Before the 2012 Presidential election, a Gallup poll asked voters to rank presidential priorities. The poll found reducing corruption ranked second. Good jobs ranked first. Despite that, issues surrounding campaign finance reform were never discussed by major candidates. Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig wants campaign finance on the agenda the next time voters pick a President. That's why he founded what he’s calling the New Hampshire Rebellion, and leading a Granny D-inspired walk across New Hampshire.
NHPR's Sean Hurley sends us this report.
The sky above the New Hampshire rebels is smoke gray and the sidewalk beneath their feet a litter of puddles and dirty ice. Still Lawrence Lessig is able to spy a brown penny in the muck.
My mom told me I always had to pick a penny up.
Lessig tucks the lucky penny into his pocket.
A copyright attorney and Harvard professor, Lessig has spent much of his intellectual life thinking about the legal relationship between the internet and information. But a conversation in 2006 with Aaron Swartz, the technology activist who committed suicide last year, set him on a new course.
We were talking about the copyright battle cause he was coming to a conference that was going to have a bunch of issues related to copyright but he just said flat out, how do you expect to make any progress on these issues until you address the underlying problem? The underlying problem being corruption.
And for Lessig, that conversation was a call to arms.
By corruption I don't mean brown paper bag cash secreted among members of Congress. I don't mean any criminal act.
This is Lessig during a TED Talk.
The corruption I'm talking about is perfectly legal. It's a corruption relative to the framers baseline for this Republic. But by a republic they meant a representative democracy. And by a representative democracy they meant a government that would have a branch that would be dependent upon the people alone.
And that, Lessig says, is what we no longer have. Instead we’ve got candidates and elected officials who spend much of their time raising money, often from entities with issues pending before government.
What we're pushing is for people to commit to ask presidential candidates one question which is: How are you going to address the system of corruption in Washington?
Lessig and today's 30 or so rebels began their 185 mile trek south across New Hampshire 2 days earlier in Dixville Notch. Some are here just for the day. Some will walk every mile.
Along the way the rebels are also taking every opportunity to talk to the people they meet. At the Mahoosic Inn in Milan, Owner Mark Peabody was in the barn, mucking out stalls, when one of the walkers came calling.
And I said "What the heck is this, some other political thing?" And then he described what this is all about and I said, "I can get behind this. This works. Everyone can get behind this."
On this day there are walkers from Canada, California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island. They are as young as 26 and as old as 81. Rick Bourdon is from Lyme.
I know most people just throw their hands up at this problem and say, "Man, we're not gonna fix the election system. We're not gonna get rid of the system of corruption that we have. That it's impossible." But I have to believe we can.
If you suggest to Lessig that it might seem hopeless and he points to history. From Thomas Jefferson to the early progressives, he says we seem to have this battle against corruption every century.
But the tricky part of this fight, according to Lessig, is this: the problem itself isn't the problem. The argument about whether corruption is having any effect on our federal government doesn't need to be made.
96% of Americans believe that the influence of money and politics needs to be reduced.
The real problem, Lessig says, is convincing people that something can be done about it.
The same poll found that 91% believe though we need this influence reduced, it will not be reduced. So what we're trying to do is to do something that gives people a way to begin to imagine how it could be reduced. How it could be changed. Because if you can crack open the pessimism about the hope for reform you're going to break out an extraordinary amount of energy that wants reform.
It'll take more than the lucky penny in his pocket, but Lawrence Lessig and The New Hampshire Rebellion want to put the "We" back in "We the people".
For NHPR, I'm SH