Center for Competitive Politics Responds to Lessig
In response to Lawrence Lessig’s article on Citizens United, the Center for Competitive Politics’s Allison Hayward has published a piece in the Boston Review. It’s shorter and, at first glance at least, less convincing, especially in its treatment of Lessig’s argument that Congress be “dependent upon the People alone”:
Lessig’s essay has deeper problems. His premise is that a properly functioning Congress, as structured by the framers, would be, per Federalist 52, “dependent upon the People alone.” Therefore, he reasons, the participation of special interests in campaigns corrupts Congress. This premise is wrong.
Lessig reads that line from the Federalist Papers out of context. Recall that in Federalist 51, Publius (a pseudonym for Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay) argued that checks and balances in government and society would help preserve the people’s liberty. Moreover, Publius noted, “If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.” It is not possible to square that fear of the tyranny of the majority with Lessig’s prescription that Congress be dependent on the people alone in order to serve the (necessarily majoritarian) “public interest.” In fact liberty, according to Publius, is served by competition among a multitude of interests.
The argument Lessig (and others) have posed regarding special interests, however, is not that their rights to free speech be silenced (and thus made “insecure” by the majority), but rather that those interests (whether they be for-profit or nonprofit corporations, millionaires, etc.) that have acquired enormous accumulations of wealth and capitol can have a distorting and disproportionate voice in elections. The only way to ensure that Congress remain “dependent upon the People alone” is to work to minimize the distortions that unlimited spending by wealthy individuals and corporations necessarily induces.