21 March 2008

Larry Lessig's Open Congress

I have a lot of time for Larry Lessig. He's a nice bloke, very bright but disarmingly modest. Nonetheless, when I heard about his plans to give up copyfighting and move on to tackling political corruption, I thought he'd lost it. However laudable, the whole project looked utterly hopeless. Much better, it seemed to me, to try to subvert the system indirectly, using technology - that is, the Internet in all its manifestations and ramifications - to peek and poke.

Well, it looks like Larry had the same idea:

Beginning in April, we will launch a second stage to the site: in a Wikipedia-inspired manner, wiki-workers will track the reform-related positions of candidates who have not yet taken a pledge. If a candidate, for example, has endorsed Public Campaign's bill for public financing, we will record that fact on our site. The same with a pledge to forgo money from PACS or lobbyists, or any of the other planks in the Change Congress pledge. And once this wiki-army has tracked the positions of all Members of Congress, we will display a map of reform, circa 2008: Each Congressional district will be colored in either (1) dark red, or dark blue, reflecting Republicans or Democrats who have taken a pledge, (2) light red or light blue, tracking Republicans and Democrats who have not taken our pledge, but who have signaled support for planks in the Change-Congress platform, or (3) for those not taking the pledge and not signaling support for a platform of reform, varying shades of sludge, representing the percentage of the Member's campaign contributions that come from PACs or lobbyists.

What this map will reveal, we believe, is something that not many now actually realize: that the support for fundamental reform is broad and deep. That recognition in turn will encourage more to see both the need for reform, and the opportunity that this election gives us to achieve it. Apathy is driven by the feeling that nothing can be done. This Change Congress map will demonstrate that in fact, something substantial can be done. Now.

One of the most powerful aspects of openness in any field is that it lets people see what is really going on, so that they can make informed decisions. What Larry is trying to do is to open up the engine of Congress to scrutiny. I wish him every success.

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