after the 2008 financial meltdown, Lessig said the structural problem pre-meltdown was banks were too big to fail, but after, “they’re even worse,” he said. “All of that reform was blocked by an extraordinary effective lobbying campaign.”

Lessig claimed in October 2009 there was 25 times the number of lobbyists on Capitol Hill favoring bank interests.”

The Citizen United Ruling by the Supreme Court also has had a pivotal role in campaign funding with the idea behind that ruling to make campaign contributors to be more transparent. However, political satirist Stephen Colbert has demonstrated that it’s easy for anonymous contributions to be part of the millions of dollars going into independent expenditures.

Lessig believes that if everyone was a funder in campaigns, politicians would still pay attention to funders, but that wouldn’t matter so much, because everyone was a contributor.

He argues his ideas aren’t necessarily that of an independent candidate.

“The important argument I’m trying to make in the book is that, Republicans too should want to change the system. The system is just as bad for people who want simpler taxes or smaller government.”

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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