Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig discussed corruption in Congress on Tuesday as part of an effort to promote his new book on the issue, “Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It.”
In addition to serving as director of the Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, Lessig is a staunch critic of copyright restrictions.
Discussing the book with Lessig was Harvard Kennedy School Professor David R. Gergen, who is currently a senior political analyst at CNN.
Both speakers argued that the corruption we should be concerned with is not necessarily “quid pro quo.”
“The type of corruption we have here is not one of bad souls, but of good souls that are part of a system that perpetuates a focus on what [money] wants and not what the people want,” Lessig said.
During the presentation, Lessig outlined three ways to tackle corruption in Congress.
“Congress must publicly fund public elections, campaign contributions need to be limited, and Congress should limit but not ban independent expenditures,” Lessig said.
During the conversation, Lessig cited a Gallup poll from last August that pegged Congressional approval at all-time low of 13 percent and disapproval at 84 percent.
“We all agree that money buys results in Congress, and that leads to an extraordinary lack of confidence in the system,” Lessig said. “Government needs to recognize that a general lack of confidence in Congress is enough of a reason for reform.”
Lessig also praised the Occupy movement.
“People need to be willing to get involved in their government, and everyone agrees that money shouldn’t be in politics,” Lessig said.
Lessig also cited the founding fathers as a source for inspiration and compromise.
“They were actually radically different people,” Lessig said. “Regardless, they sat together in the same room and saved the Union.”
Lessig also discussed the importance of unity to address the larger issues that affect all of us.
“Politicians profit from us hating each other,” Lessig said. “The media too.”
As part of his effort to limit corruption in Congress, Lessig said he is working to educate others about the issues and help them connect the dots. This was part of his motivation for talking about the issue at Harvard, he said.
“I appreciate how he framed the problem as a group of good people getting caught in a system where money influences decisions,” said James E. Kath, a graduate student in biophysics. “Ragging on politicians and labeling them as evil won’t get us anywhere.”