The group, spurred into action by digital rights activist and Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, is funding a Super PAC, or political action committee, designed to obviate the need for Super PACs. "We are a crowdfunded SuperPAC to end all SuperPACs," reads the Super PAC's web site. "Ironic? Yes. Embrace the irony."
Super PACs, made possible by the Supreme Court decisions known as Citizens United and Speechnow, may raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations, and unions. The caveat is that they cannot contribute that money directly to candidates or their campaigns, so the PACs simply do the advertising themselves.
Lining up to support Lessig, according to Reuters, are Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Union Square Ventures' Fred Wilson, PayPal founder Peter Thiel, and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman.
The super PAC, called Mayday, has crowdfunded $1.2 million from 17,500 people so far. While the crowd may be willing, it is not generally all that rich. So now Lessig and the Mayday team are looking to raise $5 million in increments of $1 million, to be matched by wealthy individuals such as the tech titans listed above. Mayday plans to use the money to "make fundamental reform the key issue in five congressional races. And win."
"I think Professor Lessig's Mayday PAC is one tactic that can be used to highlight the problem we have with money in politics. It sort of embraces the irony of the situation we're in," says Miles Rapoport, the president of Common Cause, a nonprofit that works for public financing of elections. "Making the case publicly in op-ed pages and newspapers is another, and organizing at the grass roots level is another. I think we need all these things."
This has been tried before, with some success. In 2012, a PAC called Friends of Democracy, co-founded by Jonathan Soros and David Donnelly, made money and politics an issue in eight races for the U.S. House of Representatives, and in seven of those, their favored candidates won. But in a story for Newsweek, Donnelly lamented that even with that track record, it's hard to effect change. "We felt like we had a pretty dramatic effect," he said. But the problem is that "there aren’t a lot of candidates that think the incentive is so great that they actually" make any reforms.
The Mayday PAC says it intends to work in cooperation with Friends of Democracy. Rapoport points out some encouraging signs for public financing, especially at the state level. Connecticut, Maine and Arizona all have some versions of public financing for campaigns, he says, as does New York city. "If Professor Lessig can find some millionaires and billionaires to contribute," says Rapoport, "that’s a helpful piece of the puzzle."